NDP MLA off on northeast gas tour

Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin is on his way to northeastern BC later this month for a first-hand look at that region’s oil and gas industry

  • Sep. 10, 2013 9:00 a.m.

Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin is on his way to northeastern BC later this month for a first-hand look at that region’s oil and gas industry.

Named his party’s natural gas critic following the spring provincial election, Austin said he needs a better understanding of what’s at stake for the province’s potential liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry and its impact on the northwest.

“I’m particularly interested in fracking,” said Austin of the use of large amounts of water and chemicals pumped underground to free up natural gas once considered unreachable.

It’s this technique, officially called hydraulic fracturing, which has resulted in massive amounts of recoverable natural gas leading to the possibility of a lucrative LNG industry in BC.

Austin said he’s looking forward to meeting with industry and other officials as well as farmers concerned with water use.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an industry group representing energy companies, is setting up site visits for Austin.

And he’s also going to be toured around by Mike Bernier, a former mayor of Dawson Creek, retired Pacific Northern Gas official and newly-elected Liberal MLA for the Peace River South riding.

Austin said he appreciates Bernier’s touring offer, saying it represents “cross-party assistance.”

“We’re going to need more than partisan politics,” said Austin of the complex issues surrounding the development of an LNG industry.

Topping the issues list is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the Kitimat area that can be expected by the anticipated construction of at least one small LNG plant and two larger ones.

The emissions will come from companies burning their own natural gas to provide the power to freeze or liquefy natural gas bound for Asian markets.

“How will the government deal with these emissions?” asks Austin.

What’s need is a study to determine what the Kitimat airshed area can absorb, he said.

Austin’s also waiting for the province to come up with its long-awaited taxation regime, the heart of the government’s plan to create its Prosperity Fund.

“[Natural gas minister] Rich Coleman tells us it’s in the works. Don’t forget the government has also promised a community development fund, a regional resource fund – it was in the [Liberal election] platform. The government’s has a lot of balls in the air it’s juggling.”

Energy companies have said they need to know sooner rather than later what kind of tax the province is contemplating as only then can they factor it into their investment decisions.

One large financial unknown, Austin continued, is the eventual sales price of LNG.

Asian customers no longer want to pay a rate that’s tied to the price of oil – LNG prices in Asia have been four times the rate of what it sells for in North America.

Going with Austin is the NDP environment critic, Spencer Chandra Herbert.