VICTORIA – A deadline in the approval process for a proposed $36 billion liquefied natural gas project planned for British Columbia’s northern coast is now being called premature as federal officials review a glut of new documents.
Statements from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna say it’s likely too early to expect an answer for the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG plant at Lelu Island near Prince Rupert by the March 22 deadline.
But the prospect of another delay for the project billed as the largest private-sector investment in B.C. history is starting to wear thin on local residents who have been waiting almost three years for an answer.
“I’ve been dealing with this since the first day they came to Port Edward and that’s been a few years,” Port Edward Mayor Dave MacDonald said Friday.
He said the community of 600 people, about 15 kilometres north of Prince Rupert, would be located within spitting distance from the plant and residents have been waiting on promises of jobs, new roads and bridges.
“The sooner we get a decision of yes or no, the better we all are,” said MacDonald.
B.C.’s Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman said he expects the decision will be referred to the federal cabinet next month. He said the project has huge economic potential for the Canadian economy.
“All in, it’s $36 billion. That’s about two points of the entire gross domestic product of the country. It’s probably 7,000 to 8,000 construction jobs and another 3,000 and 4,000 on the pipeline.”
And today, it was revealed that the Lax Kw’alaam Band, which rejected a $1.15-billion deal to endorse the terminal last year, now tentatively approve of it.
The March 22 date is when McKenna can make an environmental approval decision herself or refer the plan to cabinet, but both the minister and the environmental assessment agency are signalling more work needs to be done to consider the potential greenhouse gas emissions connected to the development.
“On March 4th the proponent provided significant new information to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency regarding the project,” said McKenna in a statement. “That information must be analysed and included in the final environmental assessment report that will be provided to the minister.”
The statement said because of the analysis of the new information it would be “premature at this point to speculate on whether the minister will refer this to cabinet.”
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency issued a draft report last month concluding the plant could be built without major environmental impacts. However it’s now reviewing 34,000 public comments on the review, 11,000 pages of technical data and the new information provided by Pacific NorthWest LNG.
“This information must be analysed and included in the final Environmental Assessment Report that will be provided to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change; it is therefore premature at this point to speculate on when the Minister will issue a decision,” said an agency statement.
The new information from Pacific NorthWest LNG, which is backed by Malaysian-owned energy giant Petronas, contains estimates of total greenhouse gas emissions from the project, including upstream emission estimates from pipelines and gas extraction.
“This request, though broader in scope than past assessments for LNG facilities by the government of Canada, was not unexpected and was responded to in a comprehensive manner,” said the company’s spokesman Spencer Sproule in a statement.
The March 4 letter to CEAA states Pacific NorthWest LNG estimates “GHG emissions from upstream sources supporting the project at build out was less than five million tonnes per year of carbon dioxide.”
Premier Christy Clark said she told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month the LNG project has the potential to reduce GHG emissions in Asia.
“I talked to him about how LNG will be the biggest contribution Canada makes to global climate change if we can help displace coal in China,” she said.