A federal environmental review into Pacific NorthWest LNG has been granted a three-month extension as the regulator seeks more information from the B.C. project's backers.
The controversial proposal to export liquefied natural gas from British Columbia's north coast is being scrutinized by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. CEAA, which began its review into Pacific NorthWest LNG in April, 2013, said it needs more time to deal with a flurry of new filings in recent weeks.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna granted the extra three months at the request of the regulatory agency. "The government intends to make a final decision on the project within that time frame, once the legislated timeline resumes," CEAA said in a statement.
Since April, 2013, there have been six pauses to what industry officials originally thought might be a process that would take two years at most. Friday marked day 361 on the 365-day regulatory clock, and the timeline will be frozen on day 361 until CEAA receives the information that it is seeking from Pacific NorthWest LNG.
Pacific NorthWest LNG's new filings on March 4 raised an array of questions that CEAA wants answered. "The agency has requested additional information from the proponent in order to determine whether the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects."
The project's backers, led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, are seeking approval to build an $11.4-billion export terminal on Lelu Island, located in the Port of Prince Rupert.
Supporters and critics sent in their comments by the thousands during a 30-day public comment period that ended March 11.
"The agency recognizes the importance of timely decisions, while balancing the need for a fair and thorough process that is grounded in science," CEAA said. "This extension will ensure all available and relevant information and science is considered, including over 34,000 comments recently received from the public to allow for informed decision-making."
In CEAA's draft report released in February, the regulator concluded that Pacific NorthWest LNG's project would likely harm harbour porpoises and contribute to climate change, but the export terminal could be built and operated without causing major ecological damage to Flora Bank.
Critics have warned about greenhouse gas emissions from the project, though supporters say LNG exported to Asia would replace coal or diesel.
The regulator has lingering concerns about the terminal's impact on juvenile salmon habitat on Flora Bank, a sandy area located next to Lelu Island.
"The agency will continue to work diligently with the technical working group for the project, including indigenous groups and federal experts, to review the information and finalize the environmental assessment report and conditions," CEAA said.
A six-page letter sent by CEAA to Pacific NorthWest LNG asks the proponents to address a series of issues surrounding plans to construct a suspension bridge from Lelu Island that would go over Flora Bank. That bridge would connect with a trestle-supported jetty leading to a dock for LNG carriers.
John Helin, Mayor of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation, sent a letter March 15 to the regulator to announce that the band council will conditionally support the project subject to certain conditions, notably the creation of an environmental performance committee.
The band would be part of that committee designed to ensure Pacific NorthWest LNG complies with environmental standards.