Monday, September 15, 2014

Review of North Coast LNG prospects offers interesting perceptions on local reaction to industry

The prospect of LNG development for the North Coast is bringing quite a few interested observers to town, some with thoughts of investment, others here to look over the industrial landscape and provide a review of what all the chatter is about.

On the latter front we found some interesting contributions from Keith Schaefer, the  author of an investment bulletin, who spent three days on the North Coast to get what he describes as a "first-hand" look at the progress of the LNG file in the region.

From his notes, he has provided for two different reports on the theme, one for the Financial Post (here) , the other for his industry publication known as the Oil and Gas Investments Bulletin (here).

Links to the story have spread to any number of other financial newsletters, delivering the observations to a fairly wide reach of the North American business community.

They are stories which for the most part are similar in content, though with a fair bit of expansion on industry issues, as well as some aspects of the local scene provided for the investment publication.

The main focus, as would be expected, is on the LNG industry and the impact that it may have in the region. A short review of the progress of the major proponents thus far provides the thumbnail sketch of LNG in the area.

But it's the review of the local scene that provides for the glimpse as to how an outsider to the area perceives the North Coast.

His observations as to the overall interest and reaction to the prospect of LNG development, provide some talking points which residents may find rather fascinating.

There is the obligatory history lesson, both of the early days of Prince Rupert and more recent events of the decline of the fishing and forestry industry, as well as a review of the development of the Port of Prince Rupert and the plans for the future.

But it's when Mr. Schaefer reviews the current discussion on LNG that the reading gets fairly interesting.

The author offers up his impressions on the North Coast's political scene, finding in his mind a very prominent slant to the left on Prince Rupert's council, while declaring the Council in Port Edward to be more pro-development.

Something that for the most part is probably fairly close to mark, though his perception of the "online resumes of councillors saying how they want to be guardians for the environment against industry"  might cause a few council members to go "who us?"

Still, that is the theme being presented across North America with the item, the Financial Post delivering that thought to a more general audience, the industry portals recounting the theme to industry executives and the investment community.

Mention is made of the city's efforts to re purpose Watson Island as an LNG site, though the author missed the other area of interest that the city has targeted for LNG development. That of the proposed Imperial Oil/Exxon/Mobil proposal for the land across from Seal Cove that was recently brought within the civic boundary.

Schaefer also reviews some of the plans for Grassy Point north of Prince Rupert, offering up concerns on some of the logistical challenges to that location, including such things as ocean exposure and tide variations.

Locals may find a bit to challenge on his thoughts on the nature of employment in Prince Rupert,  as part of his review of what he calls the very tight labour situation for the Rupert-Terrace-Kitimat area.

On that theme he declares that "anybody who can or wants to work is working ...  for all intents and purposes unemployment is zero" 

While we're not up to speed on the latest situation in Terrace-Kitimat with the giant push on for the Alcan project., a quick look around Prince Rupert might offer up a slightly different interpretation of zero employment.

The downtown area with its collection of dollar stores, second hand stores, and value driven department stores, along with the listings of empty storefronts and undeveloped empty lots might suggest we're still a bit away from full employment on the North Coast.

His observations on tens of millions of dollar in pre-commitment, pre construction seem interesting as well, as perhaps other than the storefront offices for a few of the LNG proponents, those investments would appear to be developing unseen to the community.

From his tour, Schaefer gives his nod towards the BG site as the best of the current options for development, highlighting its location on Ridley Island as beneficial.

He does however outline a few corporate problems for that proposed development, the lack of vertical integration with other partners and for the moment, BG's lack of upstream gas producing reserves or assets.

He like many others, suggests that Petronas Pacific Northwest LNG project is the most advanced of the local proponents, finding much to like about their integrated approach, as well as the partnerships they have developed along the way.

He states that he believes that Petronas will say yes to the development, though he doesn't seem to believe that their Final Investment Decision will be coming in 2014. 

The potential delay in that timetable comes from a number of factors that may impact on the final nod to advance the project, including the need to address issues that may come from the Environmental Application process.

He offers up the thought that negotiations with First Nations of the region will be important to the process, with fishing and marine issues related to the Skeena key to those discussions.

He does provide for an interesting overview of the relationship between Petronas and Port Edward, recounting the visit that Port Edward representatives made to a Petronas facility in Malaysia. The key concern at the time being that of noise issues, something which Schaefer says proved to be a non-concern after the visit.

One almost throwaway line in the story will most likely catch the eye of civic officials in Prince Rupert, with Mr. Schaefer's article offering up the tidbit that the more pro-development council of Port Edward, has already benefitted from millions of dollars to begin improving infrastructure.

That is an interesting note if it's correct, as so far, funding allocations through any money provided by Petronas haven't been trumpeted very loudly by the District.

If there has been a significant amount of funding towards infrastructure issues in the community delivered, an account as to how Port Edward has benefited should be provided for public review.

One thing is certain however, there is no doubt that just the prospect of having the PacificNorthwest LNG project as a neighbour, is making for much in the way of interest in developing Port Edward in a scale that will change the nature of that community.

For Prince Rupert, without a revenue delivering LNG project of their own (or a regional arrangement on sharing of revenues), the arrival of LNG may provide for a significant increase in costs for the city to deliver services and fund infrastructure concerns.

Without the benefit of a revenue stream to cushion those spikes, those issues should make for a topic that receives more attention than it has of late.

For the most part the article is the kind of positive review that will no doubt add to the increase in attention directed towards the nature of LNG development for the region. A speculative push that is driving real estate and housing prices, not to mention availability of accommodation significantly these days.

As part of his review of his three day stay, Schaefer touched on the lack of discussion of LNG around the community and as part of the election cycle currently underway, on that observation he is spot on.

The topic of LNG hasn't generated much in the way of review or comment from from North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, who seems quite cautious about the topic these days.

Likewise, with a few exceptions, do we hear much on the topic from those that may be making their plans to seek a seat on Council this November.

It makes for an interesting theme, particularly when it comes to the approach that Council has taken on the file and how those conversations may impact on the community.

Considering the interest that the proposed developments have generated beyond the community, the topic of LNG and the issues around it on a local scale, should be one of the key discussion points over the next few months.

The latest article is not the first time that the prospect of a boom time for the region has been delivered.

The North Coast and Northwest for that matter have been the subject of many similar reviews over the last few years, many high on speculation and some short a bit on fact.

As we get closer to some kind of forward momentum on the prospect of LNG development, we imagine the attention to the region will only increase.

You can review our full file to date on LNG development for the Northwest here.

Our past items on municipal government issues can be found from our archive page here.

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