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The view looking down the Douglas Channel from Kitimat, B.C. AltaGas and its partners in the Douglas Channel LNG project fell short of their goal of signing sufficient long-term contracts with Asian buyers to take delivery of LNG in what the industry calls “off-take.”JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

The natural gas fields are massive, and the plans have been drafted and discussed in detail.

But don't expect companies to bet on exporting B.C. liquefied natural gas any time soon, warns Doug Bloom, who until recently was president for Canadian LNG at Spectra Energy Corp., whose pipelines carry 55 per cent of the province's natural gas.

In fact, the crowd of LNG export projects may need to thin significantly before any one moves forward, and even that could take years as companies struggle to whittle down construction costs, said Mr. Bloom, who retired in April and stressed that he was speaking for himself, not the company.

Companies considering whether to pour tens of billions of dollars into giant coastal facilities will also need to wait until global buyers work their way through a torrent of new LNG exports hitting markets, which has depressed spot prices well below what is required to support new construction in British Columbia.

Last year, the global LNG trade moved a record 244.8 million tonnes. But another 142 million tonnes of capacity is already under construction, according to International Gas Union statistics.

That suggests vast new quantities of LNG will hit market in coming years.

"The next window for big new tranches of supply is going to be middle of the next decade," Mr. Bloom said in an interview.

In B.C., "what we may see is projects starting to move ahead later in the decade."

The extent to which we see projects proceed here will depend on the industry's ability to really drive down costs."

Mr. Bloom's timeline contrasts with the conventional view of many in the industry in Canada, which suggests that world markets will need new LNG supplies by 2020 — suggesting oil and gas giants looking at B.C. could make final investment decisions as early as this year.

Another challenge for many LNG proponents ‎is securing support from First Nations. Some aboriginal groups are open to having proposed LNG terminals or natural gas pipelines on their traditional territory, but others are opposed, citing environmental concerns.

Premier Christy Clark's B.C. Liberals campaigned hard to promote LNG in the 2013 provincial election, boasting that the fuel would transform the provincial economy, with natural gas piped from fields in northeastern British Columbia to LNG export terminals on the coast.

But Mr. Bloom, who had an up-close view of the industry after years of leading Spectra's Western Canadian operations, cautioned that little is likely to happen soon, with a potential pause of two to four years before companies unlock spending long touted by B.C. political leaders.

Even then, investment will depend largely on whether engineers and project managers can successfully slash price tags on projects, since LNG prices are unlikely to return to the heady levels reached when oil hit triple-digits, that helped drive the initial surge of interest in exporting Western Canadian gas.

"We have a truly world-class resource here in Western Canada. The challenge is going to be the reality of lower LNG prices," Mr. Bloom said. "The extent to which we see projects proceed here will depend on the industry's ability to really drive down costs."

That may involve blowing up existing plans and looking for new ways to share the burden of erecting enormous new plants in remote territory.

"We may see projects look for other ways to take advantage of cost synergies, whether it's sharing infrastructure or consolidating or combining so that not everybody is looking at their own terminal site," Mr. Bloom said.

David Keane, president of the B.C. LNG Alliance, said proponents realize their projects require long-term vision.

"Projects therefore must have a strong business case and meet stringent economic tests before they proceed. Our members are working towards that goal through conscientious management that ensures projects are properly sited, designed and constructed," Mr. Keane said in a statement. "While each one of our proponents are operating on different timelines, the long-term growth trend for LNG is undeniable."

Industry experts say only three or four of the 20 LNG proposals in British Columbia appear economically viable.

The B.C. Natural Gas Development Ministry, however, said the province has gained credibility in international energy markets. "British Columbia's LNG industry is a long-term endeavour and one with growing potential as energy needs and the desire for cleaner energy sources increase around the world," the ministry said in a statement.

"We are negotiating project development agreements with proponents, working with First Nations to further strengthen environmental stewardship and partnering with trades associations to increase skills training. When the marketplace supports final investment decisions, we are ready."

Three B.C. proposals have already received federal and provincial environment certificates. Six others are undergoing regulatory reviews, including an $11.4-billion terminal planned by Pacific NorthWest LNG in the Port of Prince Rupert. On June 27, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency restarted the regulatory clock in the lengthy assessment process for Pacific NorthWest LNG.

On July 2, a three-month extension period for the review began, meaning the federal cabinet has until early October to issue its ruling on whether to approve Pacific NorthWest LNG, which is led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas.

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