LNG plan prompts genteel concern

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 1, 2014

So how do you like the idea of tankers carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG) past Lions Bay, Bowen Island and – take note – not far off Horseshoe Bay and the western flank of West Vancouver?

Clapping hands? Possibly distracted by distant oil transport disputes, most West Vancouverites seem unaware of a RITOBY (right in their own backyard) plan for the old pulp mill site at Woodfibre – even though Jeremy Shepherd reported in the Feb. 16 News that about 40 double-hulled ships a year would transport the LNG down Howe Sound to the parent company’s facility in China, and tireless West Van Matters editor Carolanne Reynolds flagged the item a couple of weeks ago.

The small plant is sought by Pacific Oil Gas subsidiary Woodfibre Natural Gas Ltd., owned by Indonesian billionaire Sukanto Tanoto. He aims to have it up and running in 2017. A government photo shows Tanoto and a smiley Premier Christy Clark meeting on her Asian tour in May.

Somehow, I doubt if the Liberals would have been hot to trot with Tanoto if this had been proposed before or during Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics.

A group called the Future of Howe Sound Society, noting that the company could be the first LNG export facility on the west coast, stated: “There are inherent dangers in liquefying and storing some 100,000 tonnes of liquefied gas, let alone the shipping of it down Howe Sound.”

The Council of Canadians says the plant’s capacity would be two million tonnes a year, 290 million cubic feet a day, partly transported by Eagle Mountain-Woodfibre pipeline.

West Van seems to be last stop for the predictable controversy (an even hotter one swirls around a logging permit for Gambier Island, Agent 6J9Sqk reports from a meeting). About 100 quite unruly protesters gathered outside Squamish chambers a couple of weeks ago.

Prominent opponents of the LNG proposal include a North Vancouverite, Laurie Parkinson, and Eoin (pronounced Owen) Finn, a sometime resident of Bowyer Island. Both attended a meeting with Woodfibre executives at Gleneagles in February, where Byng Giraud, vicepresident of corporate affairs, said assuringly: “The LNG industry is safe. From 1964 to 2012, there were more than 140,000 LNG carrier sea journeys without one incident of loss of LNG containment.”

Finn, with a PhD in chemistry and a master of business administration degree, and a retired partner of KPMG, one of the world’s biggest audit and management advisory services, is a self-styled “unlikely LNG opponent.” He’s written a carefully detailed critique of the proposal. There are huge safety risks in permitting tankers – 80 a year, Finn estimated – to navigate Howe Sound’s narrow channel. He called it “a class-A hazard.”

West Van councillors unanimously voted July 21 to write the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) expressing their “concerns” (that weakest word in contemporary usage), asking for a seat on the current EAO working group, which has ignored Bowen Island too. They also wrote to the federal ministers of transport and the environment.

Politely, no doubt. The toughest talk came from Coun. Bill Soprovich: “We should pull all stops out to prevent this (LNG plant) being placed at Woodfibre.” If this were the Downtown Eastside a rent-a-crowd would have been angrily massing in the streets by nightfall, shouting slogans. Not the West Vancouver way, my dears.

A more genteel protest would have been for “concerned” West Vancouverites to post a comment on the EAO website. Ah, too late. The deadline was last Sunday.

When a council hastily takes an issue off the agenda – like West Van’s Ferry Building item scheduled for July 21 – there are two classic reasons. One, the politicians genuinely want more time to think it over. Two, they hope the opponents of this needless, costly and stupid plan (I know, I should get off the fence) will have cooled off by the time the rescheduled meeting is held. I favour the second explanation.

The downtown press may also have influenced the postponement. The Vancouver Sun fell upon the issue and ran a timely story that perhaps alarmed town hall. It had a gap or two, such as stating that a “coffee bar” was planned, omitting “and wine bar.” The story demeaningly described the nearby beachfront older houses as “shacks”. One is owned by West Van’s very own world-class billionaire, Jimmy Pattison. I doubt if Jimmy would enjoy the implication of being a slum landlord.

Now some deserved good news about the Kay Meek Centre, from new executive director Jeanne LeSage: You might be able to catch today’s (2 p.m.) Youth Conservatory Music Theatre performance of Aladdin, staged by the youngest thespians. The program’s teens perform A Chorus Line, Broadway’s second-longest production ever, tonight at 7 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m. Future theatre careers begin here.

Right, the government properly regulates beer. But – set bar price minimums for it? Getoutahere.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014