Canaport LNG terminal

The Canaport LNG terminal, located on Saint John's east side, is owned by Repsol and Irving Oil Ltd. (CBC)

​The National Energy Board (NEB) says its decision to issue three competing LNG export licences in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia within a month of one another does not mean it expects any of the projects will actually happen.

In August the NEB approved an application by Nova Scotia's Bear Head LNG Corporation for a 25-year licence to import enormous quantities of natural gas for conversion and export as LNG at an as yet-to-be constructed facility in Cape Breton.

It also approved a nearly identical application for Pieridae Energy (Canada) Ltd. for a proposed LNG export facility in Goldboro, N.S.

Then last week week it issued a third licence to do the same at the Canaport LNG facility in Saint John, which is currently configured only to import liquefied natural gas.

In each decision the NEB said issuing a licence does not mean a project will necessarily proceed.

"In aggregate, the LNG export licence applications submitted to the Board to date represent a significant volume of LNG exports from Canada," the Board wrote in its approval of each application.  "However, all of these LNG ventures are faced with a robust, but limited, global market and face numerous development and construction challenges.

"The board acknowledges … several factors that could limit Canadian LNG export volumes including: significant capital costs; consolidation within Canadian LNG projects; global competition; and significant environmental and regulatory requirements. The Board will not predict which licences will be used or used to the full allowance."

One other LNG export project is also on the drawing board near Halifax, but in its application for a licence Canaport's majority partner Repsol, under the name Saint John LNG Development Company, said it was unconcerned with the competing applications.

"Saint John LNG concluded that ... market forces will not support all of the proposed projects," noted the NEB in its decision.

"Saint John LNG further noted that a similar situation occurred several years ago with respect to the development of LNG import terminals in Eastern Canada, where numerous proposals were advanced, but market forces and economic realities resulted in only one of the projects actually proceeding."

Repsol has long maintained that obtaining various licences to export LNG from Saint John is being done as part of a much larger evaluation process and should not be taken as a sign it has decided to proceed with the project,

In February Repsol spokesman Kristain Rix called the export licence application to the NEB a "tiny incremental step" and that a decision on whether convert the facility for export, which would require between $2 billion and $4 billion in renovations, would come later.

Still, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant heralded the acquisition of the export licence for Canaport as a significant event.

"There is a growing sense of optimism about our ability to be a major player in the global energy sector," said Gallant in a press release.