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The Haisla First Nation’s Kitimat Village along the Douglas Channel.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

British Columbia is on the verge of a natural gas development boom that will rival anything Alberta has experienced, according to B.C.'s Community Minister.

Bill Bennett made that comparison Tuesday while speaking at a press conference to announce the final regulatory pieces have fallen in place for a new liquefied natural gas plant to be built on a native reserve near Kitimat.

The massive LNG plant, a joint venture by Apache Canada Ltd. and Chevron Canada Ltd., in co-operation with the Haisla First Nation, will process nearly 700 million cubic feet of gas per day, becoming a key link in the transportation chain between B.C.' s northeast gas fields and off-shore markets.

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Mr. Bennett said the plant, the first of six that have been proposed for the West Coast, will open up B.C.'s massive gas fields and allow the resource industry to thrive like it never has before in the province.

"The story here is a story about British Columbia exploiting an opportunity … on the scale of what faced Alberta 40 to 50 years ago," Mr. Bennett said.

"The opportunity for B.C. really is on the same scale as for example, Norway, when they discovered they had off-shore oil [and gas discoveries] and Alberta when they discovered they had oil and could ship it to the U.S.," Mr. Bennett said.

He said both Alberta and Norway have thrived economically because of the way their governments regulated and encouraged the development of rich oil and gas resources.

"It's built [Alberta's] economy and made them, you know, the most [economically] comfortable province in Confederation.

"It's that scale of an opportunity [for B.C.]," he said.

Last month Apache Canada and Chevron Canada announced they were teaming up to develop gas fields in the Horn River and Liard basins, in northeast B.C.

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Apache Corp. chairman Steven Farris has described those fields as "two of the most prolific shale gas plays in North America, with more than 50 trillion feet of resource potential."

At a press conference in Vancouver, Mr. Bennett and John Duncan, federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, jointly announced regulatory changes that they said have now cleared the way for construction of the Kitimat LNG plant.

Haisla Chief Councillor Ellis Ross praised both levels of government and industry for working with the band to bring the project forward.

"Our people have been looking at natural gas projects since the 1980s … this is a small example of what can be done if all … four parties are focused," he said.

Mr. Bennett said the regulatory changes allow the province to enforce provincial environmental standards on reserve lands, which are technically under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Tim Wall, president of Apache Canada, said the change provides "regulatory certainty" for the Kitimat LNG plant, allowing construction to proceed.

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"It's unusual to be here celebrating regulations," said Mr. Bennett, who has a reputation for battling red tape.

Mr. Bennett, whose government is trailing in the polls as it seeks re-election in May, said developing B.C.'s gas fields is of "profound" economic importance to the province.

"It's huge and it has the potential to change the frame for British Columbia in terms of the jobs [created]," he said.

Mr. Bennett said the chronic unemployment problems that burden many small northern communities, particularly native communities, could be relieved by the development of B.C.'s gas fields.

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