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West Coast Olefins moving $5.6B petrochemical plant back to Prince George

President, CEO says COVID-19 pandemic allowed team to rethink strategy

"It made no sense to move it that far north."

That's from West Coast Olefins (WCO) President and CEO Ken James has said publicly tonight (Dec. 15) in announcing the return of the $5.6-billion petrochemical plant project to Prince George where it was originally planned.

James announced in July 2019 that the project would be built in the BCR Industrial area of the northern capital and create up to 1,000 permanent jobs and roughly 6,000 indirect jobs in the region.

However, in May earlier this year, WCO considered moving north on Highway 97 near McLeod Lake.

While on the BC Resources Coalition (BCRC) Show, James explained when that rumour became truth, the feedback he received came in pleas to move the plant back to Prince George.

"Organizing the silent majority is so critical in moving things forward today," he explained.

"People need work, you know, industry, environmentalists, all of us want to do responsible development. [...] We really want to do whatever we can to support you. We've been busy; we got a new site now. We've informed the environmental assessment office that we wanted to get this started."

James believes project construction has the potential to begin in late 2021 or early 2022, provided there are no significant speedbumps along the way.

The next big step in West Coast Olefins latest move is to reach a collective agreement with local First Nations.

According to James, the Lheidli T'enneh community is set to hold an election in 2021 and he's hoping to have an agreement signed sometime next year to get the petrochemical plant closer to the starting line.

He understands WCO needs to be prepared for a potential 'hard-right turn'if the next elected leaders have a different mindset about the project.

"We are about to start the regular agreement with the process that goes through the public and First Nations," he explained.

It's called impact benefits agreements. [In] the consultation process, the first step is once you know what your project is and what its impacts are, you have to look at quantifying Indigenous rights, territorial rights and charter rights. We're just at that early stage of trying to quantify impacts and we'll be doing those with the government alongside."

James hopes WCO can play a big role in B.C.'s economic recovery through the COVID-19 pandemic, which has notably taken a toll on several industries in the north.

If the original plan for West Coast Olefins' Prince George site reigns true, the overall project may include:

  • An NGL Recovery Plant to recover ethane, propane, butane, and natural gas condensate from Enbridge’s West Coast Pipelines
  • An Ethylene Plant to produce one million tonnes per year of polymer-grade ethylene
  • A Polyethylene Plant to consume most of the ethylene produced
  • Associate off-site facilities and infrastructure
  • Possibility of a mono-ethylene glycol plant being constructed on-site to utilize the balance of ethylene produced

When it comes to the environmental aspects of the petrochemical plant, James explained in July 2019 that the plant uses a low-carbon, clean-burning mixture of ethane and hydrogen as its main fuel source for fire equipment that has no soot or odour and minimizes GHG emissions.

- with files from Hanna Petersen, PrinceGeorgeMatters