They call it 'FSJ for LNG'

They call it 'FSJ for LNG'. And it shows a lot of community support for BC natural-gas to be tuned into LNG.Writer Dean Pelkey asks if Justin Trudeau and his cabinet will listen. 

When it comes to major infrastructure projects such as pipelines, much is made about the need of project proponents to obtain “social licence.” This is generally seen as the need to gain support for a project from the people who live in or near the project’s location.

During last year’s federal election, the federal Liberals stated: “While governments grant permits for resource development, only communities can grant permission.” But as critics have pointed out, who decides when social licence is granted?

Which brings us to Fort St. John in British Columbia’s Peace River region where an interesting experiment in demonstrating social licence is unfolding.

Fort St John has long been the hub for BC’s natural gas sector, servicing the gas fields and assorted pipelines that feed natural gas to homes and businesses across the province.  It is to BC’s natural gas industry what Fort McMurray is to Alberta’s oil sands.

But the collapse in oil and gas prices has battered Fort St John as jobs dried up and unemployment soared. That’s left the community looking at BC’s proposed liquefied natural gas export industry as a source of future prosperity. In particular, they want the federal government to approve the Petronas-backedPacific Northwest LNG project, a planned $36 billion export terminal to be built near Prince Rupert that would source its natural gas from the Peace region surrounding Fort St John.

However, the PNW LNG project is snarled in regulatory red tape, awaiting an environmental certificate. Once the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency completes its review, expected in June, it will be up to the federal Liberal cabinet to give the project its final approval.

But rather than quietly waiting for Ottawa’s decision, Fort St John residents are coming together, boldly and loudly declaring their support for PNW LNG, in effect granting social licence.

It began with the formation of a group, FSJ for LNG, a Facebook page, and a truck rally in March that featured more than 600 hundred trucks adorned with signs and placards in support of LNG development parading down the Alaska Highway. They followed that up with additional public rallies including one in April attended by BC Premier Christy Clark. Now they plan to travel to Ottawa, along with supporters from Fort Nelson and Prince Rupert, to deliver a petition supporting LNG development and reinforce the community support.

Local politicians are also on side. Fort St John Mayor Lori Ackerman travelled to Ottawa with a group of Northern BC mayors in April, meeting with key Liberal ministers to make the case for a BC LNG industry. FSJ for LNG has the support ofLiberal MLA Pat Pimm and Tory MP Bob Zimmer.

The FSJ for LNG organizers say they need to make their voices heard; they need to show Ottawa the community supports and wants the proposed LNG projects. "It's about time the federal decision makers hear the voice of the unemployed here in Fort St. John and northern B.C." FSJ for LNG organizer Alan Yu recently told the Alaska Highway News.

But they face a formidable challenge as many of the well-funded environmental activists are campaigning hard to ensure the project doesn’t go ahead. The fear is Ottawa will listen to the anti-fossil fuel activists, not the people working and living in Northern BC.

“I have no doubt that the environmentalists will not stop their delay tactics until they drive Canadian economy into the ground. But FSJ for LNG is fighting back,”Yu wrote in a column for the Alaska Highway News.

In what seems to be an increasingly polarized debate on energy projects, is the civic activism exhibited in Fort St John now required for rural communities that support and want natural resource projects? Are there lessons here for other resource-based communities, be they in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Northern Ontario or Atlantic Canada? Do New Brunswick communities that want the Energy East pipeline need to mount similar campaigns of support?

With Fort St John showing its support for LNG, it appears the social licence is there. The question is, will Justin Trudeau and his cabinet listen?

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