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FortisBC and Fossil Fuel Spin

This The Tyee article is long but gives great in depth analysis of how FortisBC is promoting fossil fuels, how it is using tactics to manipulate us, and how NG and RNG are not the right choices for BC residents. Greenwashing Debunked in 11 FortisBC Gas Claims Michelle Gamage 34-43 minutes (To listen to the article, go to The Tyee website)

Watching videos on FortisBC’s YouTube page, you might get the idea the company is advertising spa services. Shots of laughing children playing sports are overlaid with aerial shots of water flowing over hydro dams and cows contemplating life while taking in the sunset from a grassy field.

You don’t need to visit YouTube to view them — these soothing ads are found across every platform in B.C. The croaking “rrreeeebates” frog on the radio, pictures of people hiking on social media and full-page sponsored articles in local magazines.

There’s just one problem: it’s all greenwashing, according to several experts.

FortisBC ads from social media and local newspapers that aligns the fossil fuel utility company with climate solutions.

FortisBC is a regulated utility that largely provides fossil gas to around 1.1 million customers across B.C. in 135 different communities via 50,000 kilometres of pipelines. In the Thompson Okanagan and Kootenays regions it also supplies hydropower. To separate advertising from reality, and fact from fiction, The Tyee asked those experts to list their greenwashing allegations and asked FortisBC for a rebuttal.

Not all of the greenwashing FortisBC benefits from is generated by the utility. American ad campaigns from the ’30s were first responsible for the foundation of the broad understanding of the product today — the fact it’s referred to as “natural gas,” for example. (The slogan “cooking with gas” was part of this campaign, too.)

But many FortisBC ads present the product as an environmentally friendly energy source and feature laughing families cooking over gas appliances together. And FortisBC presents its product, a fossil fuel, as a key part of the global energy transition towards a lower carbon economy.

Global authorities like the International Energy Agency and UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have said we need to stop building out fossil fuel infrastructure and radically scale back fossil fuel use to prevent the planet from warming past 1.5 C from pre-industrial levels.

Greenwashing muddies that goal. But locals are pushing back. A group of health-care practitioners have filed a complaint against the Canadian Gas Association with Canada’s competition bureau.

Edgar Dearden, a chemical engineer, has also filed a complaint with Canada’s Competition Bureau alleging FortisBC is misleading its customers. He filed a similar complaint with the Engineers and Geoscientists of BC, which regulates FortisBC as an engineering firm, but was told his concerns were “complex in nature and far beyond the mandate of Engineers and Geoscientists BC as a provincial regulatory body.” He has not yet heard back from the competition bureau.

Here are 11 claims made by or used by FortisBC that experts say qualify as greenwashing.

1. ‘Natural gas’ is as natural as natural peanut butter “Natural gas” is an oxymoron, says Dearden.

He’s a chemical engineer with over a decade of experience working in the fossil fuel industry for Sedgman Ltd., an Australian coal mining company. He quit in 2014 after moving to B.C., learning about climate change and doing some napkin math to calculate he was personally associated with three per cent of humanity’s carbon emissions. He now runs a sustainable home design business in Whistler where he pushes his customers to scrap their gas-burning appliances and switch to hydropower.

But people are resistant.

“The word ‘natural’ hooks them,” he says. “They think, ‘I buy natural peanut butter, natural honey and natural gas — they’re all the same thing.’”

They’re not.

In Canada, “natural” foods have to meet three strict criteria: they can’t have anything added; can’t have anything except water removed; and can’t have been altered from their original state.

If a health product is labelled “natural,” the company or importer and product must be licensed, be approved by Health Canada for safety, quality and efficacy and meet strict labelling requirements.

Because Canadian consumers trust these regulatory processes they are duped by the “natural gas” label, which doesn’t follow the same criteria, Dearden says.

FortisBC told The Tyee it calls its product “natural gas” because the term has been used for over a century and is used in Canadian legislation like the Petroleum and Natural Gas Act, Utilities Commission Act and Carbon Tax Act.

