British Columbia

Controversial proposed plastics plant moving out of Prince George, following environmental backlash

Plans to build a $5.6 billion plastics plant in Prince George, B.C., have been scrapped, following a backlash from community members worried about air pollution from the proposed petrochemical facility.

'We aren't going to build plants where the community doesn't welcome us,' West Coast Olefins CEO says

Inter Pipeline's Heartland Petrochemical Complex is shown under construction in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. Calgary company West Coast Olefins wants to construct a similar facility in northern B.C. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Plans to build a $5.6 billion plastics plant in Prince George, B.C., have been scrapped following a backlash from community members worried about air pollution from the proposed petrochemical facility.

West Coast Olefins CEO Ken James said he now hopes to build the plant near McLeod Lake, about 140 kilometres north of the city.

"It wasn't an easy decision," James said during a Facebook live event Thursday night while announcing the move. "[But] I understand the sensitivity of the Prince George airshed, so we decided to move it further north."

"We aren't going to build plants where the community doesn't welcome us," he said.

West Coast Olefins CEO Ken James speaking during a video session with the B.C. Resources Coalition. (B.C. Resources Coaltion)

West Coast Olefins plans to extract natural gas liquids, such as ethane, propane and butane, from a natural gas pipeline running through the area. Those byproducts would then be used to make materials like plastic and rubber for Asian markets.

Originally announced in June 2019, the Prince George project soon faced opposition from environmental groups in the city worried it would negatively impact air quality.

It received another blow in December when the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation announced it did not support the project and was upset by comments from James indicating otherwise.

"Although we have had very preliminary discussions with [West Coast Olefins], Lheidli T'enneh wishes to clarify that it does not support [the] proposed projects at this time," Lheidli T'enneh Chief Clay Poutney said at the time in a statement. 

"Unfortunately, [West Coast Olefins] has taken steps that have harmed our relationship and raised fundamental concerns about the proposed projects."

Despite these setbacks, the facility also had widespread support from the city's business and political community, promising hundreds of jobs at a time when area mills are shutting down or curtailing operations.

But ultimately, James said, he wants to build in a community where he is welcome.

West Coast Olefins started exploring a McLeod Lake location as early as January, and, in March, the company put out a joint statement with the McLeod Lake Indian Band announcing plans to negotiate a benefits agreement should the plant relocate there.

Chief Harley Chingee confirmed to CBC talks were ongoing and his hope the plant could provide long-term jobs for his community.

James estimates there will be between 2,000 and 3,000 jobs during the construction phase and roughly 800 permanent direct jobs once the project is in operation.

James said while he still believed Prince George would have been a good location for the facility, his company "strives to work with communities who show strong support for its initiatives."

He expressed concern that "hundreds" of people would now be commuting from Prince George to McLeod Lake daily in order to work at the plant, but ultimately said he believes the move is a "good compromise."

James said he hopes construction will begin in 2021, following a government approval process. 

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