Former B.C. premier Christy Clark on board of company proposing LNG terminal in Alaska

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Former B.C. premier Christy Clark — who promised to build a lucrative liquefied natural (LNG) industry in the province — is taking her efforts across the border. 

Clark is on the board of directors of AlaskCan LNG, a new company that  wants to build a US $12-billion floating LNG export terminal in Alaska  waters and export up to 12 megatonnes of B.C. natural gas to Asia every  year, according to the company’s website.

In a January interview with Alaska Public Media,  AlaskCan president Byng Giraud said the company hopes to capitalize on  natural gas trapped in northern B.C. Prior to starting AlaskCan, Giraud  was CEO of Woodfibre LNG, an export terminal approved for southwest of  Squamish, B.C.

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While it’s unclear how the natural gas would get to the proposed terminal, one possibility is the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline, a TC Energy project that was approved in 2014 but hasn’t been built.

The pipeline was originally intended to feed the Pacific NorthWest LNG plant on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert, but Petronas cancelled the strongly contested project in 2017.  The approved route of the 900-kilometre pipeline passes the site of the  proposed AlaskCan terminal, roughly 60 kilometres away from Lelu  Island.

“We like  the Alaska side, partially because it makes the pipeline shorter — saves  about 60 kilometres,” Giraud told Alaska Public Media, suggesting that  the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline may indeed be a candidate. 

As The Narwhal recently reported, TC Energy extended its environmental assessment certificate last year  and is applying for an extension to its BC Oil and Gas Commission  permits this fall. The Narwhal asked TC Energy for comment on its  motivations for extending its permits, but the company did not respond.

The Narwhal also reached out to Giraud and Clark for comment, but neither responded.

Clark has long pushed for B.C. LNG projects 

Clark has  been a driving force behind LNG projects in the province. Her Liberal  government, which was in power from 2011 to 2017, promised to have three  LNG facilities built and operating by 2020, but not one has come to  fruition. The LNG Canada terminal in Kitimat is the only one under construction and is expected  to open in 2025. Construction on the Woodfibre LNG project was supposed  to start this summer but was delayed in part due to COVID-19.

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A Globe and Mail investigation revealed Giraud made personal financial donations to the Liberals’ 2017  election campaign and was later reimbursed by Woodfibre, an illegal  lobbying practice under the B.C. Elections Act. 

The 2017  scandal  included many individuals and companies and prompted an  investigation by the RCMP, which concluded earlier this year. No charges  were laid, and many of the lobbyists filed correction notices with BC  Elections to reveal the true source of the donations. 

Clark left politics in 2017, after the NDP and Green Party joined forces to create  a minority government and defeated her Liberals. She is now a senior adviser with Canadian law firm Bennett Jones, which claims on its website to  have been “intimately involved in virtually every major energy  development project in Canada in the past 20 years, representing project  proponents, investors and other stakeholders.”

Donald  Gutstein, a former professor of communications at Simon Fraser  University and author of several books on the intersection of  corporations and politics, noted the connection between Giraud and  Clark. 

“She’s longtime buddies with Byng Giraud who was pushing Woodfibre LNG during her administration,” he wrote in an email.

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Eoin Finn, a retired KPMG partner who has  spent several years studying the benefits and risks of B.C.’s LNG  industry, said Clark could help the fledgling project in several ways.

Finn pointed to her connections to funders  — banks and private equity firms — and Calgary’s oil and gas inner  circle. “As the gas for AlaskCan would come from B.C. and Alberta,  intros to that circle would be key to sourcing supply and building the  feeder pipeline,” he wrote in an email.

Finn also noted Clark’s connections to trade offices in Japan, Taiwan, Korea and China.

“While premier, Christy headed several  trade junkets to those countries, so is familiar with the key players,  though that info may be a little dated,” he said, adding that Bennett  Jones has a Beijing office.

Bennett Jones could also help with legal  and Indigenous matters related to the pipeline and the ocean transit of  LNG tankers, which would be in Canada’s jurisdiction, Finn added.

