Backers of a liquefied natural gas project near Prince Rupert are hoping a new phase of collaboration with First Nations will address concerns about the planned export terminal's impact on salmon habitat.
Malaysia's state-owned Petronas and its partners in Pacific NorthWest LNG have told the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) that they are committed to conducting further studies to forecast the project's potential impact on Flora Bank, located next to the terminal site on Lelu Island. Flora Bank, an area visible at low tide, contains eelgrass used by juvenile salmon.
Petronas-led Pacific NorthWest LNG's new consultations with First Nations come as the B.C. government announced Tuesday that it will recall the legislature on July 13 to debate legislation on the project-development agreement signed last month between the consortium and the province.
Mike de Jong, the government house leader and Finance Minister, said during a conference call that the legislation is geared to both ratify the pact with Pacific NorthWest LNG and enable future deals with other proponents.
The goal is to table the entire project-development agreement at the start of the rare summer session. "The intention is to ensure that there is proper statutory authority to sign this agreement, to give effect to this agreement with Pacific NorthWest and subsequent agreements that are similarly designed," Mr. de Jong said.
He noted that Pacific NorthWest LNG has given its conditional approval to the project, subject to ratification in the provincial legislature and federal regulatory approval from CEAA.
"The province will continue to work with First Nations and the proponent as they work to achieve the highest environmental standards, including the protection and enhancement of the fish habitat," the government added in a statement.
In May, members of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation declined to provide aboriginal consent, rejecting Pacific NorthWest LNG's $1-billion cash offer over 40 years. The Lax Kw'alaams group is one of five Tsimshian First Nations consulted by Pacific NorthWest LNG as part of the environmental review process for the energy export proposal. Two groups, the Metlakatla and the Kitselas, signed impact-benefit agreements with the joint venture in December. Two others, the Kitsumkalum and Gitxaala, have not yet announced their decisions.
A Pacific NorthWest LNG-commissioned report prepared by engineering firm Stantec Inc. argues that there will be little to no environmental impact from building the terminal on Lelu Island, which has forested areas spread over bog deposits. The focus now is on examining measures to reduce any potential environmental harm, including plans to construct a suspension bridge over Flora Bank.
Pacific NorthWest LNG will be conducting further work aimed at "evaluating and assessing, in collaboration with governments and Tsimshian First Nations, the effects of the project on Skeena River salmon populations," according to a recent letter sent to Pacific NorthWest LNG by Catherine Ponsford, CEAA's project manager for the Pacific and Yukon region.
CEAA began its review into Pacific NorthWest LNG in April, 2013. Since then, there have been five pauses to what industry observers originally thought might be a process that would take two years at most. "The legislated timeline has been paused twice during the process of drafting and concluding the environmental assessment impact guidelines and three times due to information requests," said CEAA, which temporarily halted its review on June 2 – day 263 of the 365-day process. It might take until October for CEAA to issue its final report, assuming the regulator restarts its assessment soon.
Pacific NorthWest LNG estimates that $36-billion will need to be spent in order to achieve planned exports to Asia in 2019. The huge budget includes $6.7-billion in two pipeline projects and $11.4-billion for the export plant on Lelu Island. The two natural-gas pipelines are to be built by TransCanada Corp.
Petronas holds a 62-per-cent interest in Pacific NorthWest LNG. The partners with minority stakes are China's Sinopec, India's Indian Oil Corp. Ltd., Japan Petroleum Exploration, China Huadian Corp. and Petroleum Brunei.