The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has restarted its review of a proposal to export liquefied natural gas from British Columbia after a delay that lasted more than six months.
Pacific NorthWest LNG, led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, wants to build an $11.4-billion terminal on Lelu Island in the Port of Prince Rupert. The consortium is striving to become the first major LNG exporter in British Columbia.
CEAA began its review into Pacific NorthWest LNG in April, 2013. Since then, there have been five pauses to what industry officials originally thought might be a process that would take two years at most.
The latest delay arose when the federal regulator temporarily halted its review on June 2, saying in a letter to Pacific NorthWest LNG that the consortium needed to submit new scientific information.
The Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition and other environmental groups have raised concerns about the risk to salmon habitat on Flora Bank, a sandy area located next to Lelu Island.
CEAA is expected to render a final decision in the spring of 2016 on the project after it scrutinizes Pacific NorthWest LNG's plans in the Skeena River estuary, industry observers say. Under the microscope are designs to build a suspension bridge and pier that would carry a pipeline from Lelu Island to a dock for LNG tankers on Agnew Bank.
The agency restarted its assessment on Dec. 11 – day 263 of what had been designed to be a 365-day process, excluding delays. "The agency reviewed the proponent's final response and determined that it adequately responds to the June 2, 2015, letter," CEAA spokeswoman Karen Fish said in a statement.
As the process enters day 273 on Monday, it means that if all goes smoothly for Pacific NorthWest LNG, the regulator could be in a position to issue a draft report as early as January, energy experts say. That draft assessment report would be issued simultaneously with a separate document outlining environmental conditions for the consortium to follow.
After the draft report and the conditions are released, Ms. Fish said the public and aboriginal groups will be invited to submit their views during a 30-day comment period.
Michael Culbert, president of Pacific NorthWest LNG, said he is optimistic that fresh scientific studies commissioned by the consortium will help in nurturing new discussions with the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation Band Council and its recently elected mayor, John Helin.
"With the Lax Kw'alaams, we're looking to re-engage with the new mayor, council and hereditary chiefs to provide them with information. The first and best information to provide is obviously this new submission to CEAA and the science associated with that," Mr. Culbert said in an interview.
Pacific NorthWest LNG has been targeting the launch of exports to Asia by the end of 2019, although that will likely be delayed until 2020 at the earliest, even if construction starts in 2016.
"I would hate to see us lose the window of opportunity," said Rich Coleman, British Columbia's Minister of Natural Gas Development.
There are 20 B.C. LNG proposals, but analysts say only three or four projects have a realistic chance.