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Joining  Clark on the board is Nathan Gloag, who worked with Giraud at Woodfibre,  and Donald McInnes, director and co-founder of Sun Metals, which is  proposing to build a copper-gold mine in northwest B.C.

U.S. LNG terminals approved and online faster than those in Canada

In the  Alaska Public Media interview, Giraud said one of the reasons for  building a terminal in Alaska is the state “has a fairly clear and  robust permitting process.” 

So far, projects in the U.S. have been approved and come online faster than those in Canada.

The U.S.  already has six LNG terminals up and running, exporting fracked gas from  American deposits. In late 2019, three additional terminal projects in  the U.S. were given the green light. This May, a major LNG project in Alaska also received federal approval. Alaska LNG will transport gas from northern Alaska deposits through a  1,200-kilometre pipeline and process the gas for shipping at a terminal  near Anchorage. An offshore liquefaction terminal in Alaska’s Arctic, Qilak LNG, has also been proposed.

But while the U.S. is shipping natural gas to China again after a trade war between the countries, the LNG market has seen  better days. Even before the pandemic, prices were at an all-time low.  The coronavirus pandemic drove them down even further, making it  uneconomical to export the gas.

In a July report on the LNG industry,  the Global Energy Monitor listed 29 terminal projects around the world  that have either been cancelled or are in dire straits. The nonprofit  research organization cited the pandemic, the Wet’suwet’en opposition to  the Coastal GasLink pipeline and recent studies debunking the idea of  LNG being clean energy for the downturn.

While AlaskCan’s emissions would not be counted in B.C. since the terminal is  in the U.S., the process of getting the gas out of the ground and  transporting it by pipeline accounts for the majority of LNG life cycle  emissions. 

For  instance, the LNG Canada project would produce nine megatonnes of  upstream greenhouse gas emissions compared with four megatonnes of  emissions at the terminal, according to a recent Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report. 

According  to the report, if all three of B.C.’s approved LNG terminals go ahead,  the province is on a path to exceed its 2050 climate target by 227 per  cent. B.C. would be on the hook for all upstream emissions associated  with the AlaskCan project, further contributing to the challenges of  meeting provincial climate targets. 

AlaskCan could be met with strong opposition in B.C.

If  AlaskCan does intend to use the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline,  the project will see significant opposition in B.C., according to  locals who would be affected.

“There’s  never been an environmental reason to do the pipeline, and now with the  price of oil and gas in the dumpster, there’s definitely no economic  reason for it,” Kispiox Valley resident Gene Allen told The Narwhal. 

Residents  of the Kispiox Valley, which the pipeline would pass through, strongly  opposed the project when TC Energy was working through the environmental  assessment. A diverse mix of loggers, farmers, guide outfitters and  more signed a declaration of opposition to protect the Skeena River ecosystem. 

“The Kispiox Valley has more biogeoclimatic regions than any other place in  Canada,” Shannon McPhail, director at Skeena Watershed Conservation  Coalition, told The Narwhal in an email. “It’s a globally significant  place.”

On the  coast, opposition to the pipeline’s original terminus, the Pacific  NorthWest LNG terminal project, included Hereditary Chiefs and members  of the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation, which rejected a $1.15-billion offer  from Petronas in exchange for their support and set up camps on Lelu Island,  affirming their rights to protect their traditional territory. The main  concern voiced by the nation was the potential impact on salmon at the  terminal site and through increased shipping traffic.    

The  AlaskCan LNG terminal would be closer to the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation  than the Pacific NorthWest terminal but beyond its recognized territory,  which could complicate any legal grounds for opposition.

Any  project proposed along the north coast — regardless of which side of the  border it’s on — will also come under scrutiny by the fishing  community. 

Alaska’s  commercial and sport fishing industries are vital parts of the state’s  economy. According to the Resource Development Council for Alaska, the  seafood industry produced more than US $5 billion in economic activity  in Alaska every year.

While  AlaskCan may have Clark to help attract investors and navigate politics,  it seems unlikely it will escape opposition by simply crossing the  border.  

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