Thursday, July 16, 2015

North Coast Infrastructure forms some of the backdrop to LNG debate

On Tuesday, Transportation Minister
Todd Stone outlined some of the
infrastructure issues
the province is reviewing
as part of proposed LNG development
As we've noted through the course of the week, the resumption of the Legislature in a rare summer session to discuss the recently signed agreement with Petronas/Pacific NorthWest LNG has provided for a fair amount of focus on the North Coast.

From the opening remarks of North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, to the observations from MLA's from Skeena and Stikine, the proposed development has directed attention to the Northwest and the potential impact of LNG development for the region.

One item that might gain more notice than most for local politicians at Prince Rupert City Hall is some of the background discussion raised by Transportation Minister Todd Stone during the Tuesday morning Chamber review at the Legislature.

At that time, Mr. Stone addressed a number of items on infrastructure that ring rather familiar for the North Coast and Prince Rupert in particular.

During his comments Mr. Stone observed at how the development of LNG terminals for the region would also require a considerable amount of review on a number of transportation concerns for the area.

In addition, we're going to add capacity to our network of highways. We're going to spend $1 billion over the next three years to ensure that we're able to meet the transport and the trade needs of a growing economy here in British Columbia. 

Beyond meeting the needs of our communities, we also know that transportation is critical to getting equipment to where it is needed. Therefore, we are assessing all strategic corridors, such as Highway 16 and Highway 37, to understand what we need to do to safely move the large modules that will be used to build gas pipelines and facilities. 

Part of this assessment is looking at where we can strengthen our heavy haul route network to move from handling 85,000 tonnes to handling 125,000 tonnes, which we believe will be needed. This fits with our trucking strategy, which recognizes the critical role that truckers and our provincial highway system play in supporting the actual building of the liquefied natural gas industry — the pipelines and all of the facilities.

In Prince Rupert we are planning road connections between Prince Rupert, LNG sites, First Nations communities, the airport — connecting a complex region where key facilities and local communities are located on a range of islands as well as on mainland British Columbia. 

We have recognized the impact and the vital opportunity for the region, and we are seeking to gather information from all local communities and from First Nations so that we can make the best decisions possible to wisely allocate funds. 

Now, port infrastructure also plays a key role in B.C.'s competitive advantage since B.C. is Canada's preferred gateway for Asian trade. Trade relationships with Asia continue to offer exciting opportunities for further growth, supporting a thriving economy here in British Columbia and a market for our LNG. We have several priorities for action to enable efficient ports. 

First, we're going to determine potential infrastructure upgrades needed to support LNG. For example, new LNG terminals are proposed for Prince Rupert, Kitimat, Squamish and Vancouver Island. 

The province will continue to work with First Nations, local and federal governments, ports and industry on land use planning, access and infrastructure needs for proposed LNG facilities in these locations as well as in other parts of the province. We will work with our partners to assess the need to upgrade or build new provincial infrastructure that can support LNG development and transport.

It's worth noting that when it comes to the proposed Lelu Island development, Prince Rupert City Council has been fairly quiet of late, offering little to the discussion when it comes to the major project that could be developed right on the city's door step.

City Council members have offered up varying levels
of commentary when it comes to the Pacific NorthWest LNG project
(photo from City of Prince Rupert Annual report)

Though that wasn't always the case, as we've noted before, from the very start Councillor Joy Thorkelson has been quite vocal in her opposition to the selection of Lelu Island for the terminal development, a theme that was echoed by then Councillor Rice, who is now the MLA for the North Coast..

Those shared opinions on the project track back to the very first notices of a proposed development in that region.

Mayor Brain has delivered mixed messages on the theme of the Pacific NorthWest project as well, at times stating that the City is preparing for an LNG boom, while also expressing some of his concerns over the environment when it comes to the Petronas site selection.

As for the remainder of Council, for the most part, the current roster and those that served Council before, have kept far to the background when it comes to where they are when it comes to the Pacific NorthWest LNG proposal.

At the moment Council seems much more focused on the proposed Exxon Mobil LNG terminal for the Tuck Inlet area and spending some of that Legacy Fund money provided by Exxon, a topic they of course should be engaged with considering the direct impact that it will have on Prince Rupert.

However, even Exxon has admitted that development of Tuck Inlet is still a number of years away, if it is even developed at all. In fact, a final investment decision for the Tuck Inlet project is not expected until sometime in 2017.

So perhaps, the City might have wanted to be a little more engaged with the one project that seems the closest to development and at some point in the process, should have offered up a public discussion to put on the record all of Council's thoughts on a project that would bring significant change to the region.

If Mr. Stone's talking points are an indication, the launch of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project could herald the start of a major investment by the province into the transportation needs of the region.

Of particular interest will be Mr. Stone's commentary on airport access, a topic that the City plans to address with an upcoming Master Plan on airport development.

As well, civic ears might have caught the mention of the apparent plans of the provincial government when it comes to road construction, a theme mentioned during the Transportation Minister's overview of Tuesday regarding the recently signed agreement with Petronas.

With the City making frequent commentary on the need for more engagement with the province on infrastructure, those are clearly some discussion points that Council may want to follow up on with the Minister.

Much of the city's planning on infrastructure would appear to be tied into its much celebrated LNG GO Plan, details of which as the Mayor noted earlier this month won't be made public until the late summer or fall.

By that time we may very well know the final status of the Petrronas/Pacific NorthWest LNG project and whether it fits into the GO portion of that civic planning.

The full review of the Minister of Transportations comments in the Legislature can be found from the Hansard archive, starting at the 11:10 point and carrying through until 11:40.

The video of the House session can be found from Chamber Video section of the Tuesday morning session at the same times above.

For more items related to work at the Legislature see our archive page here.

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