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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made a surprising statement Tuesday when, during his visit to this country, he called Canada “our partner of choice” in Germany’s efforts to wean itself off Russian energy.

“For now, this means increasing our liquid natural gas imports,” Mr. Scholz said. “We hope that Canadian LNG will play a major role in this.”

Don’t hold your breath, Olaf.

Canada could become a major LNG exporter – eventually, and assuming, among other things, that investors are persuaded that our governments, notably the one in Ottawa, are willing to let them make that happen. But today, though it is the world’s fifth largest producer of gas, Canada has no marine export terminals from which to ship LNG overseas. Our gas, like our oil, is landlocked.

A major export terminal in Kitimat, B.C., is expected to begin shipping LNG to Asia in 2025. The East Coast, however, is home to a handful of stalled plans for export terminals – including one in Saguenay that the federal government killed in February.

The Spanish energy firm Repsol wants to add LNG export capacity to the import terminal it owns in Saint John, N.B. But Repsol faces the same problem it did before Russia invaded Ukraine: Its closest source of Canadian gas is half-a-continent away in Alberta.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau coyly referred to this geographic hiccup this week when he cast doubt on what he called “the business case” for building export capacity in the east. “As we look at the possibility of LNG plants on the East Coast, able to ship directly to Germany, we find ourselves a long way from the gas fields in Western Canada,” he said.

Fair enough. If investors decided to spend money on new export terminals in the east, and on the pipeline capacity to feed them, they would do it because they saw a profit in the high price LNG is fetching in Europe and around the world. But they would face two major hurdles.

First, there may only be a medium-sized window for getting a return on investment. Europe desperately needs natural gas now, as Russia squeezes supply and prices spike. In Britain, the consulting firm Cornwall Insight says the average British household could soon be paying almost £4,300 a year – about $6,600 – for electricity and home heating.

And while Europe will need lots of gas for years to come, it may not need it as much for decades to come. Countries like Germany hope to get off gas in favour of renewables.

The bigger business hurdle is the one Mr. Trudeau avoided mentioning: Canada’s notoriously slow-moving environmental review process, which combined with federal politics, provincial politics and climate-change activism means any proposal faces the prospect of swimming through molasses. Ottawa’s decision in February to quash Énergie Saguenay came eight years after the project was launched.

Compare this to the United States, which had almost no LNG export capacity in 2016 but six short years later is the world’s largest LNG exporter, thanks to a rapid expansion of pipelines and terminals. The U.S. is cashing in on Europe importing record amounts of LNG, at record prices.

If the Canadian gas patch were given the freedom to move quickly, there would appear to be a business for new investment in significant LNG exports. Canada also produces some of the world’s least carbon-intensive gas. When gas displaces coal – still widely used in Europe and Asia – it reduces greenhouse-gas emissions.

But what the Trudeau government really wanted to talk about during Mr. Scholz’s visit was something else: how Canada could become an important supplier to Germany of hydrogen, produced by zero-emission power. The two countries signed an agreement to that effect in Stephenville, NL, on Tuesday.

It’s a potentially lucrative opportunity. But gas and hydrogen should not be seen as an either-or proposition.

What kind of energy the rest of the world chooses to use is up to the rest of the world. We can’t dictate that by trying to shut in our own fossil fuels. As a country sitting on huge stocks of both renewable and non-renewable energy, what we must do is make sure our politics and our regulatory system open the door to a world of investors, those willing to use their own billions to make “the business case” for Canada as the place to produce any and all energy.

To flip the old saying, if we let them build it, they will come.

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