Speed up process for Ksi Lisims LNG

Pressure mounts on government to reduce wait times for the world’s first Indigenous-led, low and zero-carbon LNG projects.

Eva Clayton, president of the Nisga’a Nation. Photo by The Canadian Press.

As BC’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) determines the detailed process for the next step of its evaluation of the Ksi Lisims LNG project, a priority move could and should be to shorten the process.

A challenge has been proposed by the Surrey Board of Trade, which calls on all levels of government to work together to bring LNG projects online in a timely manner — and to reduce permitting wait times and approvals by 20-30%.

For comparison, the Haisla Nation’s Cedar LNG project near Kitimat, BC, was reviewed significantly faster than prior projects. Despite this, the EAO’s full process for evaluating Cedar LNG took 306 days, from January 14, 2022, to November 16, 2022. It then took a further 117 days for the BC ministers of environment and climate change strategy and of energy, mines and low carbon innovation to render their decision on March 13, 2023.

Following the proposal of the Surrey Board of Trade, a reduction of 20% in the EAO’s timescale would have brought that project’s EAO review down to 245 days; and a cut of 30% would make that 214 days, a great improvement over current timelines.

One area ripe for pruning is the EAO’s public comment period.

The latest public-comment period on the Nisga’a Nation’s Ksi Lisims project ended on May 29. In it, the EAO sought input on how the EAO should conduct its environmental assessment of the Ksi Lisims project, including “what will be included in the assessment, the information that will be required, the methods to be used, and the timelines.”

It could be asked why this period takes up to 45 days, adding additional costs of delay for a formality in which external actors with pre-determined stances tell civil servants what they already hear from them in every comment period. In an era of electronic communication, surely 28 days would be adequate, given the urgency of reducing timelines in line with international competitors.

Already, the EAO’s 306 days for assessing Cedar LNG was a marked improvement on the timeline for the initial provincial and federal approval of the LNG Canada project at Kitimat. It took 897 days, or almost three years – from May 21, 2013, to May 6, 2016 – until Ottawa’s “decision statement” completed the joint “substitution” assessment process. Regulators should continue the progress made in reducing delays with Cedar LNG to other critical infrastructure projects vital to the economic well-being of Canadians.

As the Global Energy Institute says: “It shouldn’t take longer to get a decision about a permit than it does to actually construct a project."

It’s not just LNG assessments that need to be speeded up. Mining assessments are in need of acceleration as Canada talks of supplying more and more critical metals to help the world move deeper into renewable energies and electrification.

For mining, LNG, pipelines and other resource projects, speed can and should be of the essence. The point only becomes stronger in contrast with international competitors.

“Many, including the (federal) minister of natural resources, have lamented that it can’t take 12-15 years for a new mine to be built in Canada if we want to meet climate and energy goals,” noted Heather Exner-Pirot of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. “In fact, the average is 17.9 years! Compared to 14.5 in Australia and 13 in the USA.”

The point was driven home in a new open letter to Ottawa from the Business Council of Alberta, a letter to which Resource Works was a signatory.

The council pointed out that Ottawa’s net-zero goals will require record investment in areas including critical minerals, power generation and transmission, hydrogen manufacturing and export capacity, low-carbon energy and small modular nuclear reactors.

The council added: “With our current regulatory systems, Canada will not be able to approve, let alone build, the projects we need to achieve our targets.”

The proposed site for the Ksi Lisims LNG project. Image from CBC News.

In the case of Ksi Lisims, an accelerated regulatory timetable would be of significant value not only to global emissions reduction efforts and the Canadian economy but also to the proponent Nisga’a Nation and seven neighbouring First Nations, with whom the Nisga’a propose to share the project benefits.

Among other reasons to look at accelerated processing is that Ksi Lisims will have the lowest GHG-emissions intensity of any LNG export facility in the world and will be net-zero by 2030, according to proponents. The project will be a lynchpin of the First Nations Climate Initiative plan, and the floating design will lead to reduced impacts on the site and on communities in the region.

The infrastructure that will support the project, including electrical and natural-gas transmission lines, will also enable opportunities for clean-energy growth in northwestern BC. Additionally, Ksi Lisims offers opportunities for more than 600 construction workers and over 150 operations workers.

Above all, the project is Indigenous-led. The Nisga’a Nation’s Treaty with the BC government sets out a vision for economic independence and self-determination — and this is a Nisga’a project on their wholly owned land in northwestern BC, close to the Alaska border. 

Speeding up the EAO’s processes and shrinking project wait times would thus also be a high note on the path to economic reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in northwest BC.

As Ksi Lisims itself said: “The Project, being undertaken by a unique partnership of the Nisga’a Nation, Rockies LNG, and Western LNG, will be developed in a manner consistent with the environmental goals of BC, Canada, the Nisga’a Nation and other stakeholders while respecting Indigenous values and rights. The Project will create significant benefits in Canada and produce global environmental benefits as the world transitions to a low carbon energy economy.”

The governments of BC and Canada should do everything in their power to ensure that unwieldy, repetitive and needlessly long review and permitting processes don’t add unnecessary burdens to projects like Ksi Lisims. In BC, the world is seeing something of global historic significance: the development of the first Indigenous-led, low or zero-carbon LNG export facilities built in partnership with industry.

It would be a shame if that story came to an end before it began.

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