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Minister touts LNG development

Prince George stands to gain a lot from the projected business to be done for the liquefied natural gas industry.

Prince George stands to gain a lot from the projected business to be done for the liquefied natural gas industry. The minister leading the LNG development department for the provincial government was here Friday to talk to the Prince George Chamber of Commerce members about the economic spinoffs expected if the proposed plants and pipelines come to pass.

"One proposal even calls for natural gas trains to come through Prince George instead of using a pipeline," said Rich Coleman, Minister of Natural Gas Development and Minister Responsible for Housing. "I can't talk about the company or the details of the planning, but they are working with the railroad on that, they are looking at what they will need in Prince George [where the north-south line intersects with the east-west tracks] and the requirements for an off-loading facility in Prince Rupert."

He also talked about the LNG -Buy BC Program which has no Prince George dates set, but is rolling out across the province this month (Kitimat on Tuesday, Terrace on Wednesday). It is an event that brings out the business community to learn how local firms and agencies can win contracts and earn goods and services opportunities from the major proponents and their subcontractors.

"The scope and size and scale is staggering," said Coleman, even if only some of the proposals come to fruition. It is not impossible, he said, for all 11 of the front-running projects to pump significant investment into northern economies, even if they don't all build their entire blueprint.

Should the government's best projections be realized, he said, the province would be debt-free in 15 years or less and "it means your children and your grandchildren will be able to live and work in B.C. if they want to."

He said the gas industry currently contributes about $600 million per year to provincial coffers and that would multiply by about five times, should the thrust of the expected industry come to pass.

There are hurdles, though, he told the Chamber of Commerce audience at the Twisted Cork. The main priority was addressing First Nations challenges, concerns and input since so many would be necessary to moving gas from the northeast deposits across the north to liquefication plants and shipping terminals on the west coast.

"What we have in the First Nations is support for LNG," said Coleman, but that required a large number of ongoing and dynamic conversations of partnership.

The second hurdle - one that caused immense and costly grief for the competitive Australian LNG industry - is skilled labour. The appropriate workforce had to be assembled, with B.C. residents and then greater Canadian residents getting the first pick of jobs but not without international inclusion, said Coleman.

Global commodity politics don't always favour B.C., but, said Coleman, a lot of work had been done to get our industry out in front of the main competitors we face (Australia, Mozambique, Central Africa).

One thing in our favour is the relatively shorter shipping times from North America to Asia, where they value the stable society and ability to build credible relationships. Another is the cost of piping natural gas because we don't have excessively hot climates like those other competitors, which requires higher cooling investments.

"When [Russian leader] Vladimir Putin says [in the midst of global political confrontations] that he'll just turn his supply of gas off, all that means is companies in France are now on their way to B.C. to learn what we can do for them," he said.

The LNG industry is only on its toddler legs right now, but getting stronger by the week, he explained, and the once dominant forestry sector that was recently bloodied by the U.S. housing market collapse is showing signs of strength again.

"Imagine," said Coleman, turning the conversation back to Prince George directly due to its leadership position in both industries, "imagine if you've got both taking off at the same time."