The oil and gas industry embraced the term “natural gas” in the 1930s but calling it “fossil gas” is a more accurate description of the product, Dearden says.

When hydraulic fracturing pumps gas out from under the Earth’s crust, it contains methane, ethane, propane, butane, pentanes, mercury, hydrogen sulphide and nitrous oxide, he says. That cocktail is highly toxic — if it was pumped into your house you’d die, he adds. To produce the product that is fed into people’s homes the gas is processed in a petroleum distillation column which separates the gases so the toxins can be removed. Finally, the smell of rotten eggs is added to the otherwise odourless product.

If the oil and gas industry was regulated the same way as peanut butter it wouldn’t be allowed to be called “natural,” because it has toxins and gases removed, smells added and was heavily processed from its original state, Dearden says.

That’s why he’s advocating to scrap the word “natural gas” and switch to “fossil gas.” Deardren says he’s had an easier time convincing customers to switch out their fossil gas burning appliances for electrical ones since changing his wording.

2. Sticking with ‘natural gas’ is better than switching to hydroelectric power FortisBC is a near monopoly — it supplies 95 per cent of the fossil gas used in B.C., Dearden says. So why does it need to advertise?

“They’re competing against electrification — that’s their only competition,” Dearden says.

FortisBC is part of the North American Consortium to Combat Electrification which brings together 15 utilities with the mission to “create effective, customizable marketing materials to fight the electrification/anti-natural gas movement.”

An example of this could be the heat pump powered by fossil gas that FortisBC brought to market this summer. On the product about page, Fortis tells customers “you don’t have to make the switch to electric heating,” and that “moving to an all-electric system can be costly because of the potential infrastructure upgrades.”

We’ll talk about this product in the next section of the article.

Dearden says he’s seen FortisBC ads in print, on the radio, through targeted social media ads and as advertorials which are designed to look like regular news articles in the Globe and Mail, Dwell Magazine and Business in Vancouver.

Their YouTube channel also hosts videos that have been viewed nearly 150,000 times but only reacted to five times, suggesting they run as targeted ads across online platforms.

“Their [advertising] tactics are to confuse the issue and protect their market share,” says Peter McCartney, a climate campaigner with the environmental organization the Wilderness Committee. “FortisBC’s worst nightmare is to stop getting new customers. They’re throwing everything at the wall to prevent that from happening.”

And their tactics are working. In an email, the Ministry of Environment and Climate

Change Strategy said it issued 3,169 rebates for people swapping out fossil fuel-burning appliances for electric heat pumps in 2021. That’s likely a conservative estimate of the total number of folks switching from fossil gas to hydroelectricity, but the number is still dwarfed by the 10,700 new customers FortisBC says it hooked up to its fossil gas infrastructure last year in its year-end report.

Their marketing campaign is “fantastically successful,” says Seth Klein, director of the Climate Emergency Unit and author. “The B.C. government should ban all fossil fuel advertising and insist the utility enclose a monthly flyer to talk about the glories of electric heat pumps.” By allowing FortisBC to advertise harmful products the province is letting the utility “make a mockery of government,” he adds.

FortisBC told The Tyee the majority of its advertising focuses on public safety and energy conservation and that “both gas and electric systems provide opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” and that maintaining the role of gas will keep the provincial energy system “resilient, reliable and more affordable.”

Its advertising adheres to marketing and advertising laws like the Competition Act and Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, it added.

3. Gas absorption heat pumps use renewable energy This June FortisBC launched a new product: a gas absorption heat pump that slashes energy use by 35 per cent and can cut a customer’s greenhouse gas emissions in half. It uses renewable energy, according to an infographic on FortisBC’s FAQ page, and gets the green stamp from CleanBC, the province’s climate change strategy.

Except this heat pump doesn’t “absorb” fossil gas — it burns it.

