The small-scale Woodfibre LNG project near Squamish has become the first in British Columbia to receive the go-ahead for construction from its backers.
“We are just delighted today to be able to say that LNG in British Columbia is finally becoming a reality,” BC Premier Christy Clark said last week during a news conference at Woodfibre’s proposed site.
Woodfibre, which is owned by private firm Singapore-based RGE, controlled by Indonesian businessman Sukanto Tanoto, received the finding approval from the board of RGE subsidiary Pacific Oil & Gas.
“We commit today to build this project, a project that is right for Squamish and right for BC,” Woodfibre LNG’s vice president of corporate affairs and country manager, Byng Giraud, said.
Construction on the C$1.6 billion (US$1.2 billion) facility is slated to begin in 2017. The Woodfibre project differs from most proposed Canadian LNG start-ups in that it is a brownfield venture rather than a greenfield development. Plans call for the plant to be built on a former Western Forest Products industrial site.
In addition, Woodfibre intends to use electricity from provincially owned BC Hydro liquefy gas at its plant.
The provincial and federal governments have conditionally approved Woodfibre LNG, and Clark is expected to have few concerns once the project is built. Under the Canadian constitution, Ottawa has the final say.
Approval from the Squamish Nation will also be required, based on political convention, the Canadian National Energy Board (NEB) regulatory approval process and court precedents favouring the concept of social licence for aboriginal groups on energy projects. However, the Squamish Nation has yet to endorse the project, and Squamish Nation chief Ian Campbell was conspicuous by his absence from the news conference.
The Squamish Nation has worked with Woodfibre on the project, and the group is expected to benefit financially from the development through jobs for its members and other business relationships. But according to Campbell, the Squamish Nation’s conditions for approval have not been met.
“It’s too early to celebrate,” he said in a statement quoted by the Globe and Mail. “The Squamish Nation set out its 25 conditions to specifically protect sensitive land and marine habitats – in and around the proposed project site. And only when all those conditions have been resolved will we sign the deal.”
One sticking point is the project’s proposed cooling system, which the Squamish Nation has identified as one of the unresolved issues.
“The SN has decided that seawater cooling, [Woodfibre LNG’s] preferred cooling technology, is too impactful on cultural and environmental values, and has rejected this technology,” said a statement on the group’s website. “Instead, we chose air cooling, which has been found to have the lowest net cultural and environmental impacts, and does not impact the marine environment of Howe Sound. Therefore, we have directed WLNG to use air cooling as the cooling technology for the WLNG project.”
The Squamish Nation said it might revoke its environmental assessment certificate and terminate an environmental assessment agreement, or pursue legal remedies if the cooling system is not revised.