It’s been a rough start to 2016 for many companies hoping to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals in Canada, with the price for the product continuing its freefall and many projects delayed due to onerous approval processes.
But LNG companies certainly aren’t letting the bad news dissuade them from pressuring government: since the Liberals were elected in mid-October, LNG companies have lobbied federal officials in 63 different meetings.
Pacific NorthWest LNG Meets with Officials 21 Times, Including 15 MPs
Pacific NorthWest LNG — the company majority owned by Petronas that’s pushing to build a massive $11.4-billion LNG export terminal near Prince Rupert, B.C. — has led the pack, lobbying the federal government 21 times.
The meetings, six of which occurred on February 2, included environment minister Catherine McKenna, transport minister Marc Garneau, the chiefs of staff for five departments and 15 Members of Parliament.
The proposed facility has been the subject of significant criticism ever since Petronas submitted its environmental assessment application in 2013 due to potential impacts on critical juvenile salmon in the Skeena watershed.
Earlier this month, over 130 scientists including renown limnologist David Schindler and 80 other PhD-holding experts signed an open letter to McKenna that petitioned her to reject the latest report by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) as it was a “flawed assessment” that serves as a “symbol of what is wrong with environmental decision-making in Canada.”
On March 21, the LNG company received a letter from the CEAA with a fresh set of questions to answer and an amended timeline. Once the federal government receives answers from the company, it will take up to a month-and-a-half to make a decision.
Chris Tollefson, director of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, has stated the project “could be the biggest single point source emitter of greenhouse gas in the country.”
Low Commodity Prices Force Companies to Reconsider Plans
But Pacific NorthWest is certainly not the only LNG company that’s been fighting for the government’s favour. LNG Canada Development — a joint venture between Shell, PetroChina, Mitsubishi and Korea Gas that’s pushing for permission to build an export facility near Kitimat, B.C. — lobbied the government 14 times between October 27, 2015, and February 25, 2016.
Three ministers — Hunter Tootoo (Fisheries and Oceans), Chrystia Freeland (International Trade) and John McCallum (Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship) — were among those met with by the joint venture. LNG Canada Development has also been experiencing delays due to low prices. A final investment decision expected will be made later this year.
Woodfibre LNG Pushes Ahead Following Meetings with CEAA President
Some companies have been experiencing better luck. Woodfibre LNG, which plans to build a facility near Squamish, B.C., recently received nods from the federal government and Squamish First Nation to proceed with dozens of conditions.
Between November 3, 2015, and January 28, 2016, the company met with federal officials in eight different meetings, with the most high-profile of the lot being with CEAA president Ron Hallman and vice-president of operations Heath Smith on November 19, 2015. The company still has to attain approval from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada.
The three companies mentioned — Pacific NorthWest, LNG Canada Development and Woodfibre LNG — belong to the BC LNG Developers Alliance, a lobbying organization that also includes ExxonMobil, Kitimat LNG, Triton LNG and Prince Rupert LNG as members (the alliance’s president David Keane served as a vice-president at BG Canada, which is building the latter).
On February 2, the lobbying group met with a star-studded line-up of officials, including natural resources minister Jim Carr, employment minister MaryAnn Mihychuk, a deputy minister, two assistant deputy ministers and two chiefs of staff.
Lobbying U.S. Ambassador Pays off for Bear Head LNG
But all things considered, Bear Head LNG — which plans to start exporting its product by 2019 from Nova Scotia — may be the most successful of the bunch. In August 2015, the project received import and export licenses from the National Energy Board (NEB), while the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) gave it a similar approval the month prior.
In recent months, the company met with Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. Gary Doer eight times and treasury board president Scott Brison twice. However, in what could be interpreted as not-so-great news, both the chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the company “left to pursue outside opportunities” in early March.
There have been some minor victories for the industry, perhaps as a partial result of lobbying efforts. But the short-term future isn’t looking especially bright. A recent poll of 802 British Columbia residents suggested public support for LNG projects is slipping.
On March 22, Bloomberg reported a proposed $40-billion LNG project in Australia was cancelled due to low commodity prices.
It might be the sign of things to come.
But if the last six months have been any indication, we can be certain that federal officials are going to keep receiving plenty of visits from LNG companies.
Image: Indigenous leaders gather at the proposed site of the Pacific Northwest LNG terminal. Photo: Skeena Watershed Coalition