Rather than stumble into an ambush, British Columbia (BC) authorities and pipeline sponsors aim to head off public resistance before critics of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports form into organized opposition.
The BC Oil and Gas Commission (BCOGC) is documenting disruption of the landscape by exploration, development and transportation as modest compared to the vast size of the northern region where supplies for proposed Pacific Coast tanker terminals would originate.
Spectra Energy is conducting community and Aboriginal relationship campaigns to court acceptance for its proposed Westcoast Connector, well before filing a construction application for the jumbo pipeline.
Virtually all the gas for planned Canadian LNG exports to Asia would come from shale deposits in northeastern BC. The potential volume is immense: eight projects that have applied to date for 20- to 25-year export licenses from the National Energy Board (NEB) seek to dedicate a combined 155.2 Tcf to international LNG trade (see NGI, Sept. 30). More Asian export schemes are expected to emerge.
The BCOGC has put gas supply activity into perspective in its new "Oil and Gas Land Use in Northeast British Columbia." The document stands out as an exercise in imparting a sense of proportion and a reminder of Canada's geographic scale to local and international environmental critics, who mostly live in cities and rarely see northern resource development frontier landscapes that dwarf even the biggest urban parks.
The BC drilling and development would be engulfed in 17.5 million hectares (67,550 square miles) of wilderness woods and muskeg swamps, an area 3% larger than Florida or Wisconsin, the 22nd and 23rd largest states. Northeast BC -- long known in the industry as its "near frontier," as opposed to the "far frontier" in the Northwest Territories -- is in turn just 18% of the province, which is one-third bigger than Texas but still only 9.5% the size of Canada.
Gas development and limited but lively oil hunting date back to the 1920s in northeastern BC and gradually built up production to the current level of about 1.5 Tcf per year. But so far the industry uses just 375,600 hectares (1,450 square miles) or 2% of northeastern BC's land area, said the report, which harnesses the latest in satellite and mapping technology.
The province's annual gas output would grow four-fold to about 6 Tcf if all eight LNG export terminals proposed to date were built and drew all their supplies from northeastern BC shale deposits.
But the BCOGC pointed out that shale extraction methods reduce surface land disturbance -- and costs/MMBtu of production -- by employing clusters of numerous horizontal wells drilled from pads. The technique is especially economical by Canadian standards because it cuts heavy spending on building long industry road and pipeline networks for the widely dispersed vertical wells of conventional production.
The single most scarring stage of northern resource development -- seismic exploration surveys to identify drilling locations -- is also being reduced, the BCOGC said. New methods -- such as trail-like paths for survey cables and low-impact helicopter landing zones for small crews and improved hardware in remote areas -- have replaced crude old ways of blazing long, road-sized cut-lines across wilderness with bulldozers.
The BCOGC describes its industry land-use report as only the beginning on observation of cumulative effects of development that will become increasingly detailed. Oversight will include "continually updating processes and procedures in response to public input gained through project notification and consultation, and in response to feedback from industry, First Nations and stakeholders" the agency said.
The regulatory phrases for staying in touch also describe the approach to cultural or community issues that Spectra is using for its Westcoast Connector proposal long before company engineers and surveyors complete detailed blueprints. BC earned a nickname as Canada's Left Coast by repeatedly confronting industrial developers with environmental and aboriginal resistance, in arenas from regulatory hearings and the law courts to election campaigns.
For an estimated C$6-8 billion, Spectra proposes to lay 851-872 kilometers (528-540 miles) of pipe, to deliver 3 Bcf/d across BC from the shale gas region to sites for numerous proposed LNG export terminals near Prince Rupert. Filings by Spectra with the BC Environmental Assessment office show that region-wide efforts to garner community and aboriginal acceptance along the right-of-way have been under way since 2011.
In a diary of meeting minutes, Spectra reported encountering a wide array of issues, from employment benefits and municipal property taxation to effects of industry on fishing, hunting and local health and welfare services. The diary said Spectra "acknowledges the concerns that many communities have with hydraulic fracturing. As a pipeline builder, the company said, "Hydraulic fracturing is not within the scope of the proposed project." Nevertheless, "When and where possible, Spectra Energy can provide" information or direction for communities "on how to obtain more information on this subject."
The effort especially includes overtures to 24 native societies that claim any form of traditional rights to territory even remotely affected by the pipeline project.
Unlike across the rest of Western Canada, in BC formal treaties were not negotiated with most aboriginal communities during the pioneer settlement era of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The historical gap has emerged as a source of recurring friction because a 1982 constitutional reform bill included a formal pledge to respect native rights.
A string of law court decisions translated the vague constitutional provision into requirements to consult aboriginal societies on industrial development and to accommodate projects as much as possible to traditional territory claims as well as land reserves defined by treaties. BC natives are renowned for resorting to lawsuits, demanding high compensation or outright bans on construction, against regulatory agencies as well as corporations.
An aboriginal group from the region traversed by proposed shale gas pipelines has declared intentions to present formal grievances against northern BC industrialization to a United Nations (UN) native rights envoy scheduled to visit Canada later this month. The UN appeal was aroused by oil sands pipeline and tanker terminal proposals, but LNG schemes also stand out as potential protest targets. The current mood among aboriginal rights supporters is expressed in a nutshell by suggestions to change the opening line of the national anthem, from "O Canada our home and native land" to "O Canada our home on native land."