Coastal GasLink has finished building its contentious, 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline across Northern British Columbia, after five years of construction.
Now that the pipeline has reached this milestone, it will soon enter the testing phase required before it can begin transporting natural gas to LNG Canada’s liquefied natural gas export terminal, which is still under construction in Kitimat, on the West Coast.
That terminal will be the first facility in Canada capable of loading natural gas in liquid form onto tankers for shipping abroad. It and the pipeline are critical to the industry’s hopes of supplying Asian markets with Canadian fuel.
But the pipeline route, which traverses two mountain ranges and 10 major water crossings, continues to face opposition from Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs and their supporters, including climate activists.
In a statement on Monday, Coastal GasLink confirmed that it had finished construction of the pipeline, including welding along the entire route from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat. “We continue to progress a number of critical activities into 2024, such as cleanup, reclamation, and environmental protection activities,” it said.
While 100 per cent of the pipeline has been installed, Coastal GasLink said the pipeline project’s “overall progress” is at 96.5 per cent. Pressurized natural gas still has to be introduced section by section.
LNG Canada reiterated in a statement on Monday that the pipeline is on track for “full mechanical completion” by the end of this year. “This aligns with LNG Canada’s needs,” it said. The statement added that the export terminal is now more than 85 per cent complete.
The $18-billion terminal, a joint venture led by Shell PLC RYAD-F, is scheduled to start shipping liquefied natural gas to Asia in 2025.
Coastal GasLink is operated by TC Energy Corp. TRP-T, which currently owns 35 per cent of the project. TC Energy announced a deal last year under which it agreed to set aside a 10-per-cent stake for a planned equity sale to as many as 20 elected First Nation councils along the pipeline route. So far, 17 of the band councils that support the pipeline project have signed option agreements to become equity co-owners.
In 2020, TC Energy sold a 65-per-cent stake in the pipeline venture to Alberta Investment Management Corp. and KKR & Co. Inc.
About 190 kilometres of the pipeline route crosses unceded Wet’suwet’en traditional territory. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose Coastal GasLink say they have jurisdiction over that territory.
One of those chiefs, Frank Alec, whose hereditary chief name is Woos, criticized the RCMP for three major raids since 2019 related to anti-pipeline demonstrations on Wet’suwet’en territory.
“We denounce the criminalization of our relatives at the hands of the RCMP and Canadian justice system,” he said in a statement on Monday. “Our law has existed for far longer than the courts that continue to oppress our people.”
A B.C. Supreme Court judge granted Coastal GasLink an injunction in late 2018 to ensure pipeline workers were not blocked by Indigenous demonstrators or their supporters.
The Wet’suwet’en Nation is made up of five clans, under which there are 13 house groups, each with a hereditary head chief position.
Adam Gagnon and Molly Wickham, who are Wet’suwet’en hereditary sub-chiefs, were among the people arrested by the RCMP in 2021 as part of the force’s enforcement of the injunction.
Trial dates for people charged with criminal contempt in connection with alleged injunction violations have been set for the weeks ahead at the courthouse in Smithers, B.C., including this week for Sabina Dennis, from the Carrier Sekani Nation.
“We will stand together as Indigenous nations with a long history of standing up for our people and our lands,” Ms. Dennis said in a news release.
Coastal GasLink estimated in February that building the pipeline would cost $14.5-billion. That was up 30 per cent from last year’s estimate of $11.2-billion. And it was up 134 per cent from the original 2018 estimate of $6.2-billion.
With the overruns, the total announced cost of building the LNG Canada project is $48.3-billion, including the $18-billion Kitimat terminal, the pipeline and other infrastructure, and annual budgets for drilling in the North Montney region of northeastern B.C.