It’s a new beginning for the residents of this northern B.C. community.
After LNG Canada said it would go forward with a $40-billion energy megaproject in Kitimat, more than 1,000 people gathered to celebrate the area’s impending economic boom times.
Days after the Royal Dutch Shell PLC-led consortium held a news conference in Vancouver last week to announce the project’s green light, the community feted over the weekend, including at a sprawling outdoor party, complete with music by a local rock band called the Rats and capped by fireworks.
The festivities, which will continue at various events this week, reflect the enthusiasm for LNG Canada’s liquefied natural gas terminal among residents and the Haisla Nation, in sharp contrast to the vocal opposition in B.C. to oil exports.
Residents say construction of the LNG Canada project over the next five years will rejuvenate the area’s economy, and the export terminal will have high-paying jobs over the long term.
Kitimat residents Metro, 83, and Phyllis Bereza, 76, who have lived in the district for 40 years, showed up for a slice of vanilla cake at one event and said they came to participate in the historic moment.
“LNG means that for younger families, their children will be able to get a job here and not have to travel away," Ms. Bereza said. "I think that’s important.”
Residents say it’s still painful to recall the exodus of families over the years. In 2006, methanol maker Methanex Corp. shuttered its local plant, leaving 130 people without jobs. And in 2010, the Eurocan pulp and paper mill closed, throwing 535 people out of work.
“Kitimat has lost an awful lot of jobs over the years,” Tom Balfour said after he ducked under a tent to get out of the light rain on Saturday night. Mr. Balfour, 79, worked for 30 years at the now-defunct local pulp and paper mill, retiring as a steam engineer nine years before the plant shut down in 2010.
But the US$4.8-billion modernization project at the Rio Tinto aluminum smelter in Kitimat from 2012 to 2015 provided an economic boost. Rio Tinto’s local plant employs about 1,000 people.
While those in Kitimat and Canada’s energy industry are thrilled that LNG Canada is forging ahead, environmentalists have cautioned that the project’s emissions of greenhouse gases will be a setback in the fight against global warming.
Opposition to energy projects have cancelled or delayed several other proposals. The now-defunct Northern Gateway project would have carried diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to a marine terminal in Kitimat, and Trans Mountain has run into a series of delays as it struggles with plans to nearly triple its oil pipeline capacity from Edmonton to the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby.
Hundreds of people will start pouring into Kitimat in early 2019 and 4,500 workers are expected at the peak of LNG Canada’s construction in 2021. With the community’s population hovering around 8,000 residents, the goal is to set up work camps to accommodate the bulk of the influx of construction staff.
Shell is the largest partner in the LNG Canada project, with a 40-per-cent stake. The other co-owners are Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas (25 per cent), PetroChina (15 per cent), Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. (15 per cent) and South Korea’s Kogas (5 per cent).
Nicole Audette, a long-time resident who works at a second-hand store, said Kitimat has "been through many ups and downs.”
She knows Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth because she takes her car into his auto service shop regularly for maintenance. Ms. Audette spotted Mr. Germuth outside as he passed by the second-hand store, and she briskly walked over to give him a hug in recognition of his support for LNG Canada. “It’s so exciting,” Ms. Audette said.
Mr. Germuth said the District of Kitimat will benefit from LNG Canada being added to the industrial tax base. “There will be a boom," he said. “There’s no doubt.”
The export terminal is also the first major project in the region to have the full participation of an Indigenous group, First Nations leaders say. The terminal will be built on the traditional territory of the Haisla Nation, which has an impact benefits agreement with LNG Canada.
“We’ve been so focused on LNG Canada that if this project were to go away, I couldn’t even gather myself to be able to think in that manner,” Haisla Nation chief councillor Crystal Smith said in an interview. “It’s the first project in the Haisla’s history where we’ve been true partners.”
B.C. Premier John Horgan, LNG Canada chief executive Andy Calitz, Ms. Smith and Mr. Germuth played host Saturday to a cake-cutting ceremony.
“The decision by LNG Canada to make a final investment decision in the north of British Columbia sends a signal around the world that British Columbia is ready to open our doors to investment, provided you work with Indigenous communities, who have the rights and title to the land,” Mr. Horgan said.
Local merchants are also hoping to see a surge in new customers.
Grant Yeager, acting manager of the Source electronics store in Kitimat, said the economy has been on a roller-coaster ride, and he predicts a prolonged upswing. He said the retail store is looking forward to an influx of workers with solid disposable incomes.
“It should mean great things for businesses around here."