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Each major B.C. LNG project would require hundreds of temporary foreign workers for specific tasks such as assembling massive components for a terminal. But the goal to fill most of the job vacancies within Canada is threatened by shortages of skilled labour.Robin Rowland/The Canadian Press

Job cuts due to the slump in oil prices have opened the door for energy companies to recruit workers for proposed British Columbia terminals that would export liquefied natural gas, says Canada's Natural Resources Minister.

Greg Rickford met this week with officials from LNG Canada and Pacific NorthWest LNG, two of the front-runners in the race to build the massive ventures. He also met with TransCanada Corp., which has been lined up to construct the pipelines for those two projects. The LNG terminals will need thousands of construction workers if they forge ahead.

There has been a wave of layoffs in Alberta as crude-oil prices languish below $50 (U.S.) a barrel, with thousands of employees losing their jobs.

Each major B.C. LNG project would require hundreds of temporary foreign workers for specific tasks such as assembling massive components for a terminal. But the goal to fill most of the job vacancies within Canada is threatened by shortages of skilled labour.

The cabinet minister agreed with LNG proponents that matching suitable workers with job openings will be one of the top priorities in British Columbia's fledgling LNG sector. "It was brought obviously to our collective attention that some of the downturns in the oil sector have created opportunities to solve labour shortages, that is, there are pools to draw from right now," Mr. Rickford said Tuesday.

While LNG prices in Asia have tumbled, he said prospective customers in countries such as China and Japan look favourably on Canada's stable economic and political climate to secure long-term supplies of natural gas in liquid form.

"This is a long-term opportunity," Mr. Rickford said. "We've got to mobilize and ensure we have the labour supply, the infrastructure."

He made the comments at a news conference after delivering a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, touting Canada's energy potential, including prospects for exporting B.C. LNG in tankers to buyers in Asia.

Mr. Rickford said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's February announcement of tax relief for LNG projects will help spur the backers to invest in British Columbia.

Industry experts say only three or four of the 19 B.C. LNG proposals will become reality due to fierce global competition.

Neil Beveridge, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., said in a research report in January that three major Canadian LNG projects could potentially come to fruition. Mr. Beveridge listed the Royal Dutch Shell-led LNG Canada project as a candidate to start production in Kitimat in 2021. He also speculated that the Chevron Corp.-led Kitimat LNG venture has the potential to launch in 2023, while Pacific NorthWest LNG, led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, could begin production near Prince Rupert in 2024.