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BC Politics

BC Gov't Gives Green Light to Woodfibre LNG

Howe Sound plant clears another hurdle while linked pipeline faces further scrutiny.

Bob Mackin 27 Oct

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin, a regular contributor to The Tyee, has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since 1990. Find his Tyee articles here.

Woodfibre LNG has the go-ahead from the BC Liberal government, but the environmental assessment of a necessary natural gas pipeline continues.

B.C.'s environmental assessment office issued the certificate Monday, backed up by a joint ruling from Environment Minister Mary Polak and Natural Gas Minister Rich Coleman.

The six-page letter from Polak and Coleman said the certificate includes "enforceable conditions" and "project design parameters" that ensure "the project will be constructed, operated and decommissioned in a way that no significant adverse effects are likely to occur."

It said the assessment office was satisfied that conditions would prevent or reduce potential environmental, social, economic, heritage or health impacts. The provincial government conducted the environmental assessment on behalf of the federal government.

The ruling did find the potential for the seawater cooling intake to harm fish, particularly Pacific herring. But based on the location of the intake and herring spawning locations, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans indicated population levels would not be significantly impacted.

The Polak and Coleman letter said there were concerns raised by the office's working group and public about shipping impacts on marine mammals, including direct strikes and noise, and the potential for LNG tankers to interfere with marine users with vessel wake.

"Key concerns were also raised related to potential accidental LNG carrier collision or grounding resulting in a loss of containment and ignition of LNG," said the letter. "We note the commitments made by the Proponent to slow their LNG carriers and to ensure that each carrier would be accompanied by at least three escort tugs and guided by two BC Coast Pilots."

The environmental assessment office consulted with 10 aboriginal groups, including the Squamish Nation, which dropped its opposition to the project when Woodfibre LNG said it would meet all conditions set in a Squamish Nation environmental probe, including a revenue-sharing agreement.

Woodfibre LNG's ultimate owner is Indonesian billionaire Sukanto Tanoto. The project's capital cost is between $1.4 billion and $1.8 billion. More than half the $620 million construction budget at the former pulp mill will be spent in B.C. and it would cost $540 million a year to operate. The proponent said it would pay $200 million-a-year in taxes, including $21 million municipally, and employ 100 people.

More hurdles ahead

The project is arguably the most strategically important for Premier Christy Clark, under fire for overselling and under-delivering an LNG industry. Woodfibre LNG's proximity to the populated Lower Mainland media market would be key to many photo opportunities as the 2017 election approaches.

But the project still faces hurdles. The environmental assessment office is still pondering the 52-kilometre Eagle Mountain-Woodfibre Gas Pipeline application by FortisBC.

During the public comment period, which ended Oct. 15, opponent My Sea to Sky told the panel that the project lacks "social license." In that submission, the group's leader Eoin Finn wrote Howe Sound communities are strongly opposed, and some councils have even voted to ban tankers in the area.

"We have stated that the project is opposable as it stands," Finn wrote. "Hundreds of Howe Sound citizens have participated in rallies and events over the last 18 months to protest this unsustainable project."

My Sea to Sky and Concerned Citizens Bowen delivered a 4,200-signature petition to MLA Jordan Sturdy, which was briefly tabled by Sturdy on Oct. 22.  [Tyee]

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