Critics emerge as details of floating LNG plant announced
The Malahat First Nation officially announced plans for a floating liquefied natural gas facility to be moored at the Bamberton industrial site Thursday.
The proposed project is in partnership with Vancouver-based Steelhead LNG. The partners say the project could be a massive economic boon, but it’s already clear they’ll face an uphill battle bringing the public, and neighbouring First Nations, on board.
“As a nation committed to improving quality of life to our people, I’m excited about this opportunity,” said Malahat Interim Chief Tommy Harry.
The 319-member first nation and company say they’ve signed a mutual benefits agreement and long-term lease to explore mooring the facility at the shore of the 525-hectare Bamberton Industrial site, which the Malahat purchased in July, with supporting land-based infrastructure.
The partners say the facility would have capacity of up to 6 million tonnes of LNG a year, creating 200 full-time jobs and up to 30 years of revenue.
“This proposed LNG project with Steelhead represents in our view another step forward, and it’s also an indication that the nation is open for business,” said Malahat CEO Lawrence Lewis.
“Steelhead’s way of doing business is to try to get it right,” said CEO Nigel Kuzemko. “We work initially with First Nations, we listen, we gain an understanding of their objectives, and then we initiate the very detailed very rigorous federal and provincial regulatory processes.”
Those regulatory processes will include obtaining both approvals for the Bamberton site, and a planned sub-sea pipeline to deliver natural gas from Northern BC and Alberta from the mainland to Vancouver Island.
Kuzemko says Steelhead has selected a pipeline proponent but won’t reveal potential routes, including where the pipeline would come ashore on the Island, at this stage.
Steelhead is also developing a proposal for a $30-billion dollar LNG export facility at Sarita Bay on the Alberni Inlet partnering with the Huu-Ay-Aht First Nation. Kuzemko says the same pipeline would supply both proposed facilties, making both projects more financially viable.
Kuzemko didn’t discuss potential the total investments required to build the Bamberton project, saying only it will reach “into the billions” of dollars.
The project is already attracting opposition.
BC Green Party Leader Adam Olsen, who is a member of the Tsartlip First Nation and lives across the Saanich Inlet from the project site, attended the announcement.
“It was surprising, they said 13 months of discussions and the first we heard of it was last week,” said Olsen. “It’s not something that I as a resident of Brentwood Bay or as a member of Tsartlip will ever support.”
Tsartlip First Nation Chief Don Tom also expressed concern neighbouring First Nations weren’t involved in discussions.
“We have a lot of concerns for tanker traffic within our traditional territory for the potential of a spill,” he said.
“This would require the consent of the Tsartlip community, not only Tsartlip but the surrounding other Saanich nations. We have an interest in the environment, for our Douglas Treaty rights to hunt and fish … absolutely we’ll have a say on this project.”
Anne Bomfield, who organized opposition to plans for a 10,000-home development proposed for the Bamberton lands in the 1990s, said environmental studies done then also speak to potential problems on the inlet today
“It’s sensitive, very sensitive and there’s just too many questions now,” she said. “We don’t understand anything about the proposal yet but I’m kind of surprised they would pick this site.”
Some Malahat members also said the announcement came with no advance notice, and say they will need to be convinced on the project’s merits.
“There should have been more respect of giving out notices and get the community involved and say we’re going to do this,” said Keith Harry. “It’s not right for them to do it behind our backs.”
Malahat members will elect a new chief and council November 2nd, after interim chief Tommy Harry and two other councillors decided to step down following the sudden resignation of Chief Michael Harry two weeks ago.
Lewis says the measure was taken to let members elect a government “with full confidence.” Michael Harry resigned after allegations emerged that he had received payments in the form of unspecified “consulting fees” from the operators of a contaminated soil dump near Shawnigan Lake. Those allegations have not been proven in court.
Lewis says the Malahat leadership is aware there are concerns about the proposed project.
“There’s a thousand things that have to happen for this opportunity to be realized, and really today we ticked the first box,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to happen over the next few years, a lot of conversations, a lot of engagement, a lot of design, a lot of changes … and we’ll take our time to do that properly.”