Hundreds of B.C. truckers rallied in Fort St. John and Fort Nelson today, trying to send Ottawa a message that their once-booming gas patch communities are banking on an LNG industry for jobs.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is expected to make a decision later this month on the controversial $36-billion Pacific NorthWest LNG plant proposed near Prince Rupert, B.C., a project backed by Malaysia's Petronas.

The events, and a third rally in Terrace, were promoted by the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C., with the slogan, "Northern jobs for Northern families."

In Fort St. John, B.C. Liberal MLA Pat Pimm said there were more than 580 trucks at the rally, with many drivers talking about laying off workers and taking "too many holidays" as work has dried up, due to falling natural gas prices and other factors.

"In the fourteen years that I've been in Fort St. John this has absolutely been the worst year ever," said Murray McClelland of Caliber Oilfield and Production Services, who said he's laid off 25 workers this year.

By one estimate, the Fort Nelson rally drew more than 100 trucks, while some said they counted over 300.

Murray McClelland

Murray McClelland of Caliber Oilfield and Production Services said he's laid off 25 workers this year, his worst year for business in 14 years in Fort St. John. (CBC)

'We need a market'

Chuck Fowler Jr. and Sr. both drove their trucks in the Fort St. John rally, "to support LNG, there's no two ways about it," said the elder Fowler. "We've got to make some noise or else they don't even know we're in northern B.C."

"We need a market. We need pipelines, and we need jobs."

Christy Clark's B.C. Liberal government won the last election in part on a promise of prosperity driven by LNG, or liquefied natural gas.

The idea is, natural gas from B.C.'s vast shale reserves would be fracked in northeastern B.C. and transported by pipeline to the coast, where a liquefaction plant would compress the gas to make it liquid, for shipping to foreign markets.

Chuck Fowler

Chuck Fowler Sr. and his son both joined the Fort St. John rally to show support for LNG projects moving forward. (CBC)

But there are no LNG projects confirmed, and the multi-billion dollar Pacific NorthWest LNG project — which proponents argue would create 4,500 construction jobs and 330 long-term operational jobs — is not a sure thing.

"What we're trying to do is show Ottawa that there's a whole bunch of people throughout the north of B.C. that this really matters to," said Gord Stewart, senior vice president with the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C.

Stewart is based in Vancouver but says he's heard from a broad spectrum of northern businesses — from engineering firms to realtors to car rental agencies and construction contractors — who want LNG to succeed.

"Construction's a service industry, right? So we need the economy to be going in order for our members to work."

northern jobs rally

The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C. organized the rally in Terrace, where businesses ranging from engineers to realtors are hoping for an LNG boost, the association said. (Pace Group)

Petronas decision coming

The other side of the LNG debate has also been trying to make its case as pressure builds, awaiting the federal government's decision on Petronas's Pacific NorthWest LNG plant.

Last week, 130 scientists sent a letter to McKenna calling the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's draft report on the project "scientifically flawed."

McKenna was not available for an interview, but a statement from staff said she hasn't yet decided on the project, and is reviewing 34,000 comments received during the recent public comment period on the project, along with new information from the proponent.

She has two options.

Either conclude the LNG plant is "not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects," and give it the go-ahead with legally-binding conditions.

Or, conclude significant environmental impact is likely — in which case it's up to Cabinet to decide whether the damage is "justified in the circumstances."

Lelu Island

Lelu Island, on B.C.'s North Coast, is located at the mouth of the Skeena River, which is B.C.'s second largest salmon-bearing river. (Brian Huntington)

With files from Betsy Trumpener, Andrew Kurjata and Chris Corday