Close to 40 boats, many from Bowen Island, blasted their horns in unison on North Side of Bowyer Island last weekend to protest the plans for the construction of a $1.7 billion dollar Liquid Natural Gas conversion facility at the former Woodfibre Pulp and Paper mill near Squamish. Bowen Islander and protest organizer, Anton Van Walraven says the event was planned to coincide with the flotilla traditionally organized by the Future of Howe Sound Society, but also, to come close to the release of the provincial Environmental Assessment results. This process, however, has been put on hold since the Squamish First Nation conducted its own environmental review of the project, and has made 26 conditions to be met before the project moves forward.
“From our perspective, this is a good thing as it delays everything,” say Van Walraven. “It gives us more time to fight against the project.”
Van Walraven spoke at a press conference in Horseshoe Bay prior to the flotilla, and was joined in expressing his concerns by Bowyer Island resident Eoin Finn. Finn mentioned that smoke from nearby forest fires nearly resulted in the protest being delayed, but in the end, these conditions highlighted the necessity of moving forward with it.
“Climate change is here and now,” says Finn. “If Christie Clarke’s vision of exporting 80 million tonnes of LNG comes true, we will increase our emissions by 33 percent by 2020.”
For Bowen Islander Peter Frinton, who attended the press conference and the flotilla, climate change is definitely an issue of concern with regards to this project, but the development of British Columbia’s natural gas reserves in and of itself is not a bad thing.
“Natural gas is the cleanest of all the fossil fuels, its better than coal and oil. I wish that we had access to it on Bowen, because it is cheaper than electricity and cleaner than wood,” says Frinton. “But when you are dealing with a non-renewable resource such as this one, it should be used wisely, and priced properly. We should be prioritizing local usage before we even consider exporting. Besides, we are not even looking at displacing coal and oil - this would just be an add-on in the countries where we plan to ship it to, and the deal that we’re making on this is just unprecedented and it is ridiculous to think we could know the value of this resource in 25 years.”
The deal Frinton is referring to is one negotiated between the government of British Columbia and Petronas, the Malaysian company backing the Pacific Northwest LNG project near Prince Rupert. Provincial Finance Minister Mike de Jong says the project is estimated to create 4,500 construction jobs and could generate $9 billion in government revenues in a decade. A fair trade-off, he has said, for the part of the deal that would allow the company to seek $25 million a year or more in compensation should future governments raise income tax rates on LNG operations.
The Green Party candidate for the West Vancouver - Sea to Sky - Sunshine Coast riding, Ken Melamed, was also present at the press conference and flotilla. He says that the deal with Petronas reflects the province’s desperation to keep its Liquid Natural Gas plans afloat.
“These tax breaks can essentially be considered subsidies,” says Melamed.
“And from our perspective [in the Green Party] exporting LNG or any new investments in fossil fuel dependence is hypocritical for any government that says it is in favor of cutting carbon emissions.”
Melamed adds that in his extensive travel throughout the Sea to Sky and Howe Sound region, he has encountered widespread opposition to the Woodfibre project.
“That is not to say there isn’t a diversity of opinion on this,” says Melamed. “There are still people willing to trade off the health of Howe Sound for the LNG promise, although we are calling it a false promise. Our sense, within the Green Party, is that the federal and provincial governments have almost intentionally created this sense of economic desperation that makes people feel like there is nowhere else to go. But we don’t have to put all of our eggs in this fossil fuel basket. Statistics show that job creation from renewables is 6 to 8 times better than fossil fuel related projects. We can’t trust the job numbers they’re giving us on these projects: we know that with Woodfibre in particular a lot of jobs and money will go offshore. We’re asking hard questions, but not getting hard answers.”
While Woodfibre LNG is still hoping for regulatory approval for the project to come through by the end of the year, Anton Van Walraven says the next step for the Concerned Citizens of Bowen Island and other groups opposing the project is to come up with a comprehensive vision for the future of Howe Sound.
“We need to create something that people can say yes to,” says Van Walraven.