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LNG 101 - Salmon and Hot Seawater don’t mix

For all of us, and for the First Nations in particular, is there anything in BC more sacred and iconic than salmon? The wild kind, that is.

For all of us, and for the First Nations in particular, is there anything in BC more sacred and iconic than salmon? The wild kind, that is. Nature’s amazing bounty - salmon is one of the planet’s four great food fish species that have sustained coastal and riverine communities for millennia.
The development of LNG plants on our coast should be of major concern to everyone in BC. If these developments follow easier and cheaper design options of using seawater to cool the liquefaction  process, millions of juvenile salmon will be at risk. The invisible culprit? Elevated ocean water temperatures caused by the release of massive amounts of unnaturally warm, chlorinated, virtually dead seawater back into the marine environment.
Most of BC’s proposed LNG plants plan to use seawater cooling systems. It is the cheapest option. But with this we risk a mismanagement scenario on the Pacific coast akin to the Atlantic cod debacle. We have lessons to learn from other jurisdictions.
Until 2010, the 21 power generation plants along California’s coastline pulled in nearly 17 billion gallons of seawater each day  in a practice called “once-through” cooling. This is where ocean water is used as a kind of radiator fluid to help cool the gas-turbine and nuclear power plants generating 40 percent of California’s electricity.
But this “once-through” cooling practice has killed billions of fish eggs, larvae and other marine life. Eighty square miles of California’s coastal habitat was affected on a daily basis. The Ocean Unit of the California Water Resources Control Board estimated that once-through cooling systems used in their coastal power plants killed 2.6 million fish, 19 billion fish larvae, and 57 seals, sea lions and sea turtles every year. This depletion of the ocean food chain has continued for decades.
In once-through systems, these organisms are sucked into the water intakes, gassed with chlorine and barbecued in the cooling towers. Their corpses are then expelled back into the ocean to decay and deplete life-giving oxygen in the water column. Scientists, environmentalists, First Nations and fishers all agree - once-through cooling  systems are seriously damaging to coastal ecosystems, especially in bays and estuaries, which are critical nursery habitats for fish. According to the California Energy Commission, once-through cooling represents “the single greatest and unaddressed environmental issue associated with power plant operation in the state”.
A prominent marine biologist puts it like this: “Seawater is not just water. It is actually a community of living organisms, some of which spend their whole lives in that water. They… produce eggs and larvae that grow up in that water.”
New cooling regulations were adopted by California’s Water Resources Control board in 2010. By 2015, 19 coastal power plants will stop using once-through cooling, and start using a modern cooling alternative.  
You may ask– how does this concern BC? The answer: most of BC’s 18 proposed oceanside LNG plants plan to use to use cheaper, destructive once-through seawater cooling to cool the gas to a liquid state. In their use of cooling systems, LNG plants and power generation plants are quite similar.
The “Kitimat LNG” 24 MTPA  plant in Kitimat/Douglas Channel would suck in millions of tonnes of fresh water from the Kitimat River and discharge it, warm and chlorinated, into Kitimat Arm. The WCC (Exxon) plant in Prince Rupert’s Tuck Cove may use either air-cooling or seawater-cooling.
In contrast, to reduce damage to the salmon-rich Skeena and Naas rivers near Prince Rupert, the 20 MTPA Petronas “Northwest LNG” plant is instead proposing air cooling for the plant.  That change came after much pressure from First Nations, commercial fishermen and environmentalists.
The controversial 2.4 MTPA (and potentially much larger  ) Woodfibre LNG plant in Howe Sound plans to spew some 17,000 tonnes (3.8 million gallons) of hot, chlorinated seawater every hour into the Sound. The plant is directly in the path of the recovering Cheakamus/ Squamish salmon run in Howe Sound. The potential for again destroying this run should be of great concern– Howe Sound is only now recovering from the marine dead-zone it became over the last century.
Our Federal and Provincial governments do not have a clear and principled commitment to safeguarding marine ecosystems and BC’s iconic wild salmon resource. We need to adopt our Premier’s “world-leading practices” for cooling systems and enforce more robust regulatory oversight, else these LNG plants will utilize the cheapest option - with “invisible” consequences slipping under the radar. There are alternatives to cooking the environment with waste heat from industrial activity.
Eoin Finn is a seasonal resident of Bowyer Island in Howe Sound, a retired partner of a major accounting firm, and holds Ph.D. (Physical Chemistry) and MBA (International Business) degrees.