Opinion: Ports along the West Coast are expanding their LNG fuelling infrastructure

Continuously rising greenhouse-gas emissions in B.C. is a conundrum. Despite good intentions, emissions from transportation now stand at 42 per cent of the total and rising. One obvious solution is fuel-switching, where it makes sense.

The marine sector is a logical area of opportunity. For B.C., the Tilbury Marine Jetty (now in the final stages of environment review) and the expansion of Fortis B.C.’s Tilbury LNG facility could displace marine diesel and bunker fuels in ships calling on B.C. waters. These two projects could reduce GHG emissions by as much as 1.2 million tonnes per year, almost the equivalent of having 30 per cent of all new light-duty passenger vehicle sales sold in B.C. be zero-emission, which would reduce GHG emissions by an estimated 1.3 million tonnes per year.

Meeting B.C.’s emissions reduction targets will take a multitude of incremental steps from all of us. Enabling LNG marine fuel bunkering through these two projects alone, which are funded through private sector investments, will get us more than four per cent closer to B.C.’s total 2030 emissions reduction target, which is to be 40 per cent below 2007 GHG emissions levels.

Ninety per cent of all goods moved around the world travel on ocean-going vessels using diesel and marine bunker fuels. The volume of global freight is expected to triple by 2050, resulting in rising emissions from the movement of goods. But stringent international shipping regulations have created a shift toward liquified natural gas (LNG) as an alternative. In response, ports along the west coast of North America and beyond are expanding their LNG fuelling infrastructure.

DNV, the world’s largest shipping classification society, predicts that by 2030 LNG will account for 37 per cent of energy consumed on-board ships. As of May 2022, there were 805 orders for new LNG-powered vessels. To support this growth, new LNG infrastructure is required.

B.C. LNG can meet some of this demand and creates much-needed economic activity. We shouldn’t squander it.

LNG is an important fuel of the future. B.C.’s natural gas (and thus LNG) also happens to be a resource with lower GHG intensity compared with LNG supplied elsewhere in the world, as verified by independent third parties. This means B.C. LNG can play a positive role in helping manage total global emissions and local air contaminants.

But B.C. missed a chance in November 2020 when the Port of Vancouver welcomed NYK’s Sakura Leader, a new generation of vessel with a modern hull design and dual-fuel engines that can run on both LNG and traditional fuels. Unfortunately, the lack of LNG fuelling infrastructure in the Lower Mainland meant the Sakura Leader couldn’t fill up with LNG for its return voyage from the Port of Vancouver.

The Port of Long Beach in California has recognized the opportunity of alternative marine fuels for shipping. Last month, the first container vessel ship-to-ship LNG fuelling operation took place there. The Port of Tacoma, just south of Vancouver, is also building infrastructure to enable LNG marine fuelling and using B.C. natural gas.

B.C. need not be left behind. A partnership between affiliates of Fortis and Seaspan ULC is proposing the infrastructure needed to facilitate the fuelling of vessels like the Sakura Leader with LNG. The Tilbury Marine Jetty in Delta will also produce beneficial outcomes for local Indigenous groups — an outcome consistent with recent research conducted by the MacDonald Laurier Institute where 65 per cent of Indigenous communities in Canada support natural resource development and want to be partners in projects like the one currently under review.

The Tilbury Marine Jetty is a chance for B.C. to meet Indigenous aspirations for economic development, address a vital infrastructure challenge in the LNG supply chain on Canada’s West Coast, and contribute to managing global GHG emissions.

The proposal by Fortis supports all these goals. Without it, the new generation of less-emitting LNG powered vessels being used around the world will call at ports offering LNG fuelling services, resulting in lost economic benefits for all British Columbians. This infrastructure is needed today.

Amid the global shift to lower-GHG intensive fuels for transporting people and goods, it’s essential for Port of Vancouver marine vessel operators to have both the infrastructure and options to switch to LNG. The Tilbury Marine Jetty is an opportunity, today, to support the development of a cleaner global marine industry. The final stage of the project’s environmental assessment is ending soon. We should be saying yes to a cleaner marine transportation fuel.

As published on October 4, 2022 in the Vancouver Sun.