With the blessing of the Trudeau government, British Columbia is one step closer to having a giant liquefied natural gas project that promises to create thousands of construction jobs, bring billions of dollars in investment, and ship tonnes of B.C.’s natural gas to Asia.
But there are still many hurdles to cross before the project can move forward.
‘People have something to live for now’
Near B.C.’s gas fields in Fort Nelson, Kristy Leer celebrated Tuesday’s news that the government has approved the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG project, that would see a facility built to liquefy and export natural gas produced by Progress Energy Canada in northeastern B.C.
“I had goosebumps. I’m so happy,” said Leer, who owns a traffic control pilot car and relies on the oil and gas industry for work. “People have something to live for now.”
If the LNG project proceeds, it will give a dramatic boost to energy drilling in B.C.’s northeastern shale gas fields. The global slump in energy prices has virtually capped extraction there and that has hit communities hard.
In Fort Nelson and Fort St John, dubbed the Energetic City, many companies have shut down or laid off up to 80 per cent of employees.
Area has seen hard times
“People have been going through some pretty hard times,” said David McDougall, who works at an industry supply company in Fort St John.
He was “overjoyed” with Tuesday’s federal announcement.
“People can see the light at the end of the tunnel, he said. “People will stick it out or start to move into town with optimism.”
But the project may still not happen.
The ramp up in northeast B.C. gas drilling and the construction of a pipeline, gas liquefaction plant, and export facility won’t happen until Petronas — the Malaysian oil and gas company behind the proposal — reviews the entire project and shareholders make a final investment decision on whether to proceed or not.
Amy Rutter fears the federal approval is too little, too late for investors.
“I really think we missed the boat here, and I don’t expect it to go much further,” said the apprentice electrician from Terrace, B.C.
‘We missed the boat here’
Rutter was once so excited about job prospects, she organized a pro-LNG rally in her hometown and started training to be an electrician so she could work in LNG.
Now, her faith is gone.
“With all the conditions, the extra reviews and then there’s going to be some legal battles … It doesn’t look good,” she said.
Rutter is so certain no LNG jobs are on their way, she’s decided to retrain as a school bus driver.
“I wish it could be better, but it’s been held off so long. All the gas prices have dropped, the LNG supply has gone up,” she said.
Gas prices uncertain
At the news conference to announce approval for the project on Tuesday, a reporter asked B.C. Premier Christy Clark about the challenge of low gas prices.
“I’m told the price will go up any day,” said Clark, adding, “I don’t know the answer to that question.”
Earlier, the premier had said she was “a determined person and we are determined to grow this economy.”
But it’s not clear if determination alone will convince Petronas to invest, or neutralize opposition from environmental groups and some Indigenous people.
Both the premier and federal cabinet ministers stressed their efforts to work with Indigenous communities, and the 190 federal conditions on the project include provisions for Indigenous environmental monitoring committees.
In his public remarks, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr mispronounced the names of several north coast First Nations.
Indigenous opponents vow legal fight
And Indigenous opponents of Pacific NorthWest LNG vow to stand their ground.
“We have no alternative now but to take it to the courts,” said Donald Wesley, a hereditary chief representing the Gitwilgyoots tribe of the Lax Kwa’laams.
For over a year, local Indigenous people have been occupying Lelu Island, an important Pacific salmon habitat where the LNG plant and export facility would be located.
“We’re trying to protect something here that belongs to the people of Canada and it’s such a valuable resource here,” said Wesley. “I think Trudeau made the biggest mistake of his career.”
“We are the people of the salmon,” said Ken Lawson, a fisherman and Lax Kwa’laams elder who has been occupying Lelu Island. “You take away the salmon, you take away the people. This is not just an aboriginal issue. This is for all the people of B.C., if not Canada.”
No date set for investment decision
Other Indigenous communities support the project and have already signed benefit agreements with Pacific NorthWest.
President of Pacific NorthWest LNG Adnan Zainal Abidin called the federal approval “a significant milestone.”
“Moving forward, Pacific NorthWest LNG and our shareholders will conduct a total project review over the coming months prior to announcing next steps for the project,” said Abidin.
And so, after a much anticipated announcement, the fate of a controversial project that’s been called both the biggest private sector investment in Canada and the largest greenhouse gas polluter in the country, is still uncertain.
With files from Andrew Kurjata
For more on this story click on the audio labelled: ‘From celebration to court threats, how locals are reacting to Pacific Northwest LNG being approved.’
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