British Columbia

'My town has just been saved': Northeastern B.C. celebrates LNG investment decision

A $40 billion investment decision for northern B.C. announced Monday will inject stability into an economy long characterized by boom and bust, local politicians and business leaders predict.

$40B project will inject stability into an economy long characterized by boom and bust, locals predict

Kristi Leer, a pilot car operator and vocal advocate for economic development in northeastern B.C., says a decision to invest in B.C.'s liquefied natural gas industry has 'saved' her community of Fort Nelson. (Kristi Leer)

Alan Yu was "elated" Tuesday morning as he learned details about the decision from investors to move forward with construction of a $40-billion liquefied natural gas pipeline and processing plant in northern B.C.

Speaking from his home in Fort St. John, Yu said he believes the LNG Canada project will provide economic stability and growth for years to come.

Though much of Monday's decision is focused on the province's northwest, where a gas processing and export plant will be built in Kitimat, it's also significant for communities in the province's northeast where the gas will be extracted from, creating new opportunities for people like Yu.

This gas supplying LNG Canada's export terminal in Kitimat will come from the Montney Formation in northeastern B.C.

Yu moved from the Philippines to B.C. in 2014, training to work in the natural gas industry before heading north to Fort St. John. He was employed in the field for nine months before the economy took a downturn and he was laid off.

Since then he's been a vocal advocate for LNG, organizing grassroots rallies and traveling to Ottawa to press the federal government to support jobs in northeastern B.C. 

"We have one more thing [to be thankful for] this Thanksgiving," Yu said, sharing his dream of starting a family business connected to the industry.

'Tipping point' for economic stability

Yu was not alone in viewing Monday's announcement as a source of opportunity in a region long characterized by boom and bust economics.

Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead said the investment decision gives natural gas companies operating in northeastern B.C. the ability to plan long-term, knowing they have stable access to overseas markets.

"That creates long-term stability for our communities," he said.

Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead speaks about why he believes the government must support the natural gas industry, while supporters of his message join him on stage at the Natural Resources Forum in Prince George. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Likewise, the city's chamber of commerce director, Kathleen Connolly, predicted a "slow burn" of new jobs over the coming years, as well as improved investor confidence in the region as a whole.

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman said she expects other developments will now move forward, ranging from new parks to transit to expanded post-secondary education aimed at a growing population.

"This is now a tipping point to make other projects viable," she said. 

'My town has just been saved'

Bev Vandersteen of the Fort Nelson Chamber of Commerce said although she doesn't expect to see many direct local impacts, the LNG Canada decision is "great news" because it may mark the path forward for other projects, including some using natural gas from the Fort Nelson area.

Fort Nelson was particularly hard hit by the downturn in the province's oil and gas sector mid-decade, with home values dropping rapidly since 2014. and hundreds of people leaving town.

Of Canadian communities with more than 5,000 people in 2011, Fort Nelson saw the second-fastest decline in the country, shrinking by over eight per cent by 2016, according to Statistics Canada. (Fort Nelson Chamber of Commerce) (Fort Nelson Chamber of Commerce)

Among those to leave was Kristi Leer, a pilot car company operator who had to relocate to Fort St. John in order to find work.

On Tuesday, she was headed back to Fort Nelson to celebrate news of LNG Canada's investment, which she viewed as a major step forward.

"It's huge," she said. "My town has just been saved."

Read more from CBC British Columbia

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.

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