Most people are already familiar with heat pumps because that’s how your fridge stays cool: by pulling heat out of the air inside the fridge and expelling it through coils that run along the back of the fridge. The “renewable energy” the gas-powered heat pump uses is referring to the temperature of the outside air that the heat pump pulls inside, not the fossil fuel source that powers the appliance. Also, the appliance only shrinks the emissions of commercial or industrial buildings that were using fossil gas boilers or furnaces before the switch.

When asked if the name could be used to confuse customers, FortisBC told The Tyee that “‘gas absorption heat pump’ is the technical name for this type of gas-powered technology.”

“You don’t need a PhD in building emissions reductions to know that advertising gas-powered heat pumps as using renewable energy is false advertising,” McCartney says. “I don’t know how they do it with a straight face.”

If customers really wanted to reduce their carbon emissions they should switch to electric heat pumps which are powered by renewable hydropower and emit zero emissions, he says. B.C. could ban fossil gas-burning appliances for an “easy, instant way for B.C. to get back on track to meet its climate targets,” he says.

When asked why it doesn’t ban fossil gas appliances the Ministry of Environment said FortisBC will have to reduce its emissions by close to 50 per cent from 2007 levels by 2030. By 2030 all new buildings will have to emit zero carbon and all new space and water heaters bought and installed in B.C. will have to be 100 per cent efficient. This will encourage consumers to use baseboard and electric water heaters and heat pumps, the ministry added.

It’ll also allow Fortis to keep selling and installing fossil fuel burning appliances.

FortisBC says its fossil gas burning heat pump is 100 per cent efficient because it burns 100 units of gas, loses 10 units of energy and gains 30 to 70 units of energy from the surrounding air. Therefore you end up with 120 to 160 units of energy for every 100 units of gas burned. “Because the energy output is greater than the energy input the units can achieve efficiencies greater than 100 per cent,” reads the FortisBC press release about the product.

Customers who install fossil gas burning appliances will likely have to rip them out and replace them in the coming years as Canada ramps up its efforts to have net-zero emissions by 2050, McCartney says.

Klein echoes this concern. “At some point we’re moving to carbon zero and each new building tying into gas infrastructure will be facing a $10,000 to $30,000 retrofit in the future,” he says.

4. In the future, ‘renewable natural gas’ will mostly come from food scraps “FortisBC tends to use ‘renewable’ and ‘low-carbon gas’ interchangeably with biomethane when they’re not the same thing,” McCartney says.

In an April 2022 presentation (around one hour and 57 minutes into this video) to Nanaimo City Council FortisBC spokesperson Jason Wolfe says “more than 100 per cent of the gas used in B.C. could be renewable natural gas made in B.C.,” when asked about biomethane and references a FortisBC study to back up his claim. But the study says biomethane captured from sources like compost, wood waste, landfills and wastewater treatment plants could only provide 2.2 per cent of the province’s energy needs — the other 97.8 per cent would come from blue hydrogen, which is created by burning fossil gas and by burning wood, McCartney adds. Confusing these words allows the company to claim its future gas products will be sourced from food scraps so it can continue to build out new infrastructure and hook up new customers, he adds.

FortisBC isn’t the only company that says it can source energy from wood scraps. The wood pellet industry also says it uses wood scraps, but research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows whole tracts of forest are being cut down for fuel, which is as damaging for the environment as burning coal, according to resource policy analyst Ben Parfitt with the CCPA’s B.C. office.

FortisBC told The Tyee when it uses the phrase “renewable natural gas” it is referring to biogas captured from decomposing organic waste from landfills, agricultural waste and sewage facilities. “Renewable” and “low-carbon gas” are both used to talk about fuels

FortisBC can get under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction regulation, which include hydrogen (“green hydrogen” is made using renewable energy, “blue hydrogen” comes from burning fossil gas, and “turquoise hydrogen” also uses fossil fuel), synthesis gas (from wood) and lignin, produced while pulping wood.

