Squamish liquefied natural gas proposal riles area residents

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      Out on a beach, Patricia Heintzman looks across the water at an old industrial site along the northwestern shore of Howe Sound.

      Not too long ago, the District of Squamish councillor recalled, “terrible smoke” billowed out there from a pulp mill owned by Western Forest Products.

      When the Woodfibre plant closed in 2006, the land had experienced more than a century of industrial use. Bought last year by Singapore-based Pacific Oil & Gas, the 86-hectare property may soon roar back to life, processing liquefied natural gas (LNG) for export.

      Hailed by the Asian company’s Canadian subsidiary, Woodfibre Natural Gas Limited, as mutually beneficial for the investor and the community, the plan has fired up strong opposition from local residents.

      While on a stroll along the Squamish oceanfront on March 7, Heintzman related that during the previous couple of weeks, the municipality had received “hundreds” of letters against the $1.6-billion project.

      “That’s definitely the overwhelming voice we’re hearing right now,” Heintzman told the Georgia Straight by phone. “People don’t want it to happen.”

      Although there’s “anecdotally…a level of support in the community”, the third-term councillor and chair of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District noted, “not very many” have written so far to express approval.

      She acknowledged that the District of Squamish doesn’t have much of a say in the project. The site is zoned industrial, and there is no need to amend the town’s official community plan.

      Woodfibre Natural Gas Limited has set an ambitious goal of starting operations in 2016. Not even the B.C. Liberal government, which has built a dream of economic prosperity out of natural gas, seems to be as optimistic as to when proposed LNG plants in the province can get going.

      In its 2014 budget, tabled on February 18, the government didn’t include revenue from a yet-to-be-legislated LNG tax in its three-year fiscal plan. However, the province looks determined to have the Woodfibre application processed fairly soon.

      Two days after Woodfibre Natural Gas Limited submitted its project description to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office wrote the federal agency, on November 27, 2013, asking that the province take the lead in the review.

      On February 19, 2014, federal minister of environment Leona Aglukkaq granted the request under an existing substitution agreement, which provides for a single assessment of specific projects.

      Squamish lies in the constituency of Jordan Sturdy, the B.C. Liberal MLA for West Vancouver–Sea to Sky.

      When asked by the Straight about his opinion regarding the proposed LNG plant, Sturdy started by saying he has witnessed how the water, air quality, and Howe Sound ecosystem have improved in recent years. The organic farmer, a long-time resident of the region and mayor of Pemberton until February 5, frequently travels Highway 99, on the sound’s eastern shore.

      “What we have to think overall is, how do we keep moving in the right direction?” Sturdy said by phone. “How do we keep ensuring that biodiversity is supported and enhanced? How do we make sure the water quality is constantly improving, and then ensure that we continue to see the wildlife come back? And I personally don’t think that these things are mutually exclusive.”

      Although the B.C. Liberal government has a lot riding on LNG, Sturdy insisted that the Woodfibre project is not a done deal.

      “They need to have the right set of circumstances,” he said about the proponent, which has yet to make a final investment decision. “And as a government, our objective is to ensure that the province, overall, is a beneficiary.”

      Last week, the Straight reported that there is “quiet but strong local support” for the Woodfibre project.

      Nate Dolha, who moved to Squamish with his family in 2008, agrees with that account.

      “The job situation here hasn’t kept pace with the population growth, and so we’re in a situation now where really there is a lot of low-paying service jobs in town and that’s about it,” the former district-council candidate told the Straight by phone. “There’s a lot of folks that would like to make a life here, me included.”

      With the closure of the old Woodfibre pulp mill, Squamish lost an industrial taxpayer, prompting the town to raise property taxes and service fees, according to Dolha.

      Woodfibre Natural Gas Limited is promising 600 jobs during construction (which might not be in Canada) and 100 jobs at the plant for 25 years.

      However, Squamish resident Luisa Nitrato Izzo said that these jobs will likely be filled by labour imported from the U.S. and Asia because the town doesn’t have the skilled workers needed for the project.

      “The whole rhetoric about this being good for the community is bogus,” Izzo told the Straight by phone.

      As well, municipal taxes to be paid by the LNG plant may not even come close to the $2-million annual tax contribution of the old pulp mill, according to resident Tracey Saxby.

      Saxby explained by phone that the proponent’s preferred configuration for a plant is a moored barge, which pays less than a land-based facility.

      Izzo’s husband, Chris Laundy, noted in another phone interview that the provincial government has also indicated that it may cap municipal taxation on industrial property as an incentive for LNG players.

      Although resident Delena Angrignon agrees with the need to widen Squamish’s tax base, she told the Straight by phone that it’s not worth the emissions from the LNG plant.

      It’s a concern shared by both Coun. Heintzman and plant supporter Dolha.

      “One of the biggest issues for myself and even for supporters of LNG is that if they burn natural gas to compress the gas into liquid form, there will be significant impacts on our airshed,” Heintzman said.

