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Greens call for halt to Squamish LNG plans as study shows higher risk of premature birth

Woodfibre LNG contends the plant is designed to flare only in emergency situations, and won't pose the same risk as cited in the research.

File photo of Woodfibre staff
File photo of Woodfibre employees at the site of the new plant set to open in Squamish in 2027. Photo by Woodfibre LNG /PNG

The B.C. Green party is calling on the provincial government to halt a LNG plant near Squamish following research that shows a 50 per cent higher risk of premature birth in areas close to plants that use flaring.

The study, conducted by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, was . The study came out three years ago, but the Green party said it only just learned of it and is frustrated that it has been ignored by government and industry.

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B.C. Green leader Sonia Furstenau responded to the study by calling on the provincial government to halt plans for the Woodfibre LNG plant, which is set to open in 2027 in Howe Sound.

The study does not name Woodfibre LNG, and instead looks at flaring issues at oil and gas plants in Texas. Flaring refers to the practice of burning off excess gas for various reasons, including pressure variations in pipelines, economic valuation, waste management and facility maintenance.

The research found that the premature birth rate was 14 per cent among pregnant women exposed to a high number of flares compared with the general population. For the study, a high number of flares was considered 10 or more within five kilometres of the pregnant person’s home.

Sean Beardow, a spokesperson for Woodfibre LNG, said the study referenced by the Green Party addressed flaring within the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas, an upstream resource extraction area with a significant concentration of gas wells in the area.

“The context that this study was carried out in is very different from Woodfibre LNG, which – when constructed – will be a single liquefaction facility, designed to only flare in emergency situations or during certain maintenance procedures,” Beardow said in an emailed statement.

During the regulatory process, it was determined that there would be no significant impact to local air quality due to the operation of the Woodfibre LNG facility, he added.

“I have very serious concerns for communities near the proposed Woodfibre LNG facility in Howe Sound, particularly for pregnant people and their newborns,” Furstenau said in a statement Thursday.

“This is a shocking revelation that should spark immediate action from the B.C. government, including putting a pause on plans for Woodfibre LNG.”

Furstenau is calling for immediate, independent research on the health outcomes of flaring in B.C. and close monitoring of communities near existing oil and gas sites where flaring takes place.

“Alongside its impact on climate change and associated local wildfire and flooding hazards, a precautionary approach to infant health is another reason for serious reconsideration of the B.C.,” added Jeremy Valeriote, an environmental engineer and B.C. Green candidate for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky.

The B.C. government did not respond by deadline Friday for comment.

The Eagle Ford Shale geological formation is one of the U.S.’s largest oil producers and is the centre of hydraulic fracturing.

The $1.6 million Woodfibre plant in Squamish is backed by the Squamish First Nation.

—with a file from Derrick Penner