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Concerns over environmental track record of Indonesian billionaire planning LNG plant in Squamish

Controversial Indonesian billionaire Sukanto Tanoto has purchased an industrial site in Squamish for the purposes of exporting liquefied natural gas.

But the self-educated entrepreneur has been criticized for environmental practices elsewhere in his $12 billion industrial empire, raising questions about his B.C. venture.

Environmental watchers say Tanoto’s logging company, APRIL, has a checkered record in cutting down Indonesia’s rainforests and destroying wildlife habitat.

‘LEADING DRIVER OF DEFORESTATION’

“His company is the leading driver of deforestation in Indonesian peatlands,” said Shane Moffatt, a Toronto-based forest campaigner for Greenpeace.

“Recent government data shows 60 per cent of the fibre supply to his main pulp mill is actually rainforest wood,” he said. “Promises of conservation have not been kept.

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“As long as his company operates, the future also looks bleak for the rare Sumatran tiger, an excellent swimmer well-adapted to the rainforest,” he said.

“I would really question what his track record means for his Canadian plans,” he said.

Tanoto’s energy company, Pacific Oil & Gas, says it would use a deepwater port at the old Woodfibre pulp mill site to operate what it calls a “small-scale” LNG facility.

Natural gas would be liquefied for shipment in tankers to overseas markets.

“Pacific Oil & Gas is in the early stages of planning,” said Pacific Energy Corp. president Ratnesh Bedi from Singapore.

“If approved, it would bring jobs, taxes and economic benefits to the area.”

He said the 25-cm natural gas pipeline from Coquitlam will be assessed for its carrying capacity.

Export volumes would be about two million tonnes per year, one-tenth the size of a larger plant being planned in Kitimat.

LEARNED FROM PAST MISTAKES

Tanoto says in an undated posting on his website that he has learned from past environmental mistakes and is changing his practices.

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“He has seen the damage that has been done to the environment, particularly illegal logging, and has now recognized the merits of conservation and sustainable development,” says an introductory section on the billionaire called “A Tycoon’s View.”

Tanoto, 63, says he amassed a personal fortune of $2.8 billion starting with a small family company supplying spare parts to construction firms.

It branched out into palm oil, pulp and now energy, where he is a partner in an LNG receiving terminal in China that opened in 2012.

According to the company’s website, 50,000 people are employed and assets are more than $12 billion.

The 86-hectare Squamish site was purchased last month for $25.5 million from Western Forest Products.

It is not connected by road to Squamish, but is home to a deepwater port at the head of Howe Sound.

Premier Christy Clark has called LNG exports “one of the greatest economic opportunities our province has ever seen.”

She said the province has 10 partnerships to establish LNG facilities in B.C.