B.C. Premier Christy Clark and four of her top cabinet ministers will press their case in Ottawa this week to keep the province's economic momentum going, including seeking support for exporting liquefied natural gas.
The five B.C. politicians will be joined on the domestic trade mission by industry executives and First Nations leaders as Pacific NorthWest LNG awaits a crucial decision from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
The regulator is expected to rule by the end of March on the consortium's plans to build an $11.4-billion terminal in northwestern British Columbia. If the agency approves the project led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, it will then be up to the federal Liberal cabinet to issue a final decision that factors in a wide range of implications such as climate change, industry observers say. Ottawa outlined measures last week for greater environmental scrutiny over the Energy East and Trans Mountain oil pipeline proposals. But uncertainty lingers over how the new hurdles will affect Pacific NorthWest LNG, especially taking into account carbon-dioxide emissions related to natural-gas production and pipelines.
"B.C. needs to get some firm answers out of Ottawa, specifically on the LNG file," said Warren Brazier, an energy lawyer at Vancouver-based Watson Goepel LLP.
The B.C. Liberal government's LNG dreams are being threatened by low energy prices and a looming glut of global supply of the fuel. The vast majority of 20 B.C. LNG proposals have been rendered uneconomic based on current depressed prices for the commodity in Asia, but Pacific NorthWest LNG maintains it is keen to start construction this year on Lelu Island in the Port of Prince Rupert.
Protesters, led by some members of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation, set up a camp on Lelu Island in August. Last month, three New Democratic Party members of the provincial legislature joined a coalition of aboriginal leaders, environmentalists and some B.C. residents to sign a declaration that urges protection for wild salmon in Flora Bank, located next to Lelu Island.
But Ms. Clark and the Tsimshian Environmental Stewardship Authority, which comprises five First Nations, said they disagree with the declaration's negative tone.
"The world is being divided into two – the people that will say no to everything and the people who want to find a way to get to yes," Ms. Clark said at a news conference last week. "I'm not sure what science the forces of no bring together up there, except that it's not really about the science. It's not really about the fish. It's just about trying to say no. It's about fear of change. It's about fear of the future."
Friends of Wild Salmon, the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs Office and other defenders of the Skeena River estuary counter that Ms. Clark and the Tsimshian authority have mischaracterized the declaration's positive focus.
Gerald Amos, chairman of Friends of Wild Salmon, said the B.C. Liberal government is being short-sighted. "Christy Clark should read the declaration. What we are for is protecting one of the most unique and precious places on the B.C. coast for all Canadians. What we are for is respecting regional economies built on the health of wild salmon. What we are for is our children and grandchildren having the opportunity to enjoy the very thing that has sustained us as peoples for untold generations," Mr. Amos said in a statement.
Matt Horne, B.C. associate director of the Pembina Institute, a clean-energy think tank, said he expects data will be produced by federal government staff in order to provide information on greenhouse gas emissions for the federal cabinet to consider.
B.C. Deputy Premier Rich Coleman, who is Natural Gas Development Minister, said he has received assurances from Ottawa that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's lengthy review of Pacific NorthWest LNG won't be further delayed.
The regulator began its review in April, 2013, though it remains unclear how greenhouse-gas emissions from natural gas production at wells in northeast B.C. will now be evaluated.
BC Hydro has installed new transmission lines to allow natural gas drilling operations to switch to electricity as their main power source in the Dawson Creek region in northeast B.C., thereby reducing the carbon footprint, Mr. Coleman said in an interview. "We have a pretty good story already to tell," he said.
Also on the trip from British Columbia are Environment Minister Mary Polak, Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad and Jobs Minister Shirley Bond.
"This delegation will be the first major opportunity for British Columbia representatives, including First Nation leaders, to meet with federal ministers and their officials responsible for immigration, labour market, skills training, work force development and innovation," the B.C. government said in a statement.