While deadlines for liquefied natural gas terminals keep getting pushed to the sideburner, a propane export project on a smaller scale is inching its way closer to a final investment decision.
Dan Woznow, the vice president of energy exports at AltaGas, updated a full house on the company’s plans for the proposed Ridley Island propane export terminal at the Prince Rupert and District Chamber and Commerce lunch on Sept. 21.
“Even a smaller project with a small footprint like this, getting this over the fence, getting it done and showing that we can actually get something done in Canada is good for the nation,” Woznow said.
AltaGas spent years looking for the ideal site to set up a propane export terminal and has settled on Ridley Island, formally a coal-focused terminal that is looking into diversification. Another key aspect of this location was the shorter distance to Asia — about 10 days. Competitors exporting from the Gulf Coast have a 25 day trip to Asia, even with the Panama Canal opening in July for wider shipments.
The proposed $400-500 million project would go on the site of an old sulphur plant that never materialized.
The building will be re-purposed for propane export. Woznow said there will be 24-34 vessels moving propane a year, or two ships a month.
“Another thing about this project is we’re really replacing coal ships. We’re not adding more traffic here. We’re taking spots away from the coal ships at the dock, and taking spots away from the coal trains coming down,” Woznow said.
A surrogate propane facility
AltaGas is a 20-year-old company with 1,700 employees across all their different operations. The company is involved in natural gas processing, the utility business and power projects, including wind farms and gas fire generation.
The company also operates a 40-year-old propane export facility in Ferndale, Washington that they plan to use as a surrogate of what they will do in Prince Rupert. Woznow said in 40 years there hasn’t been a safety incident or concern. The site in Ridley Terminals will be similar to the Ferndale facility only with upgrades.
Port Edward Mayor Dave MacDonald and the chief administrative officer Bob Payette are going to visit the Ferndale facility on Oct. 2 and Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain will go at a later date. AltaGas wants the mayors to experience how quiet and innocuous the facility is to the surrounding communities.
A final investment decision may come as early as the end of this year, and by the start of 2017 AltaGas wants to begin the two-year construction phase.
“We’re committed here to try and get as many local people as we can involved. It doesn’t make any sense from a business perspective to fly people in. We want to have local people living here working at the facility,” Woznow said.
The company estimates they will hire 200-250 people during the construction of the facility, and 40-50 permanent jobs once they’re in full operation.
With a potential project so close to reality, North Coast workers could start considering job opportunities in the new year.
Some of the positions during construction may include, millwrights, iron workers, scaffolders, electricians, instrumentation techs, welders, pipefitters, boilermakers, equipment operators, insulators and general labourers.
“Once the facility is operational, we will require junior and senior gas plant operators, administrative support, security personnel and building maintenance workers (to name a few),” said AltaGas spokesperson Sandra Semple adding that apprenticeship and trades programs as well as safety certificate courses for many of these positions are available in the region and online through distance education.
Update on the project
In the spring, AltaGas signed a memorandum of understanding with Japanese company, Astomos Energy Corp., to purchase half of its propane. The two companies are now working toward the sale of a purchase agreement.
Japan has 24 million homes that use propane for heating and cooking.
Currently, AltaGas is working on the design, engineering and procurement strategies while waiting for regulatory approval from Transport Canada, Ridley Terminals and the Port of Prince Rupert. The final step will be getting the economics in line to make their final investment decision by the end of the year.
“We’ve got a lot of support from our board of directors and we want to move forward. We’re just making sure it makes sense,” Woznow said.