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Whitworth Op-Ed: Liquefied Natural Gas is a Generational Opportunity (Vancouver Sun)

The debate about the future of liquefied natural gas in British Columbia is generating plenty of heat, but often too little light. A casual observer can be forgiven if he or she is just a bit confused about whether LNG will come to B.C.

Strip away the rhetoric, however, and a truth remains: In a growing world economy hungry for cleaner forms of energy, the market for B.C.’s natural gas remains strong.

As CEO of Seaspan ULC and chair of the British Columbia Business Council, I think it is important we remember this when considering LNG’s potential to shape our province for the better.

Yes, market conditions must be correct to establish an industry that requires multi-billion dollar capital investments. The federal and provincial governments understand this and have taken important steps to put the correct tax and regulatory framework in place.

The recent announcement Prime Minister Stephen Harper made about tax incentives for LNG proponents willing to invest in B.C. is a positive step that is sure to help move investors in the right direction.

It is also true the precipitous and unforeseen drop in oil prices has created potential new roadblocks for an opportunity that is still in its infancy.

But B.C. was built on the resource industry, and we have prospered through cycles such as this before. By playing to our strengths, we have built a stable and diverse resource-based economy that enables us to proudly stand as a stalwart of the national economy.

I see LNG as an opportunity that can help B.C. maintain that impressive track record. I see it as an opportunity that can help sustain balanced provincial budgets while also allowing us to meet the growing needs for spending in areas like health and education.

I also see LNG as an opportunity that allows First Nations a chance to be equal partners with a meaningful share of the benefits and a strong voice at the table.

So what are the facts?

There are now 19 LNG projects proposed for British Columbia, and 10 of those have export licenses from the National Energy Board.

Within that landscape, important players in the industry, such as Petronas, are laying the groundwork in anticipation of making a major long-term commitment to B.C.  LNG Canada and TransCanada’s related Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline are also making good progress, including with First Nations. For example, last year, the Wet’suwet’en First Nation signed an important pipeline benefits agreement with the province on Coastal GasLink.

“This signing isn’t just about the money; this is about ensuring a better future for our members, one which would not be realized without this opportunity,” Chief Karen Ogen said at the time.

Not long after that agreement, the Vancouver Sun in January reported that “First Nations’ support for LNG projects is mounting in Northern B.C.”

These are all good signs.

Woodfibre LNG, a smaller, but significant LNG proponent in Squamish, is now in the midst of its application for an environment assessment certificate. With a target to begin construction later this year, Woodfibre is positioned to be the first project exporting LNG off our coast.

To make sure its proposal meets the high bar British Columbians expect, Woodfibre has spent months consulting with the public and tailoring its project to meet the needs of the community.

This means specific environmental mitigation measures to protect Howe Sound and commitments to hire local workers first, when possible. Both of these directives are aligned with Seaspan’s Core Values, and as we have successfully proven on our recent projects, it is not a fantasy and it can be accomplished.

It’s important all these companies listen closely to what British Columbians are saying, and that they meet the standards of excellence British Columbians have become so accustomed to when it comes to protecting our natural environment.  I also believe when companies make that commitment, when they make sustainable investments in our communities, we need to be there to offer our support.

B.C. is on the cusp of a generational opportunity. We have the chance to create jobs, bolster investment and provide a cleaner fuel for growing Asian markets. But one fundamental truth overshadows this entire discussion: there are no jobs on the cusp.

To realize this opportunity, we must all do our part to help this industry succeed.

Published in the March 10th print and online edition of the Vancouver Sun.