This piece is one of a series of high-profile Canadians commenting on the Canadian Chamber of Commerce's Top 10 reasons Canadian competitiveness is dropping.
The list of global big-name players vying for space to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plants along British Columbia's coast has hit the double-digit mark, but some experts say that, in actuality, only a few may be built.
The B.C. government has a lofty goal of creating 39,000 construction jobs and 75,000 operational jobs with new LNG plants. It has assumed two larger and three smaller-sized LNG plants being built near the communities of Kitimat and Prince Rupert in a recent study.
While some in the industry think the provincial government may be overly optimistic in the near term, others have high hopes about the long-term possibilities.
Peter Tertzakian, chief energy economist and managing director at ARC Financial Corp., says the physical and regulatory reality is that there is probably only room for two or three big plants.
But over the long term – between now and 2050 – Bill Gwozd, senior vice-president of gas services at Ziff Energy Group, says the opportunity could be huge. "From my perspective, I feel more than a dozen LNG export opportunities exist," he says.
He says current world LNG Demand of 30 to 35 billion cubic feet a day is anticipated to double by 2020 when some of these proposed plants could be reaching operation.
"When the music stops in 2020, I suspect that 10 billion cubic feet per day of LNG exports will be in the final design to actual operating condition," Mr. Gwozd says.
Indeed, the reason behind building the plants is as much of an advantage for Asia as it is for North America, according to Randy Ollenberger, an oil and gas analyst at BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc.
"The West Coast sites are very well positioned to compete for Asian Markets. For example, the delivery time to China, Japan and Korea from the West Coast of Canada would be eight to 10 days, compared to 16 days from the Middle East and 24 days from the Gulf Coast," Mr. Ollenberger says.
The latest to join the stampede is a partnership between Calgary-based energy infrastructure company AltaGas Ltd. and the Japanese petroleum supplier Idemitsu Kosan Co. Ltd.
At the head of the stampede are huge multinational players that include Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Chevron Corp. and Malaysia's Petroliam Nasional Bhd, or Petronas.
ARC Financial's Mr. Tertzakian says the first to market is going to have a big advantage in terms of opportunity, something AltaGas and Idemitsu are going to have to consider.
"The field is open but the race has started, so they are going to have to run hard," Mr. Tertzakian says.
These multibillion-dollar projects would see natural gas cooled into a liquid and shipped to Asia, where both demand and prices are high.
But while the prices overseas certainly look attractive at $14 to $18 (U.S.) per million British thermal units, compared to the recent $3 to $4-range here in North America, Mr. Gwozd, points out that it's the North American prices that will be considered.
"In all scenarios, buyers still get North American gas prices," he said, pointing out that many Asian gas prices are linked to oil.
BMO's Mr. Ollenberger says that international LNG prices could come down over time as more LNG comes into the market and that there is speculation that LNG contracts will de-couple from oil over time.
"The main reason to export LNG is that North America can produce more natural gas than it can consume, so additional markets are required," he says.
Producers are barely breaking even at today's prices and higher prices are needed, says Talisman Energy Inc. chief executive officer Hal Kvisle.
"Most agree that four to five bucks is the necessary price to develop Montney, Duvernay, and Marcellus shale gas plays [in North America]," Mr. Kvisle says. "But there are quite a few shale gas deposits not economic at four to five dollars now that will need 10 to 20 dollars down the road."
Case in point is a recent contract signed by the BC LNG Export Co-operative that values gas according to depressed U.S. and Canadian prices.
Although this project is expected to be the first to market in 2015, it's much smaller than the other plants being proposed. Known as the Douglas Channel LNG project near Kitimat, it's a barge-based plant and will have the initial capacity of 700,000 tonnes of natural gas a year. It pales in comparison with a land-based project proposed by Shell and three Asian partners that would take on 12 million tonnes (equivalent to 2 billion cubic feet per day).
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