In its 2021 year-end review FortisBC points to federal and provincial supports to expand renewable energy and its infrastructure, which it says could support expanding renewable gas and liquid fossil gas and compressed fossil gas (more commonly known as liquefied natural gas, or LNG and CNG). It doesn’t specify if the renewable gas will be sourced from blue hydrogen or captured biomethane. The report also notes the BC Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act will allow it to sell carbon credits generated from customers buying renewable gas.

To reverse the greenwashing chemical engineer Edgar Dearden recommends renaming the product ‘fossil gas,’ and rebranding these buses as ‘fossil-gas powered.’

In that same report FortisBC says in 2021 it delivered 228 petajoules of fossil gas to 1.1 million customers in 2021 — up from 219 petajoules for 10,700 fewer customers the year before. The majority (180 petajoules) of that fossil gas comes from northeastern B.C., with the rest (48 petajoules) coming from Alberta. Just a sliver of pie (0.72 petajoules, or 0.3 per cent of the total annual output) comes from “low carbon gas, namely biomethane,” according to the report.

A single petajoule could power roughly 19,000 homes for an entire year.

By 2030 Fortis says it will source 11 per cent of its energy from biomethane, says Dr. Larry Barzelai, with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “But there’s not that much renewable gas around — not if it’s coming from wood scraps and animal feces. And besides, the other 89 per cent would still be coming from hydraulic fracturing which is causing health issues for people living in the Peace Region of northeastern B.C.”

“When you look at their latest ads they all feature compost and cows [for their methane farts]. That literally represents less than one-half of a per cent of all that they do but that’s 100 per cent of their marketing budget,” Dearden says. “They hide that 99 per cent of their fossil gas comes from hydraulic fracturing in northeastern B.C. and Alberta and give 100 per cent of airtime to renewable biomethane.”

FortisBC is also asking the BC Utilities Commission to broaden the definition of “renewable natural gas” which would allow it to continue to build out its infrastructure and hook up new customers while technically meeting B.C.’s climate goals, McCartney says.

By lumping renewable gas, biomethane and low-carbon gas together as “renewable natural gas,” FortisBC is confusing the public with “false solutions” while heavily lobbying government (150 times in 2021) and delaying the eventual day when they won’t be allowed to connect new customers to their fossil gas infrastructure, McCartney says.

Biomethane is also a limited resource because it comes from the waste we create, and as a society we need to work towards reducing that waste instead of ramping it up as a new fuel source, Klein says. And what biomethane can be harvested should go towards hard-to-decarbonize industries, like aviation, instead of easy-to-decarbonize industries like heat and hot water in our homes.

5. Customers who pay for ‘renewable natural gas’ are burning ‘renewable natural gas’ in their homes FortisBC customers can upgrade their fossil gas feeds with “sustainable” “renewable natural gas” if they want to reduce their environmental footprint and earn carbon tax credits, according to the utility.

For an average $3 more a month, a household can inject five per cent “renewable natural gas” into their feed, or sign up for 10, 25, 50 or 100 per cent blends. Buying the 100 per cent renewable natural gas option costs around $600 more per year, according to one Whistler resident.

The website shows bright pastel-coloured pictures of a farm, a trash pile, a sewer, a wood pile and a trash can, though it doesn’t clarify if the “RNG” will be from captured biomethane, renewable gas or low-carbon gas.

FortisBC offers its customers the option to purchase a ‘renewable natural gas blend.’ It does not say where this gas will be sourced from but a graphic shows a barnyard, trash pile, sewage outflow, pile of wood and garbage can. Screen grab from the FortisBC customer portal.

But customers who buy into this program don’t actually get to burn renewable gas in their homes, McCartney says.

FortisBC buys captured biomethane from jurisdictions across North America and then markets their product as renewable when the gas captured in Nebraska won’t actually be physically shipped to a stove in Powell River, he says.

Biomethane is supplied to FortisBC customers through “notional supply,” where the biomethane is added to the general gas supply and then all customers receive around one per cent biomethane and 99 per cent fossil gas, Dearden says.

