Prospects for BC’s biggest investment

Columnist and legislative reporter Tom Fletcher on the current LNG debate

Now that the political back-and-forth is over, there are two questions left about the Petronas-led proposal to make the biggest private-sector investment in B.C. history.

Will it actually happen? And is it a good deal or a bad one?

Premier Christy Clark ducked the first question on the day the project agreement for Pacific Northwest LNG was approved by the B.C. legislature.

“After many predictions about the Canucks and the Alberta election, I don’t make predictions any more,” Clark said. “But I can say that this project has gone farther than any of our critics said that it would.”

For what it’s worth, my prediction is on record: it will go ahead. The latest evidence is the company’s continued, costly effort to gain federal and local approval for a suspension bridge to Lelu Island to minimize the marine impact. Lax Kw’alaams Band members could not have had details on that change from an underwater pipeline when they voted to oppose the project in May.

Is it a good deal? The mayors of Prince Rupert and Port Edward have made their views clear – they see it as a lifeline for an area that has struggled for years with a faded forest and fishing industry.

The B.C. NDP is also now clear, having voted against the project agreement in the brief summer session of the Legislature that concluded last week. Whether the project proceeds or not, this will be a key election issue in 2017.

NDP leader John Horgan and other MLAs made much of the lack of job guarantees, pointing to similar projects in Australia.

Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman issued a statement with excerpts from the state of Western Australia’s agreement for the Gorgon LNG project. The so-called guarantees contain qualifiers like this: “… except in those cases where … it is not reasonable or economically practical to do so, use labour available within Western Australia.”

Obviously there were no job guarantees, which could only exist in a command economy, in other words a communist dictatorship.

Everyone agrees that specialized trades such as welding alloys for low-temperature operation will be brought in. And LNG processing trains will be shipped in pre-fabricated from places like South Korea, as they have been in Australia and elsewhere. Pacific Northwest LNG is on record with federal regulators that in the latter stages of construction, the use of foreign labour for the project could reach 70 per cent. Does that make it a bad deal?

Perhaps B.C. could attempt to develop this expertise from the ground up. It seems to me that was tried with aluminum ship fabrication, and it didn’t work out too well.

For David Keane, president of the B.C. LNG Alliance, the question is how many large LNG projects, pipelines and all, can be managed at the same time as the Site C dam is being built. It was skilled labour shortages, and particularly a shortage of supervisors, that caused Australia to lose some of its proposed projects.

Keane said all LNG proponents here want to use as much local labour as they can, because it’s less expensive and it builds local support. And he disagrees that B.C. is a sweet deal for the industry. Among other things, pipelines have to be built across two mountain ranges.

Not only that, B.C. producers would pay an LNG income tax, which is a first in the history of the industry. Add to that PST, GST, payroll taxes, municipal taxes and federal and provincial corporate income taxes. Add aboriginal revenue sharing, and we have a deal.

(Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca)

 

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