Easwaran Kanason

Co - founder of NrgEdge
Last Updated: August 20, 2018
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Business Trends
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It’s been a quiet past few years in Kitimat, the town of just over 8,000 in Canada’s British Columbia that is closer to Alaska than it is to Vancouver. Boasting a natural harbour in a deep inlet, Kitimat has geographical promise. It is the closest launch point in North America to deliver LNG volumes to the ravenous markets of East Asia. Eight years ago, when the Asian wave of demand first began cresting and Canada’s ambitious LNG ambitions took shape, Kitimat was a hub of activity. Then hopes were dashed as energy prices crashed. It was a return to sleepiness for the town, nestled by stunning mountainous terrain.

But over the past six months, activity has crept back in. Empty parking lots are now full again. Landlords are raising rents. Workers at the nearby Rio Tinto smelter are considering switching jobs. As Shell and its partners rumble towards a Final Investment Decision on the US$40 billion Kitimat LNG project, the town is hoping that this will finally be its time to shine.

It’s been a rough few years for Canadian LNG. There is plenty of natural gas in British Columbia but not many local markets that it can be piped to. So it stayed in the ground until the rise of Asian LNG demand spurred Canada into considering using its proximity to Japan, South Korea and China to its full advantage. Between 2011 and 2014, some 20 LNG projects were announced in British Columbia alone. Some were speculative, but some were also concrete. Fast forward to 2018, and there is still no LNG terminal operational, let alone being built. In contrast, Australia is on the verge is completing the last of its LNG megaprojects when Ichthys begins operations this year.

The problem here is government redtape and environmental sensitivity. Last year, Malaysia’s Petronas – the world’s third largest exporter of LNG – walked away from the Pacific Northwest LNG project. At that point, it was the furthest along of all Canadian LNG projects, but intense debate over the environmental impact of its location and political hostility from the National Democratic Party (which took over the state government in 2017) along with the Green Party scuppered that. At the time Petronas expressed ‘major disappointment’ with the cancellation, but went on to purchase 25% in the Kitimat project.

So with Shell, Petronas , PetroChina, Mitsubishi and Korea Gas all on board as partners, Kitimat has become the nexus for BC’s previous LNG ambition failures. Crucially, it has backing from the new NDP-led government as well as endorsement from First Nations indigenous groups, something that Pacific Northwest LNG lacked. Shell has claimed that Kitimat is ‘very promising’ but stopped short of full endorsement, choosing to wait (until the end of 2018?) to sanction the project. The reason is that the market has changed.

The world is still hungry for LNG, but with Australia now already fully mobilised and the US surging ahead with Gulf Coast infrastructure, there is concern that the market may not be able to support another mammoth LNG project. If sanctioned, Kitimat will only come onstream by 2022 at the earliest, by which time the opportunity for Canadian LNG may already be running late in the game. But the people of Kitimat will be hoping that their catalytic LNG project will be able to find a place in this new cleaner energy world.

LNG Canada, Kitimat Project

  • Partners: Shell (40%), Petronas (25%), PetroChina (15%), Mitsubishi (15%), Kogas (5%)
  • Initial capacity: 13 mtpa (across 2 trains of 6.5 mtpa each)
  • Projected full capacity: 26 mtpa (across 4 trains of 6.5 mtpa)
  • Projected budget: US$40 billion

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