At last, a final investment decision (FID) for a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) project was reached in British Columbia. This month, Woodfibre LNG announced its funding approval for the proposed $1.6-billion natural gas liquefaction plant located in Squamish, BC. The need for a project to proceed was key for the provincial government to show that the LNG industry is still viable in B.C., despite the economic slowdown. It is estimated that the plant will export 2.1 million tonnes of LNG per year to Asia beginning in 2020.
Premier Christy Clark was in attendance for the announcement; however, Chief Ian Campbell from Squamish Nation was not. Squamish Nation conducted its own private independent environmental assessment process of the proposed Woodfibre LNG project, ensuring its rights and title interests are protected. The outcome of the assessment was a 25 condition, legally-binding, agreement which Woodfibre LNG has agreed to comply with. And, although Woodfibre LNG has been proactive in working with the Squamish Nation to advance this project, the work is not yet complete.
The approach Woodfibre LNG have taken is noteworthy – especially agreeing to the application of Squamish Nation jurisdiction on the environmental assessment of this project. And although Woodfibre has more work to do with other First Nations impacted by the project, such as Musqueam Indian Band and Tsleil-Waututh Nation, it can be argued that Woodfibre is recognizing the decision making power of the primary Aboriginal Rights and Title holder – the Squamish Nation.
In fact, Squamish Nation changed the cooling technology used in the facility a few weeks ago to a system that will best support sensitive fisheries habitats. Concerns had been raised about the potential harm to marine habitats with a sea-water cooling system, and Squamish Nation led the change to a more sustainable air-cooling system. This issue was one of 13 conditions imposed through the Squamish Nation (SN) Process and SN Environmental Assessment Agreement. Their successful direction on this matter demonstrates their clout in this project.
This collaborative approach ensures First Nations interests are not simply an after thought and is one many other First nations can look to as an example of what is possible in sustainable resource development.
There is no question that Squamish Nation is in the driver’s seat for this project and should be applauded for responsibly managing its territory. And when it comes to Squamish Chief Ian Campbell’s statements about the work not being done yet – the Squamish position is something to watch and support as it continues to work through these issues. Everyone will be monitoring the progress and ultimately await to see if this project proceeds.
Karen Ogen-Toews, CEO, First Nations LNG Alliance