West Coast Olefins moving $5.6B petrochemical project out of city

West Coast Olefins is looking to move its proposed $5.6 billion petrochemical complex outside of Prince George.

On Thursday, company president and CEO Ken James announced the move during an interview with the BC Resources Coalition.

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"We aren't going to build the project where people don't want it. We're moving it up, just north of Prince George, into McLeod Lake (Indian Band) territory," James said. "We're looking at a couple locations right now. We're working with Chief (Harley) Chingee and his people on that. When we decide, we'll announce that to the public."

The proposed development was initially slated to be built on a 120-hectare site in the BCR Industrial Site in the city. The three-part project is expected to include an ethylene plant, ethylene derivatives plant and a natural gas recovery system.

According to West Coast Olefin's submission to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, the ethylene plant would use feedstock from Enbridge's West Coast natural gas pipeline to produce about one million tonnes per year of polymer-grade ethylene. The majority of that would be used in the adjacent ethylene derivatives plant to produce polyethylene – plastic pellets – and possibly mono-ethylene glycol to be used as antifreeze and heat transfer fluid.

"We still expect most of the work and most of the employment will come out of Prince George," James said. "We want to be within half-an-hour of the city. We think that's a reasonable commute."

James said he previously worked at Nova Chemical’s petrochemical complex near Red Deer, Alta., which is a similar distance from the city and is able to operate without difficulty.

The locations the company is looking at north of the city are located on Highway 97, close to rail lines and closer to Enbridge's natural gas pipeline than their original site, he said.

James said he doesn't believe the move will delay construction of the project, as some of the work that needs to be done – like formal public consultation – can't be done currently anyway due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It may, in a weird kind of way, have a positive effect on the schedule. We've always been on 2021 to start construction," he said. "We are prepared, if there is the political and social will, to get the project started sooner than that."

The decision to move from an established industrial site to an undeveloped location will add some cost and complexity, but not enough to make a significant difference in a $5.6 billion project, James said.

"It may end up saving money, if (we) end up in a long, delayed public consultation process," he said.

While the project has received support, and investment dollars, from Prince George, he said, it has also seen opposition from those concerned about the city's airshed.

James lived in Prince George in the 1970s and '80s, and said he can understand the concerns people have about air quality. While he doesn't agree with them, it can be difficult to change people's minds once they've decided about something, James said, so instead the company is looking to move.

According to West Coast Olefin's application to the EAO, the first phase of the development would cost about $2.8 billion and create 2,000 to 3,000 jobs during construction from 2021 to 2023. Once complete, the ethylene plant would employ 140 to 180 people directly, and 25 to 50 additional contract employees.

Once all three phases of the complex are complete, they are expected to employ approximately 1,000 people.

"This is the biggest project Prince George has ever seen," James said.

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