Aurora LNG received a cool reception from area mayors and community leaders who said the company needs to be more upfront.
First proposed over two years ago, the “shale to ship” project would pipe liquefied natural gas from northeast B.C. to a marine export terminal on Digby Island, about three km south of Prince Rupert.
If built, the $20-billion project led by Nexen Energy, the Canadian branch of China’s CNOONC Ltd., would ship up to 24 million tonnes of LNG a year to Asia starting in the early 2020s. It is expected to employ between 200 and 400 full-time staff, and have a lifetime of 25 to 50 years.
Andrew Hamilton, site manager for Aurora LNG, gave an update to the North Coast Regional District in November.
Hamilton noted that planning for Aurora LNG is three years behind the Pacific NorthWest LNG project planned for Lelu Island, and much work remains to be done even after two-and-a-half years of geotechnical, environmental and archaeological work on Digby Island.
“The more data we collect, the more comfortable with how developable the site is,” he said, adding that the project would be largely self-contained, and may be able to further shrink its footprint on the island.
Much of the work so far has been done by helicopter, he said, which avoids building new roads that may go unused if the project fails to get government approval.
While Aurora LNG has held several community meetings, Hamilton said it is taking a quieter approach than some of the many other LNG proposals in the area.
“We prefer to be a little more low key,” he said.
“We don’t want to be in the press — we don’t think that’s the way to do business.”
That low-key approach is a problem, said several members of the North Coast Regional District, who criticized Aurora LNG for rarely speaking with them.
“You want to stay quiet, but I’m telling you now if you’re going to learn anything from the PNW process, you just can’t run from the social or economic impact of the project, no matter how self-contained you are,” said Mayor Lee Brain of Prince Rupert, who added that Aurora LNG has so far been unwilling to talk about long-term, annual benefit agreements to help the city deal with extra costs it might bring.
“There is going to be a big boom here, and you guys have a social responsibility to ensure that everybody is taken care of,” he said.
Mayor Brain also joined other regional district members in speaking up for Dodge Cove, where dozens of residents live within 500 metres of the proposed project boundary.
“As the mayor of this town, I can’t in good conscience say yet how great this project is going to be for this region,” said Brain. “These are my neighbours, and if a resolution isn’t found, it’s going to be hard for me to tell my community, ‘Let’s let this happen on the backs of another.’”
Representatives from Aurora LNG said only non-industrial parts of the project will actually be 500 metres from Dodge Cove — the refrigeration plant and marine berths are all 1.5 km away, and shielded largely by hills and trees.
That did not sway Des Nobels, who represents Dodge Cove on the NCRD.
“Your project may fit somewhere else, but it does not fit here,” said Nobels, who also criticized Aurora LNG for speaking with nearby communities one-by-one, rather than as a whole region.
“As it stands right now, your industry and this provincial government have just blown this whole region apart, pitting community against community, neighbour against neighbour, fighting over the spoils of what, a promise?” he said.
“You want to put the only fishery resource we have in this region at risk.”