West Vancouver candidates divided on Woodfibre LNG

Issue pits environmental concerns against possible economic boost

Federal candidates in the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea-to-Sky riding are split on whether building a liquefied natural gas plant at the former Woodfibre pulp mill site on Howe Sound is a good idea or not.

Two oppose the project, one supports it and one says she can't make up her mind until environmental and marine safety assessments are overhauled. Woodfibre Natural Gas Ltd. - owned by Pacific Oil and Gas - wants to liquefy and export 2.1 million tonnes of LNG per year. The $1.8-billion facility would ship 40 double-hulled tankers to Asia each year.

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The issue has pit residents throughout the Howe Sound corridor who question possible environmental impacts and safety risks against others who see the project providing jobs and a needed economic boost.

Last year, when West Vancouver municipal council voted to call for a ban on LNG tankers in Howe Sound, Conservative MP John Weston chastised local politicians for taking that stand before hearing from the company.

Weston stands behind that, saying it was wrong for West Vancouver to try to tell authorities what to do without hearing from scientists and engineers, who he says are in the best position to judge the project. Weston has come out in favour of the project, as long as it meets requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act process. "I support LNG as an industry," he said. "It offers great prospects for the environment and the economy."

"I'm for projects that add value, generate government revenue and create new jobs, especially for young people," said Weston, "especially for communities in our riding that are struggling economically."

Weston said the Conservatives have promised to support the B.C. government in developing the LNG industry.

He added LNG is good for the global environment. If exported LNG means one coal-fired plant is taken off the market in China "it's like removing 500,000 cars from the road," he said. Weston criticized those opposing the project as being "stop agents. They say no to economic development in the guise of environmental stewardship," he said. "I think that's a mistake and I disagree with that approach."

Both Green candidate Ken Melamed and NDP candidate Larry Koopman are opposed to the project. Melamed said he attended many public open houses on the project and didn't hear any support from residents. "The job of an MP is to represent constituents," he said, adding he sees "no social licence" for the project.

Melamed said he has additional concerns about the possible environmental impacts of the proposed seawater cooling system, the impact on the ecosystem of Howe Sound in general and about hydraulic fracking that allows extraction of the natural gas to begin with.

Melamed added the collapse of LNG prices worldwide means there's little economic benefit to the project. "The world market on LNG is so low and Canada is so late to the game," he said. "Nobody's talking about LNG revenues anymore."

Many of the same concerns are shared by NDP candidate Larry Koopman. Koopman said he was among a group of people on the Sunshine

Coast who opposed an LNG plant there in the 1990s. "One of the things I'm really concerned about is the re-industrialization of Howe Sound," he said, adding it's taken 30 years to clean up past industrial pollution.

Koopman said he's concerned about possible environmental impacts, which could hurt a growing "world-class tourism industry" around Howe Sound.

Koopman added he also doesn't believe the site of the proposed plant is safe, according to international standards. "You can't put an LNG plant in a long, narrow, heavily used waterway," he said.

Pam Goldsmith-Jones, Liberal candidate for the riding, points to problems in the process for assessing the Woodfibre LNG project. Goldsmith-Jones said she can't say if she's in favour or opposed to the project until assessment processes are fixed.

"I really do believe that this government has shattered the public faith in the environmental review process," she said. "We need to do an immediate audit of the environmental legislation that's been gutted over the course of a decade before we can entertain any proposal."

Marine safety standards that would govern tanker traffic in Howe Sound are also inadequate, said Goldsmith-Jones.

"This government has set out to dismantle legislation that it views as impeding pipeline development," she said. Goldsmith-Jones said she also wants to see a full accounting of the economic benefits the project would provide - both to the local community and to the province. "I think that's a fair question," she said. "Not all projects are going to be providing the same upside financially."

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