He is now more than halfway through his “100-day action plan” but it is still not clear how Premier David Eby views the future of B.C.’s growing liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry.
The industry got its start under the former BC Liberal government headed by Christy Clark, but the BC NDP embraced it as well when it assumed power in 2017.
While only one project ― the mammoth LNG Canada project in Kitimat ― is under construction, there are several other projects at various stages of regulatory approval processes.
Eby has previously pledged not to allow the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure because any expansion would make it difficult, if not impossible, for B.C. to meet its targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in 2040 and 2050.
No jurisdiction has come close to meeting any GHG emission reduction targets and there is much skepticism attached to B.C.’s ability to reach future targets (already it is clear it won’t meet the targets set for 2025 and 2030).
Nevertheless, the targets remain in place. So will Eby stand in the way of the LNG industry expanding with the creation of more infrastructure?
The mandate letters he sent to individual cabinet ministers are far from clear on this matter.
Each letter states the premier’s four priority areas are attainable and affordable housing, safer communities, improved health care and a “sustainable, clean, secure and fair economy.”
The LNG acronym is not mentioned in any letter as far as I can tell. While the letters state that fighting climate change and meeting emission targets are important goals, it is unclear where LNG fits within those goals.
There are numerous complications and apparent contradictions in play here.
For example, two projects currently in the regulatory approval process have the strong backing of local First Nations in the northwest.
The Cedar LNG project is being built by the Haisla First Nation, while the KSI Lisims LNG project is a partnership between the Nisga’a First Nation and two LNG companies.
Considering that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which greatly enhances and protects the rights of First Nations to engage in self-run economic activity, is now entrenched in law, would an Eby-led government really shut down two projects being run by First Nations?
Then there is the economic impact.
The LNG Canada project is an $18 billion project and represents the largest private sector investment in B.C.’s history. It is expected to be in production by 2025, and the company is already planning an expansion.
The importance of natural gas to the government’s current fiscal bottom line cannot be overstated. Natural gas royalties are forecast to approach almost $2.5 billion this fiscal year.
It is early days in the Eby administration, but already he is proving to be unpredictable at the very least. For example, he has given the RCMP more than $250 million to hire more officers, mused about reopening mental health institutions and has pledged to get rid of homeless camps ― all moves significantly different from his past positions.
I suspect Eby will find a way to allow the LNG industry to expand while still insisting B.C. can meet its climate change targets even with the expansion. But so far, at least, he has not made things clear one way or another.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.