A seven-year-old contender to move liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from French Canada vowed to earn Quebec government approval after doubts were  raised Wednesday in a provincial environmental assessment.

Energie Saguenay

Risks and rewards were documented, but no recommendation was made regarding the estimated $10 billion Energie Saguenay and Gazoduq pipeline projects. The 506-page assessment was completed by the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), also known as the Office of Public Hearings on the Environment. 

“The ball is now in the promoter’s court,” said Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette. He is scheduled to recommend government approval or rejection this summer.

Project sponsor GNL Quebec described the minister’s study period as a chance to resolve issues identified by BAPE. 

“We know we have work to do but we are sure our project can make a global difference,” said GNL Vice President Tony Le Verger. “It provides a unique opportunity” for the province and the Saguenay-Saint Jean region [east of Montreal “to diversify the economy and position themselves on the international scene as a major participant in the struggle against climate change.”

BAPE noted the project’s economic effects, which could include creating a big customer for provincial government-owned power company, Hydro Quebec. Still, the agency said after a four-year construction period, most benefits would flow to natural gas producers in Alberta and British Columbia.

BAPE said the government’s net-zero carbon emissions policies appear to have “considerably reduced” the LNG “window of opportunity” that initially led the Ruby Capital team of California entrepreneurs Jim Illich and Jim Breyer to start the Quebec project in 2014.

Strong opinions aroused by global visions of energy transition escalated the Energie Saguenay-Gazoduq review into one of the biggest cases in BAPE history, according to the report.

Of 2,580 briefs filed at hearings, 90% opposed the LNG project. All opposition parties in the Quebec legislature have sided with the fossil fuel foes.

The Quebec regulatory structure is seeking public acceptance as an element of project approvals. That injected a sensitive element of popular opinion into the process known in industry as “cultural” or “social license to operate.”

BAPE reported that the LNG export review exposed “strongly polarized” factions in Quebec society, with no “points of convergence” showing potential to create a “zone of compromise” among pro- and anti-project factions.