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Smaller firms can get piece of LNG export action: former attorney-general

An LNG storage tank towers 12-storeys high at a natural gas storage facility in Mt. Hayes, B.C.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

Small players have a chance to make inroads in the intense competition to export B.C. liquefied natural gas to Asia, despite the dominance of large energy corporations, says a former B.C. attorney-general, now a director at an upstart LNG project.

Vancouver-based Steelhead LNG Corp. emerged this week as a new LNG proponent seeking to find a niche in an increasingly crowded field, as industry analysts caution that there are huge obstacles ahead. With British Columbia trailing other jurisdictions such as Australia in getting into the game, there might be three or four B.C. LNG projects at most that will be viable.

Geoff Plant served as the province's attorney-general from 2001 to 2005, under then-Liberal premier Gordon Campbell.

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"It's clear that we are on a playing field that has a lot of big multinational companies," Mr. Plant said in an interview. "But as I learn more about the folks who are actually running Steelhead, I'm impressed by the depth of their experience and their comprehension of what it will take to succeed and I think they have the resolve to do it."

Steelhead's chief executive officer is Nigel Kuzemko, a British-born geophysicist who moved to Vancouver last August. His experience is highlighted by leading roles over the years in the LNG units of global energy firms such as Royal Dutch Shell, Gazprom, Santos and Qatargas. Ian Hill, one of Steelhead's three vice-presidents, spent 37 years at Royal Dutch Shell, including work on LNG developments.

If the upstart firm does forge ahead with its plans, it will become the 14th entrant in the race to export LNG from Canada's West Coast to energy-thirsty Asian customers.

"We have our work cut for us, but I'm very impressed with the management team, and how quickly they have grasped the details of what needs to be done and they're already making progress down the paths that they need to succeed. It's clearly ambitious, but I also think it's achievable," said Mr. Plant, who left politics in 2005 and is now counsel in Vancouver at law firm Gall Legge Grant & Munroe LLP.

He has been keeping tabs on the B.C. Liberal government's support for LNG. Premier Christy Clark led a trade mission to Asia last fall, promoting LNG during visits to China, South Korea and Japan. Ms. Clark believes that if five LNG projects come to fruition in B.C., the economic benefits will feature a total of $1-trillion being added over three decades to the province's gross domestic product.

"I don't really have a view about what the right number is or the achievable number of B.C. projects. I think it is appropriate for premiers to have high ambitions for what we can achieve as a province," said Mr. Plant, one of four directors on Steelhead's board. "There are other people that are also marching down this LNG path. Some of them are far ahead of B.C."

There is no assurance that any B.C. LNG export terminals will be built, even with huge energy players having deep pockets, analysts say.

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Of the 13 B.C. LNG projects that previously touted their export plans, two of the smaller players are the Douglas Channel Energy Partnership at Kitimat and Woodfibre LNG Export near Squamish. The National Energy Board approved Douglas Channel's LNG export licence application in 2012 and Woodfibre's last year, though no projects have made final investment decisions yet.

Steelhead hopes to file its LNG export-licence application to the NEB within eight weeks.

"Typically, LNG has been an area for major companies, but we feel it doesn't have to be like that," Mr. Kuzemko said. "We're an independent Canadian LNG developer. The critical thing is to get the LNG sold. If you can get the LNG sold, then everything else lines up for you, as long you have the other bits of the value chain sorted out."

Calgary-based private equity firm Kern Partners will be the lead investor in Steelhead LNG.

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