Friday, October 24, 2014

LNG forum participants for the most part stayed within their comfort zones

By the time the CBC's LNG Forum went to air, the guest list had grown to five contributors as the Daybreak North team took over the main hall of the Prince Rupert Library on Wednesday evening.

Host Carolina de Ryk steered the conversation  for the two hours, focusing on the many issues that have stoked the debate on the North Coast in the last few years.

As for the forum participants, all of those on the panel pretty well stayed in their comfort zone when it came to those topics that were under discussion.

The panelists consisted of five familiar names for the region, with former Mayor Herb Pond the apparent designated point man for the LNG industry.

For his part, Don Krusel the President and CEO of the Prince Rupert Port Authority provided the world trade overview on behalf of the Port, as well as a look at the current focus on LNG related to Port development.

MLA Jennifer Rice reviewed many of her past comments from the NDP point of view when it comes to LNG development and the impact that it may have on North Coast communities.

Rounding out the panel of five Dr. Barb Faggetter offered up the scientific point of view on the night, much of it based on her work of her recent contributions to the Pacific NorthWest LNG review and appearance at City Council in July.  While Bruce Watkinson of the Gitxala Nation, provided observations with a focus on First Nations concerns and what the Gitxaala people are focused on as the process moves forward.

The two hour forum was broken into two segments with an examination of the proposed development of LNG on the North Coast making up the bulk of the first half, while the social issues and related discussion on that theme provide for the latter half.

Along the way, Ms de Ryk accepted questions from the audience, the majority of which for the most part provided for expressions of caution when it comes to development of the LNG industry, with the environment and impact on the fishery, the two themes that were repeatedly delivered through the public commentary portion of the night.

A quick overview of the comments from those that  did contribute towards that public feedback,  suggests a rather common approach to the observations. One which tended to share the the views of Dr. Faggetter, MLA Rice and Mr. Watkinson, as opposed to the themes reviewed from Mr. Pond or Mr. Krusel.

As for the panelists assembled by the CBC, there were few surprises that came out of their two hours of LNG discussion.

All retraced a fair amount of the discussion points of the past when it comes to  engagement on LNG in the region, though the Industrial overview aspect of the evening may not have provided as much of a review as might be required for a full account of what's ahead for the region.

Considering Mr. Pond represents just one company on the growing list of proponents for LNG on the North Coast, the larger picture of the scope of potential development for the region is perhaps still fairly incomplete.

As many of the other LNG companies with projects for the region, most likely bring their owns specific issues to the topic. Items that might be different than those of Mr. Pond's BG group.

Still his comments did provide a fair thumbnail sketch as to the potential that LNG may have for the region, particularly on themes he was familiar with during his days as Mayor, in relation to infrastructure and social issues to name a few.

A synopsis on their key positions and review of their observations on the night can be found below.

Herb Pond, was tasked to provide the LNG industry overview, calling on his current status as a representative of the BG Group to offer up the vision of LNG from an industry perspective.  Among his key points was an observation that for him,  the LNG industry was a good fit for the North Coast.

Some of his thoughts turned to the level of population today compared to when he first arrived in the community and how the prospect of LNG development would begin to boost those numbers, providing a healthy number of high paying jobs and a significant bump to the tax base for the city.

Highlighting how the healthier communities in Northern British Columbia are those which have strong industrial tax bases.

He was limited of course when it came to commenting about other proposed development options, focusing his LNG expertise towards the BG proposal.

Though his insight into the revenues that could be possible for the governments of the region to address their social and infrastructure concerns was a valuable contribution to the discussion.

Don Krusel, offered up a larger world view for the gathering, providing a short tutorial for the audience as to how Prince Rupert was now a global trading community, with a wide range of industrial potential, reviewing how the shift of the industrial base of the region has evolved over the last decade.

On the theme of the night, Mr. Krusel outlined how the Port was enthused at the opportunity to be considered a host for a dynamic and new industry for the region. Noting how LNG is another step towards diversification of  the port gateway and by extension to the region.

