The National Energy Board pushed the Woodfibre Natural Gas Ltd. project one step closer to reality this week.
The federal agency approved a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export application submitted by the company. The news was delivered by the provincial government, which is aggressively pursuing the construction of LNG projects along the B.C. coast. The approval of the Woodfibre application was announced along with approvals for three other projects proposed for B.C.
Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy said the federal announcement is just one of the approvals needed. He noted the federal cabinet still has to confirm the energy board's approval.
He also said the project requires a number of other approvals, which include a public consultation process before the LNG plant gets full government support.
"This is very early days still for this proposal," said Sturdy.
He said the processes currently underway would dictate the future of the proposal.
"If all things align I believe that it could be a good opportunity for the District of Squamish from an economic development perspective and an employment perspective," said Sturdy. "We have to remember that Squamish is one of the few deepwater ports in this province that is under-utilized."
Ruth Simons, of the Future of Howe Sound Society, said when Premier Christy Clark talks about LNG opportunities she phrases her comments in such a way that it leaves the society members feeling like the Woodfibre proposal is on a fast track.
"When you listen to Premier Clark's language, it's not like, 'Where this could go or where this might go if approved,' it's more like, 'This is where it will go,' and if you listen to that then you feel like it's done," said Simons.
She and members of the society are concerned about the number of projects currently proposed for Howe Sound. The LNG plant is being discussed along with plans to build a gravel extraction operation at McNab Creek, while a new discussion recently started when the City of Vancouver revealed that one of the locations it is considering for a possible garbage incineration facility is near Port Mellon.
"Each of these pieces is being put through processes individually," said Simons. "Who is stepping back and looking at the whole picture?"
Simons said her society will work within the processes in place as the LNG proposal is reviewed by government.
"If you trust the process, which is what we're told to do, there's still a chance our concerns to ensure that the common values of Howe Sound are going to be protected."
Woodfibre's proposed LNG plant on the west shore of Howe Sound is one of the smallest along the B.C. coast, with plans to export 2.1 million tonnes of liquefied fuel a year.
Working with its parent company, the Pacific Oil and Gas Group based in Singapore, the proponents of the LNG project plan to purchase natural gas from Fortis BC. The gas company is currently going through an environmental assessment process in search of permission to increase the capacity of the gas line between Woodfibre, Squamish and Coquitlam.
The pipeline was built in 1990 and Fortis proposes the installation of a new 20-inch pipe over a distance of 52km to provide Woodfibre with the fuel it needs. Fortis will also need to build a new compressor station near Squamish.
A 30-day B.C. Environmental Assessment Office comment period as part of a pre-application process closed Monday, Dec. 16. Nineteen comments were submitted, with 17 of the comments expressing opposition to the pipeline expansion project. There will be one more public comment opportunity on the Fortis BC project after the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office accepts detailed project information from Fortis BC.