There are many factors under consideration as British Columbia moves towards building a liquefied natural gas industry (LNG) — not just the lengthy process each project takes to move from conception, project approvals, design and then to making a final investment decision committing to the project, but also the work that is involved preparing a local workforce and communities for the thousands of jobs that will be available if even just one or two LNG projects move forward. The task of taking B.C.’s untapped LNG to commercialization ultimately aims to bring sustainable development and economic growth to the province’s communities.
The BC Building Trades has spent years building relationships with communities and First Nations to prepare for the job boom that will come from an emerging LNG industry in B.C.
Tom Sigurdson, executive director, BC Building Trades, said that due to the cyclical, seasonal nature of construction and as the resource sector has seen a downturn, the availability of a skilled workforce is probably the highest it has been in a number of years, if not decades.
“We’ve had a good long run right across Canada, but particularly in Western Canada… but in construction we haven’t seen the levels of unemployment that we see today in quite a while, so now would be a grand time for our members, if there was a positive final investment decision. It would assure that there’s going to be a highly skilled and qualified Canadian workforce that would be able to build an LNG facility,” Sigurdson said.
Sigurdson said to keep the skill levels where they are today, more than 20,000 workers in the construction trades will need to be trained to replace the departure of the baby boom generation from the workforce in the coming years.
To prepare British Columbians for jobs, BC Building Trades has been working with the provincial government to get apprentices onto publicly funded projects.
“We’re trying to create some employment opportunities for them, and we’re trying to do that now with some of the federal infrastructure funding, and we have been talking to a number of members of parliament about that, because we have to create apprenticeship opportunities,” said Sigurdson.
The Woodfibre LNG project is set to begin drawing on that skilled workforce when it starts construction after meeting its regulatory requirements. These include the requirements set by the Squamish Nation, after Woodfibre voluntarily undertook the Squamish Nation environmental review process.
“It’s a significant step forward – a clear signal that the industry is moving forward,” said, David Keane, President, BCLNG Alliance.
Keane said LNG Canada and Pacific Northwest LNG have, through their Pathways to Success program, worked with First Nations to develop the skills to secure employment in the LNG industry in Prince Rupert, Terrace and surrounding areas.
In Prince George, Kitimat LNG Project’s Pacific Trail Pipelines Aboriginal Skills Employment Partnership (PTP ASEP) society’s clients and activities provide training services and educational upgrade programs from Prince George, B.C. to Kitimat and Prince Rupert. From as many as 44 First Nation communities, more than 2,000 individuals have received training and more than 1,100 have found employment since the program began in 2010.
FortisBC is nearing completion on an $400 million expansion to its Tilbury LNG facility, which to date, has employed and provided training opportunities for more than 870 people including members of the nearby Tsawwassen First Nation and contracted goods and services from 140 locally owned businesses.
Joe Bevan, chief councillor of the Kitselas Nation, also chairs the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, a group representing 27 First Nations wanting to purchase equity shares in resource development projects, conditional on economic and environmental principles.
Chief Bevan said Kitselas eyes the LNG industry as an opportunity, and is seeing positive examples of First Nations and industry coming together.
“I’m encouraged to see a lot of that happening now,” Chief Bevan said. “With proper and meaningful engagement, anything can happen with these projects, and this is what we appreciate with industry – that they have engaged with us first.”
“When we start negotiations with any industry, we start with the environment, and we put that into a legal agreement. Of course it’s binding, so that helps the Kitselas in a way that we feel is safe going forward,” Chief Bevan said. “And we have redress in our agreements. When we start off discussions – it starts with the environment.”
For development projects under review, mitigation plans are received and reviewed by the Kitselas Nation, and Chief Bevan said cross-referencing building plans with traditional use studies ensures pipelines don’t cross seasonal wildlife ranges or salmon migrations.
“The people gave us the mandate to go ahead, after we gave them the literacy around the energy projects,” Bevan said.
As families depend on fishing and hunting for their livelihoods, Chief Bevan said ensuring that traditional use territories remain undisturbed is paramount for the community.
Chief Bevan also said developing a workforce within the Kitselas community that is focused on new technologies is key.
Lori Ackerman, Mayor of Fort St. John, said that every community in Canada is reliant on natural resources, and that the area, rich in natural gas, began looking at building export facilities for natural gas ten years ago.
“The technology changed, and all of a sudden we had this huge play of natural gas when the Shale industry really started in about 2003. We keep an eye on what’s going on with the natural gas and the competitiveness and the different jurisdictions, because it will have a dramatic impact on the growth of the community.” Ackerman said.
“The Conference Board of Canada estimated the production at 20 million tonnes per annum when the Province was speaking about 82 million tonnes per annum. Being a bit more conservative, they talked about this 20 million tonnes per annum and what that would look like for investment in our region.”
Ackerman said is the Conference Board of Canada’s projections are correct, then the growth in her region could triple by 2035.
“If the industry triples up here…we will be demanding professionals in the community… and there’s going to be a huge demand for housing, more health care professionals, more education professionals and public safety.”
“Those are foundational to the community – we’re going to be requiring more professionals that work within the industry – the technicians and technologists that ensure the industry is maintaining its safety records and that the production and processing is safe,” she said.
Ackerman emphasized the need to encourage research and development, as well as investment and new innovations.
“We can’t be afraid to look at new innovations. Over the years, we have had people who work in the field see a new way of doing things that are more efficient, effective, safer and leave a lighter footprint,” Ackerman said.
“What that does is increase the intellectual property that is owned locally, and creates genuine wealth when you are able to develop the manufacturing or secondary manufacturing plants here in British Columbia, and that creates an opportunity to drive education in that field, and an opportunity to dig deeper into other technologies that could be adapted to this industry.”
“It is through the use of new technologies and that creation of genuine wealth that has taken our industry to this point…the industry has come a long way.”
Chief Bevan said developing new technologies for the industry is key to both growing the B.C. economy – and to addressing global warming.
“For those who want to get a job in gas – now is the time to prepare for the industry – it could lead to a lifetime of employment,” Chief Bevan said. “The demand is just growing and growing and that won’t stop. So it’s going to be an explosion of demand… of, let’s race to get to the market.”
“The Northeast is the gas capital of the world, but you couldn’t tell – yet.”