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In order to pass environmental review, the Pacific NorthWest LNG joint venture in northwestern B.C. has proposed building a 1.6-kilometre long bridge.

Pacific NorthWest LNG.

While Petronas threatens to walk away from its B.C. liquefied natural gas venture if it doesn't get its way, the Malaysian energy giant is taking extraordinary steps to dig in for the long term by designing a 1.6-kilometre long suspension bridge to minimize the project's environmental impact.

Kuala Lumpur-based Petronas is hoping that the engineering feat will help save its $11-billion liquefied natural gas project, which is facing crunch time during an environmental review. The state-owned company is devising plans to build a suspension bridge to ensure its LNG operations near Prince Rupert in northwestern British Columbia won't interfere with habitat for fish and marine mammals.

The suspension bridge design is the major change contained in a new 64-page engineering report aimed at persuading environmental regulators to approve the Petronas-led Pacific NorthWest LNG joint venture. Pacific NorthWest LNG sent the report to regulators late Monday, just hours after Petronas chief executive officer Shamsul Azhar Abbas warned that the B.C. project is in danger of being shelved for up to 15 years unless tax and regulatory issues are resolved by Oct. 31.

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The $11-billion allotted for the export terminal on Lelu Island is part of a $36-billion budget that includes a B.C. pipeline and drilling in the province's northeast. The two other key modifications listed in the engineering report are moving a proposed housing camp for construction workers off Lelu Island to locate it instead in the community of Port Edward and eliminating the need for extensive dredging along the shallow waters of Agnew Bank.

The bridge would extend southwest for 1.6 kilometres away from the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG plant on Lelu Island, and that span would connect with a 1.1-kilometre-long trestle/jetty to a deep berth location in Chatham Sound and avoid the environmentally sensitive Flora Bank. "No construction activities will be conducted on Flora Bank," Pacific NorthWest LNG said in its report to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is the lead regulator on the case, co-ordinating the review with its B.C. counterpart.

The 24-metre-wide suspension bridge, to be constructed in 10 stages, is the centrepiece of Pacific NorthWest LNG's revised plan to obtain an environmental assessment certificate. Pipelines are being incorporated into the bridge and jetty designs so that natural gas in liquid form can be moved inside those lines for loading onto LNG tankers. The paved deck of the bridge would allow cars to drive back and forth.

By contrast, designs for BG Group PLC's rival Prince Rupert LNG project won't need any suspension bridge to be built from Ridley Island, meaning BG Group would have a much shorter distance from its LNG storage facilities to the berths for Asia-bound tankers.

Pacific NorthWest LNG noted that relocating its berths will be a big improvement. "The objective of the design mitigation is to avoid the activities in the marine environment with the greatest potential environmental effects, that is, effects on marine fish and fish habitat," according to Pacific NorthWest LNG's report. "Over all, the design mitigation addresses key concerns raised by First Nations, government agencies and the public during the review."

B.C. Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman said Mr. Shamsul's warning about a 15-year delay underscores tough negotiations over the provincial government's impending tax and regulatory regime, and do not indicate that Pacific NorthWest LNG officials are on the verge of quitting their project. "They are going to grind because that's business, and we're going to grind on our end, too," Mr. Coleman said in an interview. "I'm still confident. I mean it's all about negotiation right now."

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Pacific NorthWest LNG filed its environmental impact statement in February.

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