Deputy Premier Rich Coleman will meet next week with the chief executive officer of Malaysia's state-owned Petronas as the B.C. government embarks on two Asian trade missions to spur provincial exports of liquefied natural gas.
Mr. Coleman will speak at the Gastech energy industry conference next Wednesday in Singapore, where he will also discuss B.C. LNG exports in a dinner meeting with Petronas CEO Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin.
Petronas leads the Pacific NorthWest LNG consortium. The other partners are from Japan, China, India and Brunei.
The B.C. Liberals campaigned hard to promote LNG's prospects in the 2013 B.C. election, boasting that exports of the fuel would transform the provincial economy. Industry experts consider Pacific NorthWest LNG the front-runner in the race for approval to start projects in B.C., although its proposal faces vocal opposition from environmentalists and some prominent members of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation.
Mr. Coleman, who oversees the province's LNG file in his role as Natural Gas Development Minister, will fly to Japan after his Singapore trip. He will meet in Tokyo with Japan Petroleum Exploration (a Pacific NorthWest LNG co-owner) and Mitsubishi (a member of the LNG Canada joint venture led by Royal Dutch Shell PLC).
Premier Christy Clark and International Trade Minister Teresa Wat will head a separate trade mission to China from Oct. 30 to Nov. 7, stopping in Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Shenzhen. They will address topics such as LNG, agriculture and clean technology. After China, Ms. Wat will visit Vietnam.
The trips come as anti-LNG activists step up protests. Last week, more than 180 people representing environmental groups and First Nations marched in downtown Vancouver.
On Saturday, Lax Kw'alaams Mayor Garry Reece will join other native leaders at a rally in Prince Rupert to express concern about potential damage to Flora Bank, a sandy area with eelgrass that shelters juvenile salmon. Pacific NorthWest LNG wants to build an $11.4-billion export terminal on Lelu Island next to Flora Bank, which is under the jurisdiction of the Prince Rupert Port Authority.
Mr. Coleman said in an interview that a court challenge launched by Mr. Reece would not delay Pacific NorthWest LNG's plans to start construction in 2016, subject to approval from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. On Sept. 21, Mr. Reece filed a claim on behalf of the Allied Tribes of Lax Kw'alaams to seek aboriginal title to Lelu Island and Flora Bank.
"It just means you have this court situation out there that some day may come in as a factor," Mr. Coleman said. "You just have to let the legal court case go on while you are doing your work."
Weak LNG prices in Asia, a looming glut of supplies and fierce global competition have cast doubt on how many of the 20 LNG proposals in B.C. might come to fruition, if any.
But Mr. Coleman said he is witnessing steady progress by international players still keen to start the province's LNG industry.
"I just continue to smile, get the work done and stay optimistic," he said. "Whatever LNG plant sends its first shipment around the world, then I'll say, 'I told you so.' If you don't start believing in something and going after something, you never accomplish anything. It doesn't matter whether it's LNG, whether it's in your business or in your life. You set your goals and you go to achieve them."
Mr. Reece said Flora Bank's ecologically sensitive habitat for juvenile salmon will be at risk even if Pacific NorthWest LNG builds a suspension bridge and pier to minimize dredging in the Skeena River estuary. "It's all about protecting Flora Bank. People are passionate about the whole area," he said. "We have had problems right from get-go with Petronas."
He said he is gathering input on Lelu Island, listening to critics who say it should be ruled out as an LNG export site.
Mr. Reece is seeking re-election as mayor. His rivals in the Nov. 19 Lax Kw'alaams Band election are John Helin, Carl Sampson Jr. and Robert Moraes.
Pacific NorthWest LNG president Michael Culbert said the Petronas-led consortium has been open-minded and willing to talk. "We think we've been very transparent," he said in a recent interview.