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The Ridley Island Terminal near Prince Rupert B.C. is being designed to ship 1.2 million tonnes of propane per year, and is expected to be the first propane export terminal on Canada's west coast.

LONNIE WISHART/ALTAGAS/Handout

AltaGas Ltd. will open Canada’s first propane export terminal on Tuesday in British Columbia, with chief executive officer Randy Crawford envisaging a trend of Canadian energy companies targeting Asian markets.

Calgary-based AltaGas is keen on Asia, given that the United States has been accelerating energy production for many years, including natural gas liquids such as propane, Mr. Crawford said.

AltaGas is focusing on exports to Japan and other markets in Asia. The new plant chills propane on Ridley Island in northwestern B.C. after the fuel arrives in pressurized rail cars.

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“We don’t want our future to be dependent on what happens in America. We want to take control of our future,” Mr. Crawford said in an interview.

Tuesday’s ceremonies for the grand opening of the Ridley Island plant will include speeches in nearby Prince Rupert. Civic leaders see the propane sector as a bright spot for the local economy after watching five proposals in the Prince Rupert region fizzle for exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG).

AltaGas owns 70 per cent of the project while Royal Vopak of the Netherlands holds the remaining 30 per cent.

Two other West Coast propane ventures are targeting Asia. Calgary-based Pembina Pipeline Corp. is constructing a propane export plant on Watson Island near Prince Rupert in hopes of opening in 2020, while Vancouver-based Pacific Traverse Energy Ltd. aims to begin propane exports by 2023 from Kitimat, B.C.

Mr. Crawford will christen the $500-million terminal on Ridley Island, the first propane export facility for shipping from Canada to Asia. At least 50 per cent of the AltaGas joint venture’s Canadian liquefied propane will be shipped to Japan-based Astomos Energy Corp.

For the long term, AltaGas is optimistic about getting involved with constructing a barge-based, floating facility for shipping LNG to Asia. The midstream company hasn’t selected any site yet, and there are major challenges to overcome, such as finding a partner to build a pipeline to transport natural gas.

“This can be done in an environmentally sensitive way,” Mr. Crawford said. “With this vast resource that we have here in Canada, we are very blessed.”

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In 2016, AltaGas and its partners halted preliminary work on the small-scale Douglas Channel LNG joint venture in Kitimat.

But Dan Woznow, AltaGas senior vice-president of energy exports, said AltaGas is again investigating LNG exporting opportunities with Japan-based Idemitsu Kosan Co. Ltd.

Idemitsu and AltaGas suspended work on their Triton LNG venture in 2016.

“There are people knocking on our door, wondering what else, what’s next,” Mr. Woznow said.

Greg Kist, who heads a fledgling group called Rockies LNG Partners, said Canada needs to diversify away from the United States for exports of natural gas and valuable associated liquids such as propane.

Mr. Kist said Western Canadian producers want to place the spotlight on the need to construct another B.C. project to export LNG, beyond the one approved last year by Royal Dutch Shell PLC-led LNG Canada in Kitimat. LNG Canada began construction this year and plans to start exports to Asia by early 2025.

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“We recognize that the U.S., our traditional export market, has its own production growth to satisfy much of its internal demand. So, Asia clearly becomes a very important market for us,” Mr. Kist said in an interview.

He spread the word about Rockies LNG during last week’s Canada Gas and LNG Exhibition and Conference in Vancouver. The Rockies LNG consortium represents 10 natural gas producers in Alberta and British Columbia that want to export LNG to Asia.

Members of the group include Birchcliff Energy Ltd., Advantage Oil & Gas Ltd., Seven Generations Energy Ltd. and Peyto Exploration & Development Corp.

"I think that it is a low likelihood that we become the terminal operators, but we are looking for partners to come in,” Mr. Kist said. “It’s partnerships with producers, First Nations and industry partners with the acumen to advance a pipeline and an LNG plant. The more LNG projects that can get advanced, the better it is for Canada as a whole.”

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