Notional supply is used in all utility models, FortisBC told The Tyee, noting how electricity from a hydroelectric dam would also be “indistinguishable” from “power outside the province from non-hydro and potentially fossil fuel powered sources.”

Notional supply is not mentioned anywhere on the FortisBC website, however, and they have “an army of lawyers” before the BC Utilities Commission fighting to make sure they never have to tell customers that renewable gas will not be physically delivered to their house, Dearden says.

Dearden is acting as an intervenor in three BC Utilities Commission hearings regarding FortisBC’s notional supply of renewable gas. At one hearing he asked FortisBC if it told its customers they were burning fossil gas when they paid for biomethane in their homes. The utility responded having “one-to-one connection to the source of the energy” isn’t normal and it “does not provide information” about notional supply to its customers.

This misleads customers in two big ways, Dearden says. First, customers think they’re buying renewable gas and that their energy supply is zero-carbon (that’s another greenwashing claim we’ll address later).

They also think they’re burning cleaner gas in their homes.

“If you could get 100 per cent biomethane fed to your house it’d be less toxic than all that other stuff found under the Earth’s crust, all the fossil gas,” he says. “Biomethane doesn’t have carcinogenic chemicals in it.”

But, he adds, even customers who buy a 100 per cent supply of “renewable natural gas” are still being fed nearly 100 per cent fossil gas in their homes.

6. Biomethane is carbon neutral FortisBC likes to refer to its renewable natural gas, which currently is mostly made up of biomethane, as carbon neutral. The utility’s renewable natural gas website says “RNG is certified as a low-carbon energy,” but this March 2022 press release says “renewable natural gas is a sustainable, certified carbon neutral energy.”

The logic behind that claim, according to the press release, is that plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. When they’re later composted and create methane, the emissions created from burning that methane are offset by the CO2 previously absorbed by the plants.

This used to be logic followed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change until they changed their minds and in 2018 said “it is inaccurate to automatically consider or assume biomass used for energy is ‘carbon neutral,’ even in cases where the biomass is thought to be produced sustainably.”

There are no other reliable sources that say biomethane is carbon neutral, Dearden says.

Using biomethane as a fuel source could also have the unintended consequences of expanding landfills or industrial farming in the name of biomethane production, warns a report that challenges environmental claims FortisBC makes about renewable gas.

It also points to studies that suggests 15 per cent of biomethane escapes during production as fugitive emissions, and another that says biomethane and fossil gas produce the same amount of fugitive emissions. This is bad for the environment because methane is a greenhouse gas with 87 times the global warming potential of CO2, the report adds.

7. The 100-year Global Warming Potential is a good way to measure greenhouse gas effects The B.C. government and FortisBC measure the greenhouse effects of gases using the Global Warming Potential, a standard international measurement that calculates how much heat a gas could trap in the atmosphere over 100 years.

But this measurement hides methane’s global warming impact because methane has a lifetime of 20 years, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. After 20 years methane degrades into carbon dioxide with much lower global warming potential. Since it contributes most to warming in its first 20 years, the impacts are hidden with the 100-year timeline.

On a 100-year timeline, methane has a GWP 27 to 30 times more potent than that of CO2. On a 20-year scale it has a GWP of 81 to 83 times than that of CO2, according the Environmental Protection Agency. Other sources say it is 87 times that of CO2.

When asked why the B.C. government doesn’t count methane emissions on a 20-year timeline, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy pointed towards its explainer on how it counts emissions, which reads, a “single standardized method of reporting internationally on greenhouse gas emissions is required to avoid some emissions being double-counted and/or some remaining uncounted.”

FortisBC says it counts emissions on a 100-year timeline to match how the province and federal government report their emissions.

8. Rebates on fossil gas burning appliances are a good way to help customers reduce emissions British Columbians can access anywhere between $300 and $35,000 in rebates when they connect their home or business to fossil gas infrastructure or install a fossil gas-burning appliance.

