CALGARY – After much anticipation Canada could see final approval of the first natural gas export projects on the West Coast this year.
Proponents behind some of the 20 proposed liquefied natural gas projects in B.C. say they should be in a position to make final investment decisions this year as environmental approvals, permits and First Nations support fall into place.
And while a supply glut has pushed down natural gas prices and reduced short-term prospects, experts say projects remain viable.
“These are long-term, multi-decade projects,” said Altacorp Capital analyst Mark Westby. “Current gas prices are only one factor.”
Spot prices for LNG have dropped by more than half in Asia over the past two years. In Japan, the world’s biggest buyer of LNG, prices have dropped from over US$18 per thousand cubic feet in March 2014 to around US$7.50 per thousand cubic feet last November.
Westby sees LNG Canada, a joint venture headed by Shell that is proposing a facility in Kitimat, and the Altagas-led Douglas Channel project also planned for Kitimat as developments most likely to proceed this year.
LNG Canada’s final barriers are securing assurances from First Nations and a permit from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, while Douglas Channel still needs to settle a 25 per cent excise duty being levied on its US$300 million floating LNG facility, Westby said.
“I don’t see LNG Canada or Douglas Channel encountering any other obstacles that would push them beyond 2016,” said Westby.
LNG Canada spokeswoman Katharine Birtwistle said the company does indeed plan to make a final investment decision this year “despite being in a challenging global energy market environment.”
Last week, LNG Canada passed two milestones, securing both a facility permit from the B.C. government and a 40-year export licence from the National Energy Board.
Another development in the pipeline is the Pacific NorthWest LNG project proposed by a consortium spearheaded by Petronas. But Westby said while it remains promising, it faces uncertainty.
An environmental assessment of the project restarted in December and should be completed by March, but Petronas still has to resolve significant issues with First Nations including environmental concerns, he said.
There is also the Woodfibre LNG project, owned by Singapore-based Pacific Oil and Gas Ltd., which is hoping to make a final investment decision this year.
Byng Giraud, vice-president of corporate affairs at Woodfibre, said the company first needs to secure federal environmental approval and enough sales contracts as well as cut projected costs.
If everything falls into place, the company could give final approval in the second half of the year, he said.
Racim Gribaa, who leads Deloitte Canada’s LNG business, said the downturn in the resources sector presents an ideal time to start building projects.
“This is the best time to invest in infrastructure, when the prices are low, when the costs are low, when the labour is available, when the steel costs are low,” said Gribaa.
He said that despite current prices, the future demand for natural gas looks strong, giving Canada a chance to still play a role in the global LNG market.
“I certainly see all the factors in place, and the most important one being the forecasted demand being strong,” said Gribaa.
But Mary Hemmingsen, global head of LNG at KPMG, says the drop in both gas and oil prices have diminished the likelihood of multibillion-dollar LNG projects going forward.
She says low oil prices have reduced cash flow at the energy companies planning to build projects, while also making alternatives to natural gas cheaper.
“If the oil price continues to fall, you’ll see reduced activity, deferment of activity, consolidation of activity, but also an opportunity because those that have a solid consortium are continuing to progress their projects,” Hemmingsen said.
She says the “gold rush mentality” that was in place for the past couple of years has been replaced by a more sombre, realistic outlook.
“What everyone was chasing two years ago was volume, volume, volume,” said Hemmingsen. “Now it’s about value, value, value.”
But despite the gloom, Hemmingsen says in the long-term, the outlook for natural gas remains strong as countries commit to phasing out coal and adopting more stringent environmental policies like those agreed to at the Paris climate change summit.
“Countries made this commitment and gas and LNG has a really big role in fulfilling that commitment,” said Hemmingsen.