British Columbia

Did Canada miss the boat on LNG - or was the price never right?

A National Energy Board report calls Canada a 'latecomer' to the LNG industry, but one expert says the issue is the price, not timing.

A National Energy Board report calls Canada a 'latecomer' to the LNG industry

There are currently 24 planned LNG projects in Canada – 18 based in B.C., and six in Quebec and the Maritimes. (The Canadian Press)

A report from the National Energy Board calls Canada a "late entrant" to the global liquefied natural gas market, and says the next several years will be critical to the industry's development.

The report looked at changing LNG market dynamics, including lower prices and fierce competition and noted Canada already produces more natural gas than it needs to meet domestic demand.

While the U.S. had previously been a market for surplus Canadian gas, demand for Canadian LNG exports has dwindled as American shale gas production has increased.

But Mark Jaccard, an energy economist with Simon Fraser University, said the failure of Canada's LNG export industry to take off has little to do with timing.

"It isn't a question of timing, it's a question of who is cheaper," he said.

Jaccard said that when former B.C. premier Christy Clark first began pitching B.C. LNG in 2013, prices in Japan were at $12 per unit, and just $4 per unit in North America.

But as the number of cheap energy options for Asia increased, those competitive Canadian prices proved short-lived — a fact that Jaccard said many energy economists had predicted at the time.

"You have a lot of options for natural gas — and that was the case when Christy Clark was running an election campaign talking about how we would get into that market and make a lot of money — and it's still the case today," he said.

"Whether you'd gone in any earlier, you'd still be relatively uncompetitive compared to a whole bunch of options for east Asia."

'There's still an opening there'

Jas Johal, the Liberal MLA for Richmond-Queensborough who previously worked as a spokesperson for the B.C. LNG Alliance, said he still thinks the industry is viable.

"There's still an opening there, there's still an opportunity there. The demand for natural gas in Asia is going to continue to grow."

He said the B.C. Liberals' job while in power was to foster the right space in which the industry could thrive, if companies felt the projects could succeed.

"Our job was to create an environment where these large companies can do their due diligence and then see whether they'll move forward."

Jaccard said voters should be wary of promises about energy industries, as government spending can often have little bearing on whether certain projects succeed.

"You can try to take credit for something, but the markets are really going to determine what happens," he said.

"Even if Christy Clark had won the election I think we'd be quietly pulling back as no investments occurred, and I see the same thing happening under this new government."

Only 1 B.C. project proceeding

According to the NEB report there are currently 24 planned LNG projects in Canada – 18 based in B.C., and six in Quebec and the Maritimes.

The Woodfibre LNG near Squamish, B.C., is the only Canadian project where the company that has reached a final investment decision to proceed. Woodfibre received conditional federal approval in March 2016 and was granted a 40-year LNG export licence by the NEB in June 2017.

The Pacific Northwest LNG project near Prince Rupert, B.C., received conditional federal approval in September 2016 and a 40-year LNG export licence from the NEB  in December 2016, but the project still requires a final investment decision by the company, said the report.

Four other projects have received major regulatory approvals, it also noted.