The National Energy Board has approved an application by Triton LNG Limited Partnership for a 25-year licence to export liquefied natural gas from a port in British Columbia.
Triton, a partnership announced last year between Calgary-based AltaGas Ltd. and Idemitsu, will ship the gas from either Kitimat or Prince Rupert.
The NEB says a proposed liquefaction terminal will require further regulatory approval before construction can begin.
In their application, the Triton partners said they envisaged a facility capable of processing 2.3 million tonnes of LNG per year.
By contrast, a project led by Malaysia state-owned energy giant Petronas received an NEB licence late last year to export nearly 10 times that amount from a facility costing between $9 billion and $11 billion.
Japan is Asia's biggest consumer of LNG, gas that has been chilled into a liquid state so that it can be more easily transported overseas by tanker. That need has grown since March 2011 when an earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, prompting the country to look at other sources of energy.
Meanwhile, North America is awash in natural gas from emerging shale formations, like those in northeastern British Columbia. The supply glut has depressed prices, causing many companies to look at ways to export the gas to markets that command prices several times higher.
B.C.’s minister of natural gas development Rich Coleman said the Triton deal would lead to job creation and economic security by opening new markets.
"British Columbia continues to work toward providing energy to Asia's growing economies,” he said in a press statement.
“The approval of Triton LNG's export licence by the National Energy Board is another concrete example of the progress being made to build a liquefied natural gas export industry in our province.”
The Triton project is one of 13 LNG projects proposed in B.C., none of them yet under construction.