TORONTO – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved Tuesday a $27 billion liquefied natural gas project on British Columbia's northwest coast in a decision that's considered a litmus test for a government that has vowed to do more for the environment.
It is Trudeau's first decision on a major energy project. It comes ahead of some important pipeline decisions that will cause him problems from either industry or environmentalists and aboriginals.
"Helping to get Canada's resources to market is a key responsibility," Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said, announcing the decision alongside two other cabinet ministers in Richmond, British Columbia. "At the same time we said that economic prosperity must go hand in hand with environmental responsibility."
The proposed liquefied natural gas processing plant by Petronas and other partners near Prince Rupert, British Columbia, would ship 19 million tons a year of frozen, liquefied natural gas to markets in Asia. But the project has drawn criticism both for the carbon emissions it would cause and for the possible impact that the export terminal would have on the wild salmon habitat in the Skeena River estuary.
Trudeau still faces decisions on Enbridge's controversial Northern Gateway pipeline proposal that would bring oil to the Pacific Coast for shipment to Asia as well as Kinder Morgan's TransMountain pipeline expansion from Alberta to British Columbia.
The government put in 190 conditions on the massive Pacific NorthWest LNG project, including environmental and fish protection.
The conditional approval doesn't mean the massive project will be built. An increasing supply of natural gas has depressed international prices for LNG, making the economics of the project less certain than they were when it was first announced in 2013. A spokesman for Pacific NorthWest LNG said Monday that any decision to begin construction would still have to go to the company's shareholders if the Canadian government approved the plan.
"It sure would be a great boost for the country if we can get these projects going," British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said. "I don't know when the market conditions might improve enough for these projects to go ahead but I do know that in China, India and Japan people are really hungry for a cleaner alternative to coal."
The project has drawn criticism both for the carbon emissions it would cause and for the possible impact that the export terminal would have on the wild salmon habitat in the Skeena River estuary.