B.C. is also waving the provincial sales tax on all heat pumps, including fossil gas-powered ones. “Despite using fossil fuels, gas powered heat pumps are still an energy efficient technology that reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” the Ministry of Environment wrote in an email.

FortisBC told The Tyee its customers “can choose at any time to move to install electric appliances, but this option may not be feasible for everyone due to challenges with the installation or cost. Providing incentives to move to higher efficiency equipment gives people another option on how they can reduce their energy use and their greenhouse gas emissions.”

Climate Emergency Unit’s Klein notes how 11 months ago the province’s CleanBC roadmap said it would ban rebates on fossil gas appliances, but the government still links to FortisBC rebates on its Better Homes BC website.

“Here we are a year later and they’re shilling for them, they’re not just not banned,” he says. “It’s unfathomable.”

The Ministry of Environment told The Tyee it plans to phase out incentives for gas appliances this winter.

9. Fossil gas appliances save customers money FortisBC talks a lot about how burning fossil gas is cheaper than electrifying. Its webpage for fossil gas heat pumps notes the appliance can “help your organization save money,” “put less pressure on your bottom line” and how “moving to an all-electric system can be costly” and will require more “building upgrades” than if you stick with fossil gas.

FortisBC isn’t the only gas utility that brands itself as the affordable option. This cringe video from the ’80s has people rapping about how gas is cheaper, cooler, more precise and cleaner than electric stoves.

These arguments ignore how the carbon tax is going to increase to $170 per tonne by 2030 — maybe more for decades to come — and how B.C. has some of the cheapest electricity rates in all of North America, says Wilderness Committee’s McCartney.

The expensive part of an electric heat pump is the cost of the unit itself — after that it’s pretty smooth sailing, he says.

Offering rebates for fossil gas-powered heat pumps, by contrast, “hides the upfront expense of gas heat pumps and providing these units at a huge loss for them in order to keep people stuck on gas,” McCartney says.

FortisBC says it openly communicates gas prices with its customers and informs customers when the carbon tax increases through their monthly energy bill. It also notes it only offers rebates on high efficiency appliances which could help customers reduce their monthly energy bills if they swap out standard efficiency appliances.

As Canada works towards having net-zero emissions by 2050 it will also likely pass new regulations prohibiting the use of fossil gas burning appliances, Klein says. “So each new building tying into gas will be facing a $10,000 to $30,000 retrofit in the future when we realize we gotta stop using gas.” The price will also increase if B.C. phases out incentives on gas powered appliances this winter. 10. Gas stoves are better than electric stoves The American Gas Association coined the phrase “now you’re cooking with gas” in the 1930s when it rebranded gas stoves as a symbol of class.

The association’s marketing continues today with a US$300,000 ad campaign that pays social media influencers to create sponsored posts with phrases like gas “provides better cooking results” and gas “helps cook food faster,” tastes better and gives cooks more control.

FortisBC also advertises its cooking appliances as safe, energy efficient and reliable during a power outage.

But being exposed to fossil gas isn’t safe, says Dr. Larry Barzelai. Most of the recorded adverse health impacts happen when pregnant people live near hydraulic fracturing sites, where babies are more likely to be born prematurely and underweight. Pregnant people living near fracking sites also have higher rates of chemicals in their urine which are linked to childhood cancer. A U.S. study found kids living near fracking sites also have an increased risk for childhood leukaemia.

This impacts poor and Indigenous folks the most in B.C., Barzelai says.

Burning fossil gas inside your home also has health risks, he says. One 2013 meta-analysis of 41 studies found kids have a 42 per cent higher risk of experiencing asthma over their lifetime and a 24 per cent higher likelihood of being diagnosed with asthma if they live in a house with a gas stove. The former U.S. director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health has called for fossil gas appliances to be banned from the market. In November 2020 the California Air Resources board recommended all kitchens improve ventilation and electrify their appliances “in order to protect public health.”

