Unhealthy, unnatural gas

British Columbia is facing a critical health crisis that is inextricably linked to the environment. Extreme weather events like wildfires, heat waves, and droughts are on the rise, impacting public health.[1] These events are directly connected to the global rise in temperatures caused by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas.[1] The increase in fossil fuel emissions is trapping heat around our planet, turning what were once rare weather events into frequent, severe health emergencies. The 2021 heat dome is a stark example, causing over 600 deaths in BC, overwhelming health care services, and overheating essential medical equipment, such as MRIs and CT scanners.[2]

Fossil fuel emissions are not only heating our planet but also polluting the air.[1] Burning these fuels releases a hazardous mixture of pollutants that cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, contributing to an estimated 15 300 premature deaths per year in Canada.[3] Reducing fossil fuel emissions, also known as decarbonization, is imperative to protect people from these harms.

One of the most pressing issues in BC is growth of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, which is rapidly becoming the province’s leading source of fossil fuel emissions.[4] Misinformation suggests that “natural” gas is part of a clean energy transition, but there is no scientific basis for these claims. LNG is a fossil fuel predominantly composed of methane, which has heat-trapping potential 85 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span.[4] From extraction to transportation and usage, methane gas releases harmful pollutants that have substantial immediate and long-term health implications.

The extraction process of methane gas, known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, involves drilling several kilometres into the earth and injecting water, sand, and chemicals to release trapped gas.[5] This process poses multiple health risks, including water contamination, air pollution, and earthquakes.[5,6] Despite these growing concerns, BC continues to accelerate its fracking activities.

Transporting methane gas also presents significant issues. Pipelines transporting gas are disruptive to the communities they cross. Most notably, the Coastal GasLink for methane gas transport has passed through several traditional Indigenous land areas and sparked conflict with communities like the Wet'suwet'en First Nation.[7]

Burning methane in indoor gas stoves releases harmful air pollutants, heightening the risk of asthma in children and aggravating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.[8] Studies have demonstrated that methane leaks persist even when the stove is off, such that range hoods are only partially protective.[9]

We are increasingly confronted with the severe health consequences of fossil fuel emissions. The urgency to reduce our dependence on LNG is backed by compelling evidence and health benefits. From a health care perspective, LNG is a misnomer; its label as natural gas is in stark contrast to its substantial harm to human health.
—Kevin Liang, MD
Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment Member
—Larry Barzelai, MD
Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment BC Chair
—Ilona Hale, MD, FCFPC
Council on Health Promotion Member
—Katharine McKeen, MD, MBA, FCFP
Council on Health Promotion Member


This article is the opinion of the authors and not necessarily the Council on Health Promotion or Doctors of BC. This article has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.

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1.    Romanello M, di Napoli C, Green C, et al. The 2023 report of the Lancet countdown on health and climate change: The imperative for a health-centred response in a world facing irreversible harms. Lancet 2023;402(10419):2346-2394.

2.    Beugin D, Clark D, Miller S, et al. The case for adapting to extreme heat. Canadian Climate Institute, June 2023. Accessed 4 December 2023. https://climateinstitute.ca/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/The-case-for-adapting-to-extreme-heat-costs-of-the-BC-heat-wave.pdf.

3.    Health Canada. Health impacts of air pollution in Canada: Estimates of morbidity and premature mortality outcomes – 2021 report. Accessed 4 December 2023. www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/healthy-living/health-impacts-air-pollution-2021.html.

4.    Kühne K, Bartsch N, Tate RD, et al. “Carbon bombs”—Mapping key fossil fuel projects. Energy Policy 2022;166:112950.

5.    Benusic MA. Fracking in BC: A public health concern. BCMJ 2013;55:238-239.

6.    Chapman AR. Hydraulic fracturing, cumulative development and earthquakes in the Peace River region of British Columbia, Canada. J Geosci Environ Prot 2021;9:55-82.

7.    McLinden AJ. The role of legacy media: An examination of coverage during the Coastal GasLink conflict [doctoral dissertation]. Ottawa: Carleton University, 2022. Accessed 4 December 2023. https://repository.library.carleton.ca/concern/etds/x059c849p.

8.    Balmes JR, Holm SM, McCormack MC, et al. Cooking with natural gas: Just the facts, please. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2023;207:996-997.

9.    Lebel ED, Finnegan CJ, Ouyang Z, Jackson RB. Methane and NOx emissions from natural gas stoves, cooktops, and ovens in residential homes. Environ Sci Technol 2022;56:2529-2539.

Kevin E. Liang, MD, CCFP, Larry Barzelai, MD,, Ilona Hale, MD, FCFPC, Katharine McKeen, MD, MBA, FCFP. Unhealthy, unnatural gas. BCMJ, Vol. 66, No. 1, January, February, 2024, Page(s) 23 - Council on Health Promotion.

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