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Not in my backyard! Pineview residents express concerns about proposed petrochemical project

West Coast Olefins Ltd. plans to build natural gas liquids extraction plant, road access and pipeline on agricultural land

A group of Pineview residents living in farmland on the eastern edge of Prince George are voicing their objections to a plan by West Coast Olefins Ltd., to build a natural gas liquids (NGL) extraction plant on a 320-acre parcel of land in the area.

The Calgary-based company needs the extraction plant to process natural gas from the Enbridge Westcoast Energy pipeline, which runs through the property, and extract propane, butane, and natural gas condensates.

A 10-inch steel high pressure vapour pipeline would be built to transport the extracted hydrocarbons 7.5 kilometres from the natural gas recovery system in Pineview to a storage/processing facility on the company’s 120-hectare (300-acre) property at 10012 Willow Cale Rd., in an area zoned for heavy industrial use.

The agricultural land the company intends to purchase is owned by Fred Pain of Knutsford, B.C. For the plant to be built there, 25 acres of the property would have to be removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve and be rezoned for industrial use.

From her property on Lund Road where she grew up on land she and her parents farmed, Carol Wood can see the proposed site of the plant right next door to the west, just beyond the BC Hydro transmission towers, and the thought of what could be soon standing there chills her soul.

 “An industrial project does not belong on farmland,” said Carol Wood. “My biggest fear if they turn that chunk of land into industrial is what’s the next. Once one thing happens, the next falls.”

On June 26, a few days after contacting them individually, West Coast Olefins Ltd. president Ken James, chief operating officer Ron Just and regulatory director Christine Olson met with about a dozen Pineview residents to discuss the proposal. Wood said the company politely declined a request to host a community meeting while it awaits regulatory approval of the project from the Oil and Gas Commission.

Gary Wood (no relation to Carol) just finished an addition to his house on Lund Road to create room for his son and grandchildren to move to the land and their efforts over the past 10 years will allow the family to keep farming long after he’s gone. He’s worried about the impact a gas plant will have on their quality of life.

“I worked all my life to buy this place and pay for it so I could retire out here and then I get a phone call to say they want to put a gas plant across the road from me,” he said. “It was devastating. The biggest thing is the health of my family.

“We are not opposed to economic growth or projects of this nature, however it is an industrial plant and should not be on agricultural land which is protected by our government.”

In July 2019, West Coast Olefins announced plans to build a $5.6 billion plastic pellet complex. Recovered ethane extracted from the natural gas recovery system would then be sent to an ethylene processor to make up to one million tonnes per year of polymer-grade ethylene. The majority of that would be used in the adjacent ethylene derivatives plant to make polyethylene, in plastic pellet form, and possibly mono-ethylene glycol to be used as antifreeze and heat transfer fluid. Most of the finished plastic product would be shipped to Asia using the CN Rail line to Prince Rupert.

Reached at her home in Calgary on Sunday, Olson said the natural gas extraction plant being proposed for Pineview would contain only the minimal amount of equipment needed to extract propane, butane and natural gas condensates from the natural gas pipeline and ethane would put back in the pipeline. The rest of the separation process will occur at the BCR site.

“The plastics plant is a completely different project,” said Olson. “We’re not taking ethane out.

“The rest of the equipment, in order to separate, store and sell the product, is over in the BCR industrial area. But the extraction portion has to be next to the pipeline. We would sell propane and butane, and natural gas condensates are a feedstock for refineries.”

WCOL still intends to build the plastics plant in Prince George but it is being considered a separate project which will require its own regulatory approvals.

“It’s on a different timeline and it’s on a different schedule and the polyethylene portion of it would be built on a different site,” said Olson. “If that goes forward, there would have to be a small expansion to the extraction plant to add ethane removal, which isn’t there now.

“There would be no more land required. It would just be a process change and we would put ethane into the pipeline (to the BCR site) at that time. But that again would require consultation with the same residents and we would have to get their approval, and we’d only be doing it if the ethylene plant looked like it was going to go.”

According to the consultation letter given to the residents, if approved, construction of the NGL plant would begin in the third quarter of 2022, with upgrading and construction of the access road to extend McRinney Road first, followed by site preparation. Installation of facility equipment is slated begin late in the fall of 2022 or spring of 2023 and the proposed on-stream start up would by the fall or winter of 2024.

Residents were told by James, a resident of Prince George from 1974-84, that construction of the extractor project would create more than 100 jobs.

The extraction plant will require an inlet separator, dehydrator, wastewater tank, deed chiller, demethanizer, a 70-megawatt compressor, propane refrigerator, process heat medium aerial coolers, emergency flare stack, backup generator, instrument air system, electric drive pumps, electrical substation, stormwater run-off pond and peripheral equipment.

An emissions stack 150 -200 feet tall would be used for flaring. The company says under normal operation there will be no flaring associated with the project. Any flaring event would involve sweet gas as there will be no sour gas at the plant. Neighbouring residents within a 3.3-kilometre radius are to be warned of a flaring event a minimum of 24 hours before it happens. Notification will be given within 24 hours of an unplanned flaring event that goes beyond a four-hour period or that involves a high gas volume.

