On August 20, 2015, Steelhead LNG and Malahat FirstNation announced a 25-year lease agreement forMalahat’s newly purchased Bamberton lands on the Saanich Inlet, and a partnership agreement to explore the potential of installing a floating gas liquefaction plant at the site of the former cement plant.
In October 2015, the National Energy Board approved a six million tonne (per year) export licence for the proposed Malahat LNG project. Since then the partnership has hired consulting
companies to collect background data of the site and
surrounding area and to draft technical design details for the infrastructure.
Williams Companies, an energy infrastructure company from Oklahoma, is partnering with Steelhead LNG to explore constructing a 130km pipeline called the Island Gas Connector,
which will run from Sumas to Cherry Point, in Washington, at which point the pipeline will run along the ocean floor through the Southern Gulf Islands and the Salish Sea to Bamberton. The
project is similar to the Georgia Straight Crossing (GSX) that was approved by the Canadian government in 2003.
Steelhead LNG and Williams are currently preparing their gas plant and pipeline project descriptions, and will require approvals from the BC Environmental Assessment Office, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, NEB, and the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The general feeling around the Saanich Inlet is that the project is so absurd that it will never happen.
However, despite significant challenges, the proponents continue to move the project forward and intend to apply to the regulators later this
Despite the provincial government labeling LNG ‘clean’, there are high environmental and social costs to the gas industry, from extraction to consumption.
In British Columbia, gas is ‘fracked’ in the northeast of the province and piped to tidewater. Fracking is an energy intensive industry and escaped methane from extraction and piping poses a risk to Canada’s climate action targets. Fracking also scars the landscape, leaves behind toxic tailings ponds,
threatens groundwater, and is proven to cause earthquakes.
Gas liquefaction plants also damage the local environment. A number of questions are posed about the design of the Malahat LNG proposal. Will they burn gas to power their project? Will they use chemically treated ocean water at a rate
of thousands of litres per hour to cool the gas to liquefy it? Will they discharge that heated, treated water back into the inlet? How much excess gas will they flare? How will the gas plant and pipeline disrupt the Goldstream salmon run and other important fisheries and recreation activities?
What will be the impact of increased shipping in the Saanich Inlet and the Salish Sea? What security measures will have to be put in place and
how will that limit access to the inlet?Social Impacts
The Malahat LNG project would come at significant social cost to the communities around the Saanich Inlet. The hopes that the inlet could recover from the years of industrial use by the Bamberton cement plant would be dashed by another heavy industrial operation there.
The Saanich Inlet is in the heart of W̱SÁNEĆ territory and while Steelhead has partnered with Malahat First Nation, the company has damaged their relationships with the other W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations. Pauquachin, Tsartlip, Tsawout,
Tseycum and Malahat First Nations are all descendants of the signatories of the Douglas Treaties. All the communities except
Malahat have expressed strong opposition to the project and even some Malahat members have publicly expressed their concerns about the proposal. Yet First Nations’ concerns have been ignored.Economic Challenges
In addition to the environmental and social impacts, this project faces formidable economic challenges. With the depressed oil and gas markets it currently costs more to produce LNG in BC than it can be sold for. And with the glut in the market, with
countries like the United States, Australia and Qatar already exceeding the world demand, our nascent LNG industry, led by our government, is a mere
afterthought in the global market.
Steelhead LNG is selling itself on a promise that the project will create 400 short-term and 200
long-term jobs. They say it will indirectly support many more throughout the region. They also
state that the project could generate millions or billions of economic benefit.
Who will see that benefit, and at what cost? What will be the impact on the value of local real estate? How will introducing heavy industrial activities impact
the 21,000 tourism and service related jobs in the region? How will it affect the tourism industry?
How will the industrialization of the Saanich Inlet affect the choices of potential visitors?
There are over 20 LNG projects proposed in BC, but in spite of the political promises that LNG plants would be operational by now, none have even received a ‘final investment decision’. The BC LNG industry is struggling to get off the ground despite the provincial government’s concessions, such as relaxing the regulatory environment and reducing royalties and taxes. It seems absurd that in spite of what appears to be so many insurmountable obstacles, Steelhead LNG still pushes ahead.
Perhaps it is because the BC government continues to push their 2013 election promise to get BC methane to foreign markets at any environmental, social and economic cost.
Who would have thought we would face an LNG proposal in the Saanich Inlet and the Gulf Islands?
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking the whole thing is so absurd that it will go away on its own. It
won’t. This heavy industrial proposal is inappropriate for the Saanich Inlet and as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said ‘even though [it is] governments that grant permits, ultimately it is only
communities that grant permission.’
The Saanich Inlet Network is a community group tracking this project closely and working to
increase community awareness of the proposal.
Learn more about theSaanich Inlet Network and join the mailing list to stay informed at www.saanichinlet.net/
Adam Olsen is a member of Tsartlip First Nation, the founder of the Saanich Inlet Network and DeputyLeader of the BC Green Party.