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Woodfibre LNG: Moving forward or facing uncertain obstacles?

Kitimat's Mayor shares insights on managing a large-scale LNG project.

With FortisBC set to begin construction on the Woodfibre LNG-associated pipeline on or shortly after Aug. 28, is the controversial project a done deal? 

Local environmentalist groups, like My Sea to Sky, which has fought the export facility for close to a decade, say it can still be stopped. 

Woodfibre LNG says the project is moving forward. 

"The project has approvals in place from the federal and provincial governments, and is the first industrial project in Canada to recognize a non-Treaty Indigenous government, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), as an environmental regulator," Woodfibre LNG spokesperson Sean Beardow told The Squamish Chief.

Asked about how the LNG facility would be stopped, My Sea to Sky points to remaining permits and approvals, Woodfibre itself pulling out, the need for a policy change, and a "crash" in global LNG demand.

"Both Woodfibre LNG and FortisBC have several permit requests into regulators — provincial and federal — for which decisions are pending. As several of these are related directly to construction, it would be illegal for work to start without them," a spokesperson for My Sea to Sky said in an emailed statement. 

Asked about the chance of the project being stopped, Squamish's federal MP Patrick Weiler pointed to the approval process the projects have already been through. 

"The Woodfibre LNG project underwent environmental assessments from the Government of British Columbia, and the Squamish Nation," Weiler said in a statement to The Squamish Chief. 

"In 2014, former Government of Canada minister of the environment, Leona Aglukkaq agreed to substitute British Columbia's environmental assessment for the environmental assessment of the Government of Canada," he said. 

"Following these assessments, an environmental certificate was issued by the Government in British Columbia and the Squamish Nation in 2015. And then, based on these decisions, a federal environmental assessment certificate was granted in 2016 under the authority of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012. This allowed the project to proceed, subject to almost 40 binding conditions."

He called the recent decision on amendments related to the project by the federal government "largely administrative."

Previously, the provincial government's Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy told The Squamish Chief, "The EAO does not have the ability to cancel an Environmental Assessment Certificate. While the Minister could consider cancelling an environmental assessment certificate under certain conditions, those are not applicable to these projects at this time."

My Sea to Sky also states that there hasn't been a Final Investment Decision and thus, the company isn't fully committed, but Woodfibre LNG says not so. 

"As a privately owned project, Notice to Proceed has largely the same meaning as an FID in that it's a final go-ahead to move into construction. We awarded our Notice to Proceed in 2022 to McDermott International Ltd," Beardow said.

"Right now, we are focused on finalizing regulatory requirements to allow us to start construction next month. Our overall construction timeline is unchanged, with operation scheduled to begin in 2027."

Advice for this transition to construction

Phil Germuth is the Mayor of the District of Kitimat, which will soon be home to the first large-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility to be built in Canada. 

Currently, construction of the project is 85% complete, according to the company. 

Germuth told The Squamish Chief that he wasn't intimately familiar with the Woodfibre LNG project, but had some words of advice for the community about the years ahead. 

The LNG Canada project is much bigger than Woodfibre LNG's, with between 400 and 800 people set to work there permanently once the project is operational and about 5,000 workers involved in building it. Kitimat has a population of about 8,000 residents. 

Unlike in Squamish, the project was met with little resistance, Germuth noted. 

"We were built for Alcan, for the aluminum industry.  So, as green as this place is —  you know, it's super nature up here, an awesome place to raise your family and everything — but we were built for industry. So, the people of Kitimat, who have been here, they realize what industry brings to the town. The benefits, you know, the tax base and all that."

He said the key to having the project go smoothly for the town is having a good relationship with the company, which he says LNG Canada and the council in Kitimat have fostered. 

Germuth said that both Kitimat and LNG Canada learned from the positives and negatives of the Rio Tinto modernization project before LNG Canada.

Rio Tinto Alcan undertook a modernization project of its 60-year-old aluminum smelter in 2011, bringing out of town construction workers to do the work. 

"We were both able to learn from that, of what we could do better. With every project, nothing is ever perfect, right?," he said. 

"One of the biggest things was the housing issue. During the Rio Tinto project, they gave living allowances. So almost overnight, we went from the highest vacancy rate in the province to almost zero. And so of course, that caused major problems, right?"

With LNG Canada, workers live in a camp and are not given housing allowances.

"That had a great effect there to stop that [housing] problem right away," Germuth said. 

LNG Canada has a zero tolerance policy for any bad behaviour by workers, Germuth noted.

The company's website says, "We enforce zero tolerance of harassment, hazing or bullying of any kind. Listening to and learning from the experience of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA people to ensure LNG Canada takes into account and addresses their concerns for safety and security."

Germuth stressed from his perspective, “The overwhelming majority of all the construction workers, they're awesome people. They do their job. They've got their families back home," he said, adding that even one incident can be too many so he appreciates the company's policy of no second chances.

Germuth added that because the municipality and the company have built a strong relationship, if any issues arise folks from the muni can text or call the company leaders and it is dealt with.

"There's always a little hiccup here and there, no matter how much planning you've done … And so, together we'll work on those and we have been doing that. So, it really has been a good experience."

Another piece Kitimat learned from the previous project was that with an influx of so many workers, the local emergency room became busy so LNG Canada has an International SOS medical facility for its workers.

Germuth also spoke to the financial benefits LNG Canada has brought the community from the tax it pays to the funding it provides. 

"They've become a member of the community, and they're very generous member. And, you know, why would you not accept that? They've done so much for the community. It's unbelievable."

He said they put on community events and $750,000 toward a dementia facility the district wants to build as well as helping fund a woman's shelter and daycare.

Another advantage of the project has been the strengthening of ties with the Haisla Nation, he said.

LNG Canada liaised with both councils in the same room at the same time and that created bonds between the leaders of the two councils. 

"They gave us the opportunity for both councils and staff to get to know the people behind the titles," he said.

"Our relationship has just skyrocketed. And so that's going so well."

Asked for advice for Squamish as it looks toward the building of the pipeline and Woodfibre LNG, Germuth reiterated that a strong relationship is key. 

"The relationship with the company is so critical and then that starts with the company wanting that too," he said. "Making sure that there's a good line of communication between your leadership down there, your council and your staff, and with the proponent is critical because there will be little things that happen no matter what.”


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