Skip to main content

The proposed Woodfibre LNG site in Squamish, B.C., on July 23, 2014.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

FortisBC, FTS-T the largest distributor of natural gas to British Columbia homes, plans to install two gas pipelines through a proposed mountain tunnel in the province, as global demand grows for fuel from sources other than Russia.

The company had previously envisioned placing just one pipeline inside the tunnel. But Darrin Marshall, the pipeline project’s director, says FortisBC now believes a second pipeline is needed as a backup measure to keep fuel flowing consistently in case of a problem in one of the pipes, such as leakage.

The pipelines are intended to supply Woodfibre LNG, a liquefied natural gas terminal that is planned for a former pulp mill site near Squamish, about 65 kilometres north of Vancouver. The much-delayed terminal project is not yet under construction. The facility would have an export capacity of 2.1 million tonnes a year.

Woodfibre LNG, which is privately owned by Singapore-based RGE Pte. Ltd. and controlled by Indonesian businessman Sukanto Tanoto, is aiming to become Canada’s second exporter of the fuel, after Shell PLC-led LNG Canada, which already has a terminal under construction in Kitimat, B.C. That facility has a projected export capacity of 14 million tonnes a year.

Squamish Nation plans joint review with B.C. and federal regulators for Woodfibre LNG’s work camp

Europe has been scrambling to reduce its dependence on natural gas from Russia since the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Exporting natural gas to Asia from B.C. would indirectly help with this, because it would free up supplies of the fuel in Qatar and elsewhere in the world to be rerouted to Europe.

FortisBC’s tunnel would run nine kilometres through Monmouth Ridge Mountain and underneath the Skwelwil’em Squamish estuary wildlife management area. The underground route is intended to solve a major challenge for engineers: finding a way to reach Woodfibre LNG’s site while still protecting the estuary.

Eight years ago, FortisBC considered horizontal directional drilling through the estuary, at an estimated cost of $50-million – part of the entire pipeline project’s estimated $350-million total price tag. Under the revised plans, the costs of the tunnel and two pipelines alone are estimated at $341-million. That number does not include expenses related to building out the remainder of the 50-kilometre pipeline route.

Because steel prices have surged over the past two years, the total cost of the pipeline is expected to be much higher than the original estimate.

FortisBC recently notified the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office of its latest plans, which the regulator will review in a collaborative process with the Squamish Nation.

“We’re providing the information to the regulators,” Mr. Marshall said. “We continue to engage with them to understand what approvals are required.”

Mr. Marshall will be in Squamish on Wednesday at a three-hour public information session about the pipeline project, which FortisBC calls the Eagle Mountain-Woodfibre Gas Pipeline. The pipeline route would start in the Eagle Mountain region, near the Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam.

The proposal to have two pipelines on the nine-kilometre stretch through Monmouth Ridge Mountain and area will not require increasing the previously planned diameter of the tunnel, because the original width is large enough for both pipes.

Frontier-Kemper Constructors Inc. has been awarded the contract for the tunnel-related component of the pipeline project, including backfilling the tunnel with soil after the two pipelines are in place.

Elected councillors of the Squamish Nation voted narrowly in favour of supporting an impact benefit agreement with Woodfibre LNG in 2018, subject to an array of environmental conditions being met.

The Squamish Nation confirmed on Saturday that FortisBC recently presented its revised pipeline plans. The First Nation is now awaiting further details before conducting an in-depth review of the proposal. Squamish Nation councillors would then render a decision on whether to approve the two-pipeline idea.

Aside from consulting with the Squamish Nation, FortisBC said it is engaging with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Musqueam Indian Band and Kwikwetlem First Nation about the pipeline route. A portion of the new pipeline would follow the land route of an existing, smaller line operated by the company.

“Tsleil-Waututh have been clear about environmental concerns, especially in regards to culturally sensitive sites. Once these concerns are substantially addressed from a technical perspective, Tsleil-Waututh will be commencing a robust community engagement process to discuss the overall project risks, costs and benefits,” Tsleil-Waututh Nation elected chief Jen Thomas said in a statement.

Eoin Finn, a member of the climate-activist group My Sea to Sky, said he is concerned about the potential impacts of FortisBC’s plans for a pipeline work accommodation site that would house up to 600 people.

In mid-April, Woodfibre LNG issued what it called a “notice to proceed” to its prime contractor, McDermott International Ltd., for pre-construction work on the former pulp mill site. Woodfibre has spent nearly $13-million on cleaning up the site over the years, and has budgeted another $25-million for further site remediation and preparation activities. Major construction is slated to start in mid-2023, and the company plans to begin operating the terminal in 2027. Building the facility is expected to cost more than $1.6-billion.

“There’s a long road ahead for our project,” said Woodfibre LNG spokesperson Rebecca Scott.

Of 24 Canadian LNG proposals listed by federal authorities in 2017, 18 were in B.C., three were in Nova Scotia, two were in Quebec and one was in New Brunswick. Seven U.S. facilities are already shipping the fuel.

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.