WCOL admits there will be increased vehicle traffic in the area during construction but after that there will be only occasional visits to the unmanned facility from maintenance and operational staff or trucks to haul wastewater and fluids.

A noise impact assessment will be completed as part of the company’s application to the Oil and Gas Commission and WCOL will follow provincial light mitigation strategies. The company anticipates there will be no odours associated with production operations from the plant. Vapours will be contained in pressurized vessels and emissions will be managed following the BC Ambient Air Objectives under the Environmental Management Act. The emission stack will be designed based on nitrogen oxide dispersion modelling and compliance with provincial standards.

At the request of the company, the Pineview group compiled a detailed impact statement which outlines their concerns and has filed that with the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George, BC Utilities Commission, Oil and Gas Commission, Agricultural Land Commission and West Coast Olefins Ltd.

The impact statement cites such concerns as: air, light and ground-water pollution, problems associated with a connecting the plant to the existing 60-year-old Enbridge pipeline, crop and soil health, destruction of migratory bird habitat, displacement of bear, moose, deer and fox travel corridors, detriments to livestock health, safety of children and pets entering plant premises and the risk of a catastrophic explosion.

The residents also say the plant could bring on emotional problems stress, anxiety, depression, fearfulness, lack of sleep that could have long-term health effects.

They fear proximity to the plant will decrease property values and create a negative perception about the quality of livestock and crops produced by their farms. They also cite legal costs of fighting the project and its potential healthcare costs.

Ken Meise has a farm southwest of the proposed plant and while he’s not in favour of the development he’s willing to consider it if WCOL can prove it won’t harm the environment.

“I’d like them to check into other properties that are doing it and see if there’s any long-term effects from the projects in Alberta and if they can show us there’s no long-term effects or anything then it could be a different story,” said Meise. “They’ve got a 150-200-foot stack and they say they won’t burn it off. It’s right under the flight path of the airport.

“My kids have property within the three-kilometre radius and I just want to make sure it’s safe for them. Everybody’s got wells here. It shouldn’t affect the groundwater but you never know. They already proposed it in the BCR Site and Summit Lake in partnership with the natives and they shot it down. There should be better places that don’t have houses close by.”

Joe Cvenkel owns a quarter section (160 acres) directly north of where the proposed site of the plant, where his cows feed off the abundant hay his productive piece of farmland produces. He shares a wetland marsh with the property WCOL has earmarked for the project which is home to migratory geese, ducks, cranes and herons and Cvenkel is worried his piece of nature will forever be disrupted if the plant is built.

“I moved there (five years ago) for the lifestyle, I keep saying my cows are not meat, not dairy, they’re therapy cows,” said Cvenkel. “One of them has this Swiss bell and I can hear it from the other side of my quarter section. It goes, ting, ting, in the middle of the night.

“A gas plant will shred any experience like that into decibels. There’s going to be a 70 megawatt compressor that will maintain the flow of gas after it’s processed back into the pipeline. On top of that they will do some sort of separation and they will be doing lots of cooling, so I suggest we might see 100 megawatts released on that 25 acres of land. The co-gen plant Canfor has in the pulp mill to burn wood waste and generate electricity is rated 50 megawatts, and here we’re going to have a single motor that’s rated 70 megawatts. It’s going to be noisy.”

Debbie DeWitt lives northeast of the plant site and has seen what wildfire smoke and other sources of pollution have done to the city’s air quality and the misery it causes her husband, who relies on bottled oxygen to breathe. She doesn’t want to have to worry about the possible environmental damage of having a petrochemical plant in her neighbourhood.

“They say there will be no pollution and I don’t believe that,” sad DeWitt. “Why does it have to be here on farmland? If it blows up, we have two schools on the highway, it’s just not the right place for it. I like it here, it’s nice and quiet. The last few years we’ve had a wonderful assortment of birds out here and I don’t image they will be around. It’s a scary story. It doesn’t have to be here.”

The residents have started a petition against the project and are gathering names on sign-up sheets at Pineview store. As of Saturday afternoon, 65 of those surveyed were against the project and six were in favour.  

West Coast Olefins Ltd. ethylene plant timeline

July 2019 – A $5.6 billion petrochemical project to be built in Prince George at the BCR Industrial Site is first announced by West Coast Olefins president Ken James at a downtown hotel. James calls it “the biggest project the city has ever seen.”

In May 2020, after residents expressed their concerns about air quality if the complex was built at the BCR site, WCOL announced it was considering an alternate location north of the city. That led to a partnership between the McLeod Lake Indian Band and the Lheidli T’Enneh First Nation to develop a 400-hectare industrial park at Summit Lake.

December 2020 - Both aboriginal groups announce they oppose the project at the BCR site and WCOL renews its plan to build it in Prince George.

February 2021 – McLeod Lake Indian Band and Lheidli T’enneh say they were close to finalizing a partnership with Prince George-based Formula Capital Corp., to develop a petrochemical complex at the proposed Summit Lake industrial site.

June 2021 – WCOL reveals its plan to build a natural gas liquids extraction plant, access road and high vapour pressure pipeline project on a rural property in Pineview.