The Squamish Nation has given its tentative green light to the proposed Woodfibre LNG project that would compress liquefied natural gas and send it out via tanker through Howe Sound.
The first nation issued an environmental certificate for the $1.6-billion project, subject to extensive conditions, after a vote Wednesday by aboriginal leaders.
Under a binding environmental assessment agreement signed by the company, the Squamish Nation gets final say over key decisions, including the contentious choice of cooling technology for the plant, as well as approval of management plans.
Environmental critics had objected to Woodfibre’s plan to use a seawater cooling system that they said could suck in and kill small fish like herring and discharge unusually warm chlorinated water to the ocean.
“During our community meetings, members made clear their priorities—environmental protection and public safety among others — and we intend to set these into law,” said Squamish Nation Council spokesman Chief Ian Campbell.
He noted there are critical issues unresolved, including Squamish Nation insistence on a separate agreement on the accompanying FortisBC natural gas pipeline that would be twinned from Coquitlam to supply Woodfibre.
Byng Giraud, Woodfibre LNG vice-president of corporate affairs, said he is now highly confident the project will be built, even if the company has to switch cooling systems under Squamish direction.
He said the company voluntarily decided to bind itself to whatever conditions aboriginal leaders would impose, even though it was presumed they would be more stringent than those set by government.
“Fundamentally, we are putting ourselves in their hands,” Giraud said. “Which is pretty ground-breaking. Given how things are going in British Columbia and Canada, I think any progressive company needs to take a serious look at this approach.”
A provincial government decision on Woodfibre’s environmental approval is before B.C.’s environment minister and a federal environmental certificate could be issued soon after the federal election.
Another Squamish condition before actual construction could begin is an economic benefits agreement with the first nation that Giraud said is still under negotiation.
The project would not be as large as the massive LNG plants proposed on B.C.’s north coast, but is thought to have a better chance of being the first new LNG facility built. It would use electricity to compress natural gas into supercooled LNG, rather than burning additional gas.
Woodfibre has already begun cleaning up the proposed site, where pollution lingers from a defunct pulp mill.
Forty tankers a year would load there and carry LNG to Asia.
The Singapore-based investors behind the project include Indonesian billionaire Sukanto Tanoto.
They are “highly committed” to the project, Giraud said, adding that even though LNG prices have sagged, construction costs are also thought to have fallen.
“Many of the service providers who would help build something like this right now certainly have sharper pencils when it comes to bidding.”
Proposed route of pipeline twinning project from north Coquitlam to Woodfibre, near Squamish. Fortis BC map.