      With smokestacks blowing away, “it will be awful,” she added.

      Dolha said that this may be avoided if the province allows Woodfibre Natural Gas Limited to use electricity instead to liquefy gas.

      If that happens, Dolha expects “that one real argument” against the plant to evaporate.

      “I don’t think anyone wants to see the airshed like it was in the old days,” Dolha said.



      Lisa Barrett

      Mar 12, 2014 at 12:08pm

      A much more balanced GS article by Carlito Pablo (compared to Ng Wang Hoong's Mar 5th).
      ~ Note the argument to allow electricity to power the liquifying process does not consider the substantial industrial discount rate that residential users will have to subsidize. In the context of the Lib's push for many more of these plants, this would set a precedent and drive the potential demand schedule up and support the rationale for publicly-funded mega projects like Site C dam (another residential subsidy for foreign corporations that are already offered multi-year tax holidays).

      Eric Doherty

      Mar 13, 2014 at 12:37pm

      It is time to stop calling gas derived from fracking operations 'natural'. This is a Liquified Fracked Gas proposal, and LFG is as dangerous to climate stability as coal. On the local side, if the plant is fired by fracked gas as planned, it will be a huge source of the CO2 which has already made the Salish Sea too acidic for oysters and scallops. Ocean acidification in the Salish Sea seems to be partly a regional issue, with local CO2 pollution making local waters more acidic. More study is needed, but so is a movement to stop this fracking insanity.


      Mar 16, 2014 at 12:59am

      If this plant fires up in Squamish, I. AM. MOVING. I think the environmental impact to this area will be significant and by the time anyone realizes it, it will be too late. From the sounds of it, Squamish taxpayers have little say in this going ahead or not. Christy Clark is in bed with the Chinese and her intention is to push this through as fast as possible before anyone really understands what is happening. I am willing to put money on the fact that the contribution to the Squamish economy and tax base by this Chinese company will be negligible at best. This is of benefit only to the Chinese company. It will be detrimental, if not outright devastating, to the community of Squamish.


      Mar 16, 2014 at 7:26pm

      Let's work together to get this message out. The orcas were back in squam this weekend. We live in a very special place.


      Mar 16, 2014 at 10:51pm

      Squamish residents should not be the only ones concerned about this project. The Howe sound airs he'd stretches from West Vancouver to Lillooet. Depending on the winds being inflow or outflow, the emissions from this plant will be carried as far as these communities.

      It's just not worth it.

      new guy

      Mar 17, 2014 at 10:32am

      I am a relative new comer to Squamish ,here since 1990. We have watched Squamish turn from a thriving community with many well paying opportunities for our young people , to a bedroom community for the wealthy.

      Given the onsite access to both private run of the stream power , and bc hydro power lines, why would any one speculate on burning gas for power. Clearly this is primarily fear mongering by people with other adgendas.

      The writer who claims squamish has no qualified tradesmen and engineers is partially correct. The majority of people affected by the decline of above poverty paying jobs are working in camps, in the mining and oil sectors. Perhaps some of my friends and neighbors could actually work in their own town.

      Eric Doherty

      Mar 17, 2014 at 4:57pm

      new guy - The company has not yet said how the plant will be powered if built. If they were only considering electric power, rather than burning fracked gas, they would have said so in black and white terms. Given that they want to be able to float the plant away, burning gas seems to be the logical power source for maximum flexibility to re-locate to anywhere in the world with gas.

      Lynn Wilbur

      Mar 19, 2014 at 7:40pm

      I am having the following conversation with LNG Woodfibre on their Facebook Page:

      If this LNG proposal is completed, how many metric tons per year of Greenhouse Gases will the natural gas, when shipped and consumed add to the existing load in our Planets atmosphere?
      I ask this question and seek a clear answer as I think it is imperative to view these projects in the context of our planet's atmosphere which is a vital part of our life support system.

      Woodfibre LNG We haven't secured carriers at this stage but they will run off LNG as opposed to diesel. As for consumption, it depends on the buyers, but in places such as Asia where energy is in demand LNG is a replacement for coal energy.

      Lynn Wilbur Yes, I understand it may be a replacement for coal, and then again it may end up being in addition to coal. You have clearly avoided my question.

      Woodfibre LNG Our apologies if that appears to be evasive, but there are quite a few variables to your question to which, as a project in preliminary stages we don't have an answer for right now. What we can and will do is track feedback and send to our project team then update as the project progresses. Once more design and engineering decisions have been nailed down, we'll have statistics to offer. Addressing emissions is also part of the Environmental Assessment process.

      Lynn Wilbur Your apologies are not accepted. It is a straight forward question ...."If this LNG proposal is completed, how many metric tons per year of Greenhouse Gases will the natural gas, when shipped and consumed add to the existing load in our Planets atmosphere?"

      I am still holding my breath for their intelligible answer.