Health Canada recommends having a carbon monoxide detector in your home if you have fossil gas appliances, that you cook with your back burners, open windows and have a range hood exhaust fan that sticks out over your burners and sucks at least 300 cubic feet per minute of air (these cost around $300).

Health Canada was also looking at limiting the amount of nitrogen dioxide, a gas produced by burning fossil gas, that is safely allowed in a home. It originally suggested 50 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre of ambient air would be safest for short-term exposure, but after hearing most households with gas stoves wouldn’t be able to maintain that amount because the average fume hood wasn’t strong enough, raised the Residential Indoor Air Quality Guidelines to 170 micrograms.

“You’d expect to be exposed to these chemicals in a petroleum refinery — not your home,” Dearden says. “But remember, your home is connected to a refinery through the fossil gas pipes.”

When asked about the possible health impacts of fossil gas appliances FortisBC said it “does not regulate the safety of appliances. This is the responsibility of government agencies.”

All cooking creates airborne emissions, it added, which is why “we encourage all our customers to use their range hoods when cooking on their stovetops, whether they are gas or electric stoves.” 11. Exporting Canadian fossil fuels helps other countries reduce their fossil fuel use As Canada ramps up its climate commitments and starts working towards capping how many emissions can be produced domestically, FortisBC is busy building out its export facilities so it can sell fossil gas overseas — which gets it a free pass because Canada doesn’t count emissions on exports, McCartney says.

FortisBC says its fossil gas exports will help reduce the use of coal in Asia — especially in China where “LNG is expected to become an increasingly important fuel as the country decreases reliance on coal to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets,” according to FortisBC.

That’s bad accounting, McCartney says. First, the project is hiding the massive impact it will have on global warming by measuring emissions on a 100-year timeline, not a 20-year timeline.

Second, “they can’t prove this gas is going to replace other fossil fuels over the lifetime of the project,” he says. “It might be better to run a coal power plant for one or two extra years instead of building a new fossil gas plant that runs for another 30 years.”

FortisBC told The Tyee its current expansion projects are to serve domestic needs like storage and transportation and that the Tilbury Phase 2 expansion will be used for exports “if demand in the Port of Vancouver or other markets continues to grow.” It also pointed to a study that suggests swapping out coal plants for fossil gas plants could reduce emissions.

Building new fossil gas infrastructure locks us into using it for decades to come to pay off the construction cost, McCartney says. This means governments will be less willing to explore zero-emissions energy sources like green hydrogen made from renewable energy.

As an example he points to BC Ferries, which launched its fourth fossil gas-powered ferry, the Salish Heron, in May 2022.

“If we build a fleet of LNG ships now they’ll be around for a long time,” he says. “Or we’ll have to scrap them early when we’re no longer allowed to burn gas. Either way we should have just waited and paid for the more expensive technology [like green hydrogen] in the first place.”

When asked if BC Ferries was concerned its new fossil gas vessels could end up as stranded assets, a spokesperson didn’t answer the question and pointed The Tyee to its sustainability report.

It’s an uphill battle pushing back against FortisBC greenwashing, Dearden says.

When convincing his clients to get fossil gas out of their homes, he says, “I’m a chemical engineer from the fossil fuel industry — I must be one of the most equipped people in Canada to explain this and I’m still having a hard time.”

He volunteers his time as an intervener for the BC Utilities Commission hearings. He used to counter FortisBC greenwashing claims on the utility’s LinkedIn until it turned its comments off. He filed a complaint with the Engineers and Geoscientists of BC and with Canada’s competition bureau alleging FortisBC is misleading its customers.

But for every move he does he’s just one guy with limited time, resources and reach, he says. FortisBC has “unlimited” resources, money and staff to push greenwashed messages.

“There is no one coming to save us,” he says. “We’re totally screwed.” Michelle Gamage is a Vancouver-based journalist with an environmental focus who regularly reports on climate for The Tyee. You can find her on Twitter @Michelle_Gamage.

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