The Woodfibre LNG Project received environmental approval from the federal government on Friday afternoon.
In Ottawa, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna issued a decision stating that the Woodfibre LNG Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. The federal decision follows the provincial approval of the project in October and concludes the environmental assessment (EA) review process for the liquefied natural gas export plant planned for Howe Sound near Squamish.
“I don’t think it’s surprising,” Mayor Patricia Heintzman commented to The Squamish Chief. “This is how these environmental assessments work,” she said, in reference to the approval with conditions.
Heintzman said the District of Squamish is currently reviewing the approximately 130 conditions of the federal approval. “We are trying to go through them and see if they are meaningful in terms of shaping what happens at the Woodfibre site.”
She said the district would review the decision in more detail. “At first glance, the conditions don’t appear to be overly onerous – they appear to be basic,” the mayor said.
Woodfibre LNG will still make an investment decision on whether to go ahead with the project. Also, the related FortisBC natural gas line to supply the Woodfibre plant has not received provincial environmental assessment approval.
“Fundamentally it still comes down to a final investment decision by the proponent and, of course, Fortis has to work through their EA process,” Heintzman said. “There are still questions and we haven’t seen the final submission yet on the Fortis side of this project.”
On March 1, the District of Squamish had outlined to the federal EA office its concerns about the LNG plant, including fisheries and marine environments, environmental impact, shipping safety standards and accountability for upstream greenhouse gas emissions.
“Obviously through this whole process, no matter what transpires from these conditions, we still have to be vigilant meeting health and safety and environmental needs for our community,” Heintzman said Friday.
Woodfibre LNG vice-president Byng Giraud said the federal approval is “another step in a long journey.”
He commented he was “a little surprised” that the decision had come so soon.
“It means we have our hat trick, I guess,” Giraud said, referring to the provincial, federal and Squamish Nation conditional environmental approvals.
The Woodfibre LNG site is located on the traditional territory of Squamish Nation. On Oct. 14, Squamish Nation Council announced it had approved an environmental assessment agreement and issued a Squamish Nation Environmental Assessment Certificate with legally binding conditions that Woodfibre LNG is required to meet for the project to move forward.
“In truth, the real work is just beginning for our project team,” the vice-president said. “We now have to take all the conditions from the three environmental reviews and ensure they are incorporated in the detailed design work and planning for construction and operation of the Woodfibre LNG project.”
The company still has a number of permits and regulatory processes ahead, including oil and gas commission permits. As well, Woodfibre LNG is looking at ways to pare expenses.
“With prices being the way they are, we have to lower our costs,” Giraud said.
The market is a major factor, he acknowledged. “It’s a big deal. But as a smaller facility with relationships in Asia, we still feel we are in a strong position.”
Because WLNG would not be a huge facility, he said, “it’s easier to find a place for the gas on the market… but ultimately, price is a big factor, so everyone has to work hard.”
If the company decides to go ahead on the project, construction would start in 2017, he estimated.
“Theoretically, you could see construction before the end of the year, but it would be tight,” Giraud said. “It would be more likely next year.”