New-ish LNG Project has Nisga’a First Nation Backing, Aiding its Launch, but Will Not Guarantee It

Commentary, Energy, Ian Madsen

Recently, a previously-mooted huge, estimated $55 billion Liquefied Natural Gas, ‘LNG’, project taking natural gas from Northeastern British Columbia to its northwest coast at Pearse Island received the blessing and explicit financial and political backing from the Nisga’a First Nation, along the proposed pipeline route and where the liquefaction terminal will be constructed. Initially, this seems very good news for all involved and likely for the environment too, although that will certainly be debated.

Most natural gas ends up displacing coal in thermal electric power plants. It has already done so in vast numbers of such plants in the United States and is slowly doing so in Canada. As natural gas’  energy comes from only about half carbon, it is a less emission-intensive fuel than coal.  Gas helps the federal and provincial governments meet global warming energy and emission targets in the so-called Paris protocols, which, sadly, give China and India, as well as other nations, room to expand coal-fired energy use.

Most Ksi Lisims LNG will go to China, Japan and South Korea, displacing coal. Oil and gas producers in northeast BC have signed onto the Ksi Lisims project, calling themselves Rockies LNG. The Nisga’a say they have learned from that which doomed earlier LNG projects; nearly twenty of them, at one point.

Those persons and groups who are not absolutist or extremist Climate Change zealots should be cheering this development. Likely they will not and their more fanatical comrades will certainly oppose this project; it would not matter who owned it or how it was designed or built. Their opposition, usually in alliance with some First Nations, has been a key weapon in delaying or ending the other proposals.  

Other projects have been cancelled due to regulatory delays or imposed conditions or legal challenges that made their continuation untenable. The federal government has attempted to reform the regulatory approval process, but legal challenges can still occur. Turbulent international LNG pricing and reluctance of potential customers to commit to multi-year contracts with fixed pricing are other obstacles, but Ksi Lisims seems to have finessed those points, to have reached this stage of viability.

Some major things are very helpful in the Nisga’a effort: it has the backing of a major First Nation; it is avoiding the terminal site and route or routes that were the downfall of other, similar projects; there are no other major First Nations in the potential right-of-way that have evinced any opposition, which seems to indicate at least their tacit consent; it is entirely a provincial jurisdiction project, limiting potential federal litigation by the usual Climate Apocalypse opponents, let alone Ottawa itself.  

Also, it is being explored and fleshed out under the new federal project approval process, which is very comprehensive and leaves few pitfalls unaddressed, including public and First Nation intervention; the provincial government and the opposition party are supportive; and none of the legacy pipeline companies are involved, with their terrible record of getting such projects completed in recent years.

Much could still go wrong and it will be a long time before this project is completed and shipping gas. A lot may happen in the interim: new energy alternatives, embargoes or other trade blockades with an increasingly belligerent Beijing, legal fights or a crash in LNG prices. There is hope, even if experience says that there are still more powerful forces aligned against Ksi Lisims than for it. Rationality can still prevail and clean, abundant natural gas can still be used for decades to come, energy ‘transition’ or not.

Ian Madsen is a senior policy analyst at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Photo by Ian Simmonds on Unsplash.