Two proposed LNG projects will serve as a testing ground for Trudeau’s controversial Bill C-69
OTTAWA — A pair of proposed natural gas projects in B.C. and Quebec will serve as the testing ground for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new environmental assessment regime, an expanded review process that industry groups claim could hamstring major projects.
Both the Gazoduq pipeline, a key feature in a $14-billion plan to export liquefied natural gas from Saguenay, Que., and Cedar LNG, an export facility proposed for construction in Kitimat, B.C., will be subject to regulatory changes introduced under Bill C-69. They are among four initial projects that will fall under the new review process, which came into force in August.
The Trudeau government this summer passed Bill C-69, a controversial piece of legislation that expanded the regulatory review process for major projects including anything from sea ports to nuclear plants. Industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers claimed the new regime would effectively bar new pipeline proposals, adding to frustrations over a decade-long bottleneck that has pinched prices for Canadian crude oil. Other groups including the Mining Association of Canada broadly supported the bill.
Bill C-69 was central to a 2015 campaign promise by Trudeau to “renew trust” in the Canadian regulatory system, which had become embroiled in a number of legal challenges to major pipeline projects. The changes expanded upon an earlier regulatory regime introduced by the Harper government in 2012.
Both proposed natural gas projects have been met with opposition from advocacy groups, and could meet resistance from some First Nations.
The Gazoduq pipeline would tie into an existing natural gas pipeline system in Ontario and run 780 kilometres east to the Saguenay Fjord, where GNL Québec is proposing to build a liquefaction facility. From there, roughly 11 million tonnes per year of liquefied gas would be shipped down the fjord and into the Saint Lawrence River, eventually reaching overseas markets. (The LNG facility itself, Énergie Saguenay, is being reviewed under the 2012 rules).
Équiterre, the advocacy group cofounded by newly-elected Liberal MP Steven Guilbeault, is opposed to the facility and has gathered 40,000 signatures in a bid to stop its development.
The group argues the project would “put Canada even further behind in its efforts to reach its Paris Agreement target,” and emit 7.8 million tonnes of GHGs per year, according to a press release. It also argues the facility would require 160 tankers to pass through the fjord every year, critically harming local beluga whale populations.
Changes under Bill C-69 essentially call for wider environmental or social considerations in project reviews, including whether a project would cause additional GHG emissions. While the law does not explicitly force regulators to fit the emissions profile of a project into Canada’s broader climate targets, some industry representatives worry that such considerations could help sway Ottawa against approving more emissions-intensive fossil fuel developments.
Proponents have long sold LNG as a cleaner alternative to coal-fired power sources in Asia and elsewhere, and would allow for global GHG reductions.
In its initial project description, the Quebec-based company says the pipeline was “designed to be compatible with provincial, Canadian, and international energy and climate policies,” and would “facilitate an energy transition.”
It also claims the pipeline route “avoids a vast majority of the sensitive areas” and proposes contributing $36 million every year to the various First Nations whose lands the pipeline would traverse.
Meanwhile the other project, Cedar LNG, is led by the Haisla First Nation and would export up to four million tonnes per year of liquefied natural gas from a floating dock near Kitimat, B.C. Proponents say the project would be fed by the Coastal GasLink, taking in natural gas from plays in northern B.C. and exporting it to Asia. The Haisla have not released an estimated cost for the project.
The facility would be built near the $39-billion LNG Canada project, which was given the green light by Ottawa in December 2018 and is currently under construction. Natural gas giant Royal Dutch Shell is leading that development.
Proponents have long sold LNG as a cleaner alternative to coal, that would allow for global GHG reductions
A number of hereditary chiefs along the West Coast have been opposed to other massive natural gas projects, claiming they would substantially alter their communities’ traditional way of life. Intense opposition to a sizeable project just a short distance north of Kitimat, the Pacific NorthWest LNG project, was ultimately withdrawn due to environmental concerns.
Advocacy groups also warn about increased emissions from the developments despite claims they could replace dirtier fuel sources.
The Cedar LNG project, for its part, will likewise cut through the traditional lands of a handful of Indigenous communities. In its project description the group says the facility has the “potential to cause adverse effects to marine and freshwater fish.”
Two other projects are also currently subject to Ottawa’s new review process. The 107-kilometre Webequie supply road would connect the Webequie First Nation to a number of nearby mining prospects in northern Ontario. The Marten Falls First Nation is also proposing a connecting road between its northern Ontario community and a nearby forestry road.