LNG project approval process inches forward

Lelu Island, site of the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal/Photo: Brian Huntington

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — Reports from the Globe and Mail indicate that Pacific Northwest LNG will submit new reports to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency by the end of next week.

The consortium is working on addressing lingering agency concerns about plans to push forward with a $36-billion liquefied natural gas investment, including an $11.4-billion Pacific Coast export facility near Prince Rupert.

The federal regulator sent a six-page letter to Pacific Northwest back on March 18, asking the Petronas led consortium to file more details about plans which call for a 2.7-kilometre, suspension bridge and pier, connecting a proposed Lelu Island LNG terminal with an export tanker dock.

The bridge and pier would carry a pipeline designed to protect salmon on Flora Bank as well as the nearby harbor porpoise population, addressing concerns expressed by First Nations and environmental groups.

Pacific Northwest is hoping the upcoming filings will represent the final chapter in what has been an agency review that began more than three years ago and has featured a half dozen pauses in the process.

Assuming the regulator rules the new reports are an adequate response, it’s still expected to be late next month before the issue goes to the federal cabinet, for a final approval decision.

Michael Culbert, who has just stepped down as Pacific Northwest President, but is now the Petronas Canadian Chairman, has stated the consortium has been advised by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna that if the CEAA gives the project the greenlight, the cabinet decision period will be no more than 90 days.

However, government approval isn’t considered a slam dunk. Matt Horne of the Pembina Institute clean energy think tank insists the cabinet will also have to take into account the impact of greenhouse gas emissions — which he argues would be high enough to undermine B.C. targets for allowable GHG emissions.

Still, if the project finally does get the long awaited green light, the consortium will then be in a position to make its final investment decision, and based on the current approval process time line, that potentially could be in September.