Summit piques interest; drives home need to be competitive

Big dollars in the headlines and job numbers listed for proposed projects in B.C.’s natural gas sector are no sure thing

Big dollars in the headlines and job numbers listed for proposed projects in B.C.’s natural gas sector are no sure thing.

And as global competition heats up, a unified sense of urgency is needed if British Columbians want to turn such opportunities into bona fide sources of economic prosperity, echoed two keynote speakers at the 2012 Energy Summit  held at Terrace’s Best Western Hotel Nov. 16.

Representatives from both the provincial government and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) shared a clear message: Asian markets look inviting to Canadian natural gas resources, but we’re not the only player vying for opportunities.

Technology that enables the extraction of natural gas from rock formation means global supply is shifting and B.C. is in a race with countries like Australia, Qatar and the United States to export Liquefied Natural Gas.

“In this case, we have competitors that are in front of us,” said Geoff Morrison, manager of CAPP’s B.C. operations.

“(And) in this case … opportunities won’t be back.”

The opportunities he speaks of are not only with Japan and South Korea, where demand for natural gas is currently highest, but in China and India, where demand growth is forecast to be the highest in coming years.

“If we can develop and compete in these eastern markets then we have a lot to offer,” he said, adding that the International Energy Statistics Agency (IEA) is predicting global demand for energy to increase 40 percent by 2035.

But Canada is third from the top in terms of natural gas reserves, and sixth from the top for production, said Morrison. And the ability to extract natural gas from shale formations using high pressure water fracking is changing the face of production in  not only North America, but the world.

Resulting from this technique, Canada’s number one customer, the United States, now has access to gas reserves which will enable it to become energy self-sufficient by 2035, according to a release by IEA Nov. 12.

Now, 9 billion of about 14.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas is shipped to the United States yearly.

“We actually see a trend down in exports of natural gas about 15 per cent,” said Morrison. “Our largest customer is also the largest producer.”

The U.S. is expected to be a net exporter of gas by 2020, according to the IEA report.

With an industry that’s contributed  about $1 billion yearly to Canada’s treasury, and a list of  proposed liquefied natural gas projects touching  the northwest touting expenditures around the $10 billion mark, staying competitive is essential to maintaining the industry, said Morrison.

As part of the BC Jobs Plan, B.C.’s assistant deputy minister of energy, mines, and petroleum Graeme McLaren said the province has prioritized one LNG plant and pipeline to be operational by 2015 in B.C. and three by 2020.

“Right at the top of that list was the natural gas sector,” he said about strategies identified within the BC Jobs Plan.

McLaren cited Canadian Energy Research Institute statistics saying 40,000 jobs can be attributed directly and indirectly to the natural gas industry here, contrasting that statistic with one from WorkSafeBC which cites 20,000.

“It’s a major, major contributor to our economy.”

Sprung from this part of the jobs plan, two documents were released in 2012, he said, being the Natural Gas Strategy and the LNG Strategy. He said priorities include diversifying energy markets with LNG being the best way to do so.

Projects McLaren identified as being timely include BC LNG, also known as Douglas Channel LNG, which has an export licence and could be operational by 2015, he said.

Next up is Kitimat LNG; Apache, Encana and EOG own the Pacific Trails Pipeline which would feed their plant. An export licence has been granted and it has potential to be ready by 2015 or 2016 if money to finish it pulls through. “We’re waiting for a final investment on this one,” said McLaren.

“Another big project, LNG Canada,” he said, adding the Coastal Gas Link project is owned by Shell and its Asian partners. This proposal has yet to go through environmental assessment but has applied for an export licence. It could be ready by 2019.

Other proposals and interests have also come before the province, including interest from U.S. ExxonMobil, which owns about 70 per cent of Imperial Oil Ltd. (Esso), which is one of Canada’s  largest petroleum companies (by market capitalization).

“This is not a game for small players,” he said. “This is a game for big players with a lot of money and a lot of expertise.”

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