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FortisBC's Tilbury LNG plant is located on Tilbury Island in Delta, B.C. The industrial site is on a floodplain along the south arm of the Fraser River.FortisBC/Handout

It sounded like a firm commitment. “We cannot continue to expand fossil-fuel infrastructure and hit our climate goals,” David Eby said as he outlined his agenda weeks before being sworn in as British Columbia’s new premier.

It was late October and Mr. Eby had just become head of B.C.’s ruling New Democratic Party, after fending off a leadership challenge from climate activist Anjali Appadurai. He was trying to appeal to her supporters by promising to take a stand against investments that would make it harder for the province to meet its targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

But saying no to new fossil fuel infrastructure means smothering a steadily growing sector of the provincial economy – growth B.C.’s NDP government had nurtured for the five years before Mr. Eby became its leader. This year, natural gas royalties alone are expected to bring in $2.4-billion for the provincial government.

The oil and gas industry, chilled by Mr. Eby’s initial remarks, doesn’t know what to expect now. But Mr. Eby has not been as definitive as premier as he was when he was a victorious candidate, and his commitment to climate action will be tested in the coming weeks.

That’s because there are billions of dollars of new fossil fuel projects, and expansions to existing ones, on the books.

By the time Mr. Eby took his seat in the legislature as premier on Nov. 21, a month had passed since he had pledged to stand in the way of expanding fossil fuel development. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau took the opportunity to press him during Question Period for specifics. Mr. Eby sidestepped her questions.

“On the specific issue of emissions from oil and gas, we have very clear legislated targets for 2030 and 2050. Any proposed project needs to fit within those targets,” he told the legislature.

The first decision that will come across Mr. Eby’s desk from this file will be on a proposed new docking berth for FortisBC’s planned expansion of its Tilbury Island liquefied natural gas facility, known as Tilbury LNG. Members of his cabinet are due to make a decision in the coming weeks on whether construction can proceed. (A cabinet shuffle is set for Dec. 7, so the province may delay its decision on the project by sending a few more questions to the proponents.)

B.C.’s Environment Minister, George Heyman, said in an interview last week that Mr. Eby’s public remarks about fossil fuel infrastructure have not made their way into a policy directive.

For now, the province’s policy on climate action is guided by a government plan called CleanBC. It includes the first phase of the LNG Canada project, an $18-billion export terminal being built in Kitimat, B.C. that is expected to begin shipping liquefied natural gas to Asia in 2025. When complete, it will be Canada’s first LNG export terminal.

CleanBC is supposed to lower the province’s climate-changing emissions by 40 per cent by the end of this decade. A government report released Nov. 23 shows that the province has made little progress to date.

Since the government set emissions targets in 2007, it has only cut net greenhouse gases by 3 per cent, according to the most recent information available. B.C.’s net emissions were 63.5 million tonnes. Once in operation, phase one of LNG Canada would create 4 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually.

Tilbury LNG is vying to become the second project in the province to send significant amounts of liquefied natural gas exports to Asia in ocean-bound tankers.

B.C. government banks on big spending as it announces unexpected $5-billion surplus

The facility’s new docking berth is being proposed by Fortis LNG Jetty LP and Seaspan ULC. If it wins political approval, it would bolster plans for expanding the existing terminal and adding export capacity. Construction on that expansion could start in 2023 if FortisBC receives regulatory permission and forges ahead. It remains unclear if CleanBC can make room for any additional LNG projects.

Peter McCartney, a climate campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, a conservation group, said Mr. Eby has an opportunity now to fulfill last month’s promise to meet the province’s climate goals.

“The question is if he can back those words up with action,” Mr. McCartney said. “I think that comment is an olive branch to the folks that mobilized to try to elect Anjali Appadurai as the leader of the party.”

The Wilderness Committee held a rally recently to protest Tilbury LNG’s expansion, with demonstrators gathered on the sidewalk outside Mr. Heyman’s Vancouver-Fairview constituency office. “Reject Tilbury LNG,” read one sign held by a demonstrator. Another placard had a blunt message: “No LNG.”

The Tilbury LNG plant, which is located in the Vancouver suburb of Delta, on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish Nations, is currently a small-scale operation, mainly for domestic storage. It has exported only a small amount of liquefied natural gas in containers.

“We’re trying to use Tilbury as a line in the sand, basically,” Mr. McCartney said.

Doug Slater, FortisBC’s vice-president of external and Indigenous relations, said the proposed docking berth and terminal expansion are important for the Delta region and the province.

“We’ve developed the project and put it forward as an example of one that ticks all of the boxes in terms of its environmental, social and economic benefits,” he said.

To feed LNG Canada’s export terminal, TC Energy Corp. is building the contentious Coastal GasLink pipeline, which is designed to transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat.

LNG Canada is considering a major expansion in what would be phase two of its terminal. Aside from the potential expansions there and at Tilbury, three other proposals for natural gas exports using tankers remain active in B.C.: Woodfibre LNG, Cedar LNG and Ksi Lisims LNG.

With all these projects on the books, the Canada Energy Regulator is forecasting steady growth in natural gas production, much of it to feed liquefied natural gas. It projects that B.C.’s natural gas production will outpace Alberta’s within the next five years.

Mr. Eby could say no, but the lure of all that potential revenue will be strong.

In his first days as premier, he has not talked about climate action. What he has focused on are his other priorities: housing, health care, affordability and public safety. He has already made in excess of $1-billion in spending commitments, with more expected in the coming weeks.

The oil and gas industry says it’s there to help bankroll those aspirations.

Lisa Baiton, president and chief executive of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said her industry is keen to work with Mr. Eby’s government to deliver prosperity to British Columbians and energy security for Canada.

“British Columbia is on the cusp of being one of the most important energy export hubs in the world as our allies and trading partners around the globe search for new partners to provide safe, secure and lower-emission oil and natural gas,” she said in a statement.

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