NORTHWEST GAS PROJECTS FUEL THE FRACKING BEAST
Methanol, LNG, and power plants drive Canada’s gas industry.
The Northwest is home to a range of project proposals to expand gas consumption. At first glance, they appear quite different from one another, but on closer inspection they can be seen as parts of a common beast: an ambitious Canadian fracking industry that sits atop huge gas reserves. These gas fields are far from North American markets, however, and so the industry’s expansion plans depend on inventing new uses for all that fuel.
In Oregon and Washington, utilities and exporters are scrambling to fill the void. From methanol refining to electricity generating to vessel fueling, industry backers hope to create a demand for more gas that would be shipped south by pipeline. It’s not possible to know if all the gas required by these projects would be sourced from Canada’s abundant gas reserves, nor is it possible to say that all of it would be fracked. But it is a near-certainty that Canada would supply much of the fuel for these projects and it is clear that plenty of that fuel would be fracked. About half of Canadian gas was already derived from fracking in 2014, and the figure is expected to increase to 80 percent by 2035.
Here are some of the proposed gas projects that would help drive the Canadian fracking industry.
Steelhead LNG (Whatcom County, Washington): One of nearly twenty liquefied natural gas (LNG) schemes on British Columbia’s coast, the Steelhead project would construct a new pipeline in Whatcom County, across the Strait of Georgia underwater, and supply two large proposed LNG export facilities on Vancouver Island. Also in Whatcom County, a curious propane-by-rail export facility has recently begun shipping fracked gas derivatives.
Carty power plant expansion (Boardman, Oregon): The utility Portland General Electric was pushing an expansion of its gas-fired power plant in eastern Oregon until May 2017 when it suspended permitting. Still, the company has not withdrawn its permits and it is already partially approved for a new gas-fired generator at the site.
Colstrip coal replacement (Montana): When western Washington utility Puget Sound Energy (PSE) promised to wean itself off coal-fired power supplied by its Colstrip plant in eastern Montana, officials signaled that a portion of the replacement power would come from gas-generated electricity. It’s not clear where, precisely, this gas power would come from or how soon it might begin operating.
PSE heating and power customers (western Washington): Despite pressure from environmental groups and bad press from a recent explosion in Seattle, the utility continues to expand the reach of local gas pipelines and gas-fired electricity in its service territory, which includes more than 1.1 million power customers and 790,000 gas customers, mostly in the central and south Puget Sound region. For one example, the utility is backing a pipeline expansion in Snohomish County and north Seattle.
Tacoma LNG (Tacoma, Washington): In another controversial project, PSE would build a new liquefied natural gas plant in the industrial port area of Tacoma where it would supply fuel for ships and heavy haul trucking, with a small portion set aside for winter heating. For both safety and environmental reasons, neighboring residents and the Puyallup Tribe strenuously object to the proposal.