The biggest infrastructure project in Canadian history could be finalized as early as today, with news reports yesterday that Royal Dutch Shell and its partners have reached a final investment decision on the mammoth, C$40-billion LNG Canada project in Kitimat, British Columbia.
“LNG Canada augurs a new wave of investments for major gas export projects after a three-year hiatus forced by a global supply glut,” Bloomberg reports. The project “will be able to send cargoes from Kitimat—a 14-hour drive north of Vancouver—to Tokyo in about eight days, versus 20 days from the U.S. Gulf” of Mexico.
“It’s also a welcome boost for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,” the U.S. news agency continues. “LNG Canada promises better [commodity sale] prices for the country, whose energy exports are sold almost exclusively to the U.S. at depressed prices for lack of a coastal facility.”
The project could eventually export 26 million tons of LNG per year. While the initial approval is limited to 13 million, a second phase to double capacity “is all but an inevitability” due to the economies of scale, National Bank of Canada analysts reported in May.
Consortium partners include Shell, with 40% of the project, Malaysian state fossil Petronas at 25%, PetroChina and Mitsubishi at 15% each, and South Korea’s Kogas at 5%.
The initial news coverage focused on shifts in demand, particularly in Asia, that are expected to undo a natural gas glut that led Petronas to abandon its own $36-billion Pacific NorthWest LNG project in July 2017. At the time, economist Jim Stanford said Canada had dodged an economic bullet when Petronas stepped away, contrasting the country’s more deliberate regulatory system with a detailed account of an ill-fated and expensive LNG boom in Australia.
“Those rules likely saved us from wasting tens of billions of dollars on the biggest white elephant in Canadian history,” Stanford wrote at the time. “In effect, Canada’s regulatory and fiscal processes function as an opportunity for sober second thought—like an economic Senate. And in this case, sobriety was desperately needed.”
But that hasn’t been the tone of the more recent coverage of the LNG Canada decision.
“The market, oversupplied for the last few years, is seen flipping to a deficit as soon as 2022 absent new projects,” Bloomberg reports. “LNG imports will set a new record this year of 308 million metric tons per year thanks to growth from Asia.”
“If this does happen, it will be a gigantic story and it will make a lot of people happy,” Stewart Muir, executive director of the Vancouver-based Resource Works Society, told Global News. “It will stretch from the coast all the way back up to the northeast, the Peace River country where the gas comes from. There will have to be a new pipeline built, there will have to be the infrastructure to produce the gas…suffice to say they will require thousands of workers.”
Industry analysts also see the LNG Canada deal triggering a new wave of investment in the industry. “We think 2019 could be the biggest year of LNG final investment decisions ever,” Wood Mackenzie analyst Nicholas Browne told Bloomberg last week.
But the David Suzuki Foundation’s Tom Green warned the project would collide with British Columbia’s weak methane regulations, helping to accelerate climate change as the province misses its 2025 deadline to reduce emissions of the short-acting greenhouse gas by 45%. “Really, we should be transitioning to a low-carbon economy, to less greenhouse gas pollution, so our focus should be on building out renewables,” he said. “This is doubling down on yesterday’s economy.”
If the project does proceed, Green added, B.C. will need “best in class” methane rules to keep it as clean as possible.
Global notes that the project could test the political alliance that has the B.C. Green Party backing John Horgan’s New Democrats in a minority legislature. The parties’ Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA) requires the government to draft a climate plan to reduce emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, and Green leader and climate scientist Andrew Weaver thinks that can’t be done with LNG development.
Global couldn’t reach Weaver for comment Sunday, but he tweeted that failing to deliver on the climate plan would break the deal.
“We’ve agreement 4 BCNDP 2 develop plan 2 reduce emissions 40% by 2030 in CASA,” he tweeted. “Plan hasn’t been announced. If plan isn’t realistic, then CASA agreement will have been violated. Also, @BCGreens will not support required LNG legislation. Will @bcliberals? that is question.”
“Basically, it appears that @AJWVictoriaBC got snookered in the CASA deal and has become a paper tiger,” replied Norman Spector, a former chief of staff to then-prime minister Brian Mulroney and deputy minister to then-B.C. premier Bill Bennett.
Last week, Horgan was upbeat about a project for which his government announced lavish subsidies in March.
“We’ll see what LNG Canada does, but should they proceed with the final investment decisions, it will be certainly significant for our province,” he said. “It will allow more revenues to come to the Crown to be distributed throughout the province to the people who need services. [It will] help health care, housing, you name it. So it’s definitely going to be good news for British Columbia should they proceed.”