British Columbia

Prince George, B.C., once again considered as potential home for plastics plant

West Coast Olefins announced this week it is reconsidering Prince George's industrial park as the site for its petrochemical plant, despite continuing backlash from local residents who are concerned about air and water pollution.

In May, West Coast Olefins announced it was considering building the facility north of the city

The proposed plastics plant will be similar to Inter Pipeline's Heartland Petrochemical Complex, shown under construction in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., in 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Prince George is once again being considered as the site for a $5.6 billion petrochemical plant that some First Nations and local residents worry will be a big polluter.

Calgary-based West Coast Olefins announced plans in June 2019 to build the plant in BCR Industrial Park, located in southeastern Prince George.

After much backlash from community members concerned about air and water pollution, the company changed its mind in May, announcing it was considering other sites outside of the city, including one at Summit Lake, about 50 kilometres north of Prince George, and another at McLeod Lake, about 140 kilometres north.  

"We aren't going to build plants where the community doesn't welcome us," CEO Ken James said in a Facebook live event in May. 

But this week, the company changed tack once again. 

"After much consideration, we have abandoned our decision to relocate north of Prince George and are now returning to our original site in the BCR Industrial Park," James wrote in a statement on Tuesday. 

The CEO says a B.C. Court of Appeal's ruling in May on First Nations territorial boundaries means the company would have to do the extra work of negotiating with more Indigenous communities other than McLeod Lake Indian Band in order to have the facility built outside of Prince George.

He also wrote that many Prince George residents want the petrochemical facility to be built in town to offer job opportunities. 

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

West Coast Olefins CEO Ken James said on Tuesday that the company is once again looking to locate its petrochemical plant in Prince George, seven months after saying the company was looking at sites north of the city. (Nicole Oud/CBC)

The company has promised that the facility could create 1,000 permanent jobs at a time when mills are shutting down or curtailing operations.

"It's too good to be true," said Dr. Marie Hay, a pediatrician who lives in downtown Prince George.

The 67-year-old says the petrochemical facility could generate styrene, acrylonitrile and vinyl chloride — which may cause cancer — and heavy metals including cadmium, which may disrupt the endocrine system and lead to reproductive disorders such as male infertility.

These concerns are not addressed in West Coast Olefins' statement.

"This is my home. This is where my children grew up. I don't want to move," Hay said.

Hay is a member of advocacy group Too Close 2 Home, which James says has been opposing the project regardless of whether it's built within the city limits or north of the city. 

"A lot of us [in northern B.C.] are getting frustrated with a vocal minority driving the agenda," James said in a Facebook live event earlier this week. 

James wrote in the statement that West Coast Olefins will continue to consult with McLeod Lake Indian Band and Lheidli T'enneh Nation before the petrochemical facility project is approved by the provincial government.

Lheidli T’enneh First Nation Chief Clay Pountney says he won't talk to West Coast Olefins anymore about its petrochemical facility project. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC)

But both Indigenous communities said Thursday in a joint statement that they won't support the plant being built in the BCR Industrial Park and there will be "no future negotiations" with West Coast Olefins on the plant relocation.

"We [First Nations] have been participating, but they [West Coast Olefins] have been very all over the place, so they haven't really built a friendship or trust with us at all," said Lheidli T'enneh Nation Chief Clay Pountney

CBC News has requested additional comment from James. 


Subscribe to Daybreak North on CBC Listen or your favourite podcast app, and connect with CBC Northern British Columbia on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Winston Szeto

Digital Associate Producer, CBC Kelowna

Winston Szeto has written stories about different regions across British Columbia. Before landing in the Okanagan, he was a story producer with The Early Edition and On The Coast of CBC Vancouver. Send him tips via email winston.szeto@cbc.ca or Twitter @winstonszeto

With files from Pamela McCall, Betsy Trumpener and Andrew Kurjata

now