According to an open letter to Bowen Island customers published in the local paper this week, in late 2012, B. C. Ferries will be converting the Queen of Capilano—our car ferry—to liquified natural gas fuel. This conversation, which will begin in October, will be the first such switch in the whole B.C. Ferries fleet.
This is good news on a number of levels. First—unlike bunker diesel fuel—in the event of a collision or fuel spill, natural gas will quickly evaporate. Second, burning bunker diesel fuel makes smog, while natural gas will produce a fraction of these particulates and compounds. But the best news in my opinion is that natural gas burns
a fraction 27 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than diesel.
The Queen of Capilano is our second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the 2003 Bowen Island Community Energy Planning Options Report, the boat kicks about 7,500 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions up to the atmosphere every year. However, this figure is likely low; in 2007 the company installed a less-efficient—albeit more robust— propulsion system.
Given that we have done virtually nothing as a community to reduce our share of heat-trapping pollution in almost a decade, it is encouraging to see B.C. Ferries showing leadership. Obviously, the company is making the move because the business case makes sense; gas is cheaper. It’s is far from perfect, of course. The process of extracting (“fracking”) and processing gas produces a tremendous amount of pollution.
Update: A friend reminds me of the Cornell University study from last year that concluded that, because of the way it is extracted, shale gas is is a worse source of greenhouse gas emissions than coal.
I’d love to hear from the company about what the conversion will mean for greenhouse-gas emissions.