He also provided some welcome balance on the theme of the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG project for Lelu Island, reminding the audience that the company has been very receptive to concerns raised during the Environmental review, having changed their design twice now to reflect those issues raised.

MLA Rice stuck pretty well to her messages of the past. Stating how she would want to see any LNG industry that would be developed in the region provide for good jobs, training opportunities and fair return for the provinces resources.  As well, she stressed the need for the LNG proponents to gain the support of and provide benefits to First Nations of the region.

However, she stressed that while the potential for economic development seems close, she was not inclined to abandon the industries of the past particularly the fishing industry.

On the topic of industrial development, Ms. Rice offered up a "ditto",  to some of the previous commentary when it came to the discussion by the panel on the theme of diversification.

For the bulk of the two hours the MLA kept to familiar themes on the LNG issue, so those looking for a larger overview regrading the growing list of LNG proposals for the region probably were disappointed on the night.

By the time Ms. de Ryk signalled the end of the night's festivities, Ms. Rice had not come out with any kind of yes, or no, as to proposed locations for any of terminal projects currently under consideration in the region, something that a number of residents in her constituency might wish a little more clarity on.

Dr. Faggetter pretty well picked up where she left off at her Prince Rupert City Council presentation of July, outlining her concerns over the pace of LNG development on the North Coast and the impact that it could have on the environmental balance in the region.

Of the five participants, she was the one who outlined the most cautious of approaches towards development of LNG terminals for the region. Both from the environmental aspect of the discussion and from the anticipated returns that communities believe they may realize from the development.

She approached that theme of  the LNG issue by looking at the recent announcement from the Provincial Government on the tax regime that will be in place on the LNG industry.

Reviewing how the early targets for revenue generation have already been reduced, suggesting that in the past promises have not been kept and that residents of the region should be mindful of how many factors could result in future anticipated revenues to not be delivered as currently expected.

Mr. Watkinson gave a fairly thorough review as to how First Nations may be viewing the whole debate, expressing how in his case, he was interested in learning what the real benefits to the Gitxaala nation, as well as what impacts LNG development may have on the Gitxaala people.

Stressing how the Gitxaala Nation always uses the principle of a precautionary approach, where they tend to err on the side of caution in case there is a mistake made. As once a decision is made to build a facility there is no going back, and that the right decisions need to be made before the process takes place.

He provided perhaps the one comment of the night that many residents of the North Coast might find some agreement with, observing how we just didn't know enough facts at the moment to have a firm opinion on the merits of LNG development one way or the other.

Over the course of the two hours, while the many different views at times provided for a snapshot of the range of opinion on the issue of LNG development, the forum participants did seem to find some a common ground.

That being on the theme of the Environmental Assessment process as it currently exists when it comes to the development of LNG proposals in the region.

For the most part, all were in agreement that the current review process as it is, should not be shortened, commenting that the current timeline of review provides for a proper examination of the proposed products.

Though it should be noted that Mr. Watkinson did take some issue to the nature of timeline requirements as part of that process, suggesting that they don't take into account First Nations timelines and the nature of decision making in those communities.

Beyond the pros and cons of the timeline issue raised by Mr. Watkinson, which will require further examination. On that final topic of the actual Environmental Review Process itself, we return to Mr. Krusel's observations of earlier in the evening, which offer up a bit of perspective on the discussion for the night.

As the Port Authority CEO outlined during the evening, that Environmental Review process does appear to be working quite well.

Particularly when it comes to community engagement on LNG issues, with the Pacific NorthWest LNG project for example, as the best indication of the how the process should work.

With the Lelu Island proponents having already revised their proposal, as a result of and the ongoing consultations, and acknowledgement of community concerns regarding their project.

Those observations as to how all participants in the process are listening to the community, perhaps makes for the key takeaway from the evening's work.

You can review the entire two hours of the CBC LNG Forum from their archive page of the event here, they Daybreak North team has also followed up on the evening's discussion through an audio file available on their website.

More background on issues related to LNG development can be found our archive pages dedicated towards General Information or more focused on projects proposed for the region.

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