British Columbia is set to be the centre of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) world this February as host to the first international conference focusing solely on that industry.
Rich Coleman, minister of energy, mines and natural gas, announced on Nov. 29 that the conference would be taking place in Vancouver on Feb. 25-26 to bring together international stakeholders in the growing LNG business ranging from municipal governments and First Nations communities to global investors and energy sector companies planning LNG export projects in B.C.
"The conference will highlight the latest developments in B.C.'s race to enter the LNG global marketplace," said a ministry spokesperson.
"In addition to skills training and labour needs, the focus of discussion will be on international and prospective markets, B.C. regulations and environmental protection, as well as First Nations and community engagement."
"I think that's pretty exciting," said Geoff Morrison, the B.C. operations manager for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).
"There's a great opportunity for British Columbians to take part in an emerging market," he continued, while adding that it isn't exactly a new market.
"The first LNG shipments were probably 30 or 40 years ago," said Morrison.
"The industry, though, really has only started to grow in a substantial way in the last 10 or 15 years. So, now that shale gas – and unconventional gas – in general has ensured that there's a sufficient amount of gas to both meet domestic needs [and] also export to foreign countries, [there] is a great opportunity for B.C. to take part in that market.
"We're emerging into a market that's growing, but it's competitive."
The ministry suggests that B.C. is poised to become a world leader in the LNG trade.
"The province has an abundant supply of natural gas to meet growing energy demands and is geographically positioned to be a major supplier of LNG to the Asian marketplace," said the ministry spokesperson.
"The conference will highlight the expertise each LNG proponent brings to B.C., talk about how this energy sector industry is developing in the province and provide domestic and international economic perspectives on B.C.'s emerging new industry. "
As mayor of Kitimat, the community expected to be the export hub for most of B.C.'s LNG export projects, Joanne Monaghan is glad that B.C. is hosting the first international LNG conference, but is also concerned about the chosen venue.
"I would have liked to have very much seen the conference up here in the Northwest, especially in Kitimat, because that's where it's all going to happen," said Monaghan. "I don't know why they put it in the place where they have when none of it is even going down there.
"I don't understand why everything has to be held down there instead of up there. It's like we don't exist."
Monaghan suggested that residents of the natural gas producing regions of northeast B.C. could be feeling the same way, which she believes is indicative of an enduring disconnect between the north and the south of the province.
"This is an international conference and many people from outside B.C. are expected to attend," said the ministry spokesperson, explaining the decision to hold the event in Vancouver.
"Vancouver offers many advantages for hosting a conference of this size and magnitude, including travel accessibility and accommodations, in addition to a premier building for hosting the conference's agenda and attendance," the spokesperson continued.
"Key governments and local stakeholders will be invited from B.C.'s northwest and northeast."
Monaghan said that her city council would likely be represented at the conference, as did Dawson Creek mayor Mike Bernier, whose community is only about 50 kilometres east of Shell Canada's Groundbirch operation that is expected to supply their LNG project with natural gas.
Shell is working with PetroChina Company, Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS) and Mitsubishi Corporation to export LNG from Kitimat under the banner of LNG Canada.
"I think it's important, even at a local government level, that we understand what could be happening, what impacts it might have for British Columbia," said Bernier, noting he will probably accompany one or two of his city councilors to the conference.
Bernier also remarked that it would be valuable for local service sector companies to attend as well.
Art Jarvis of service sector association Energy Services BC (ESBC) agrees.
"It would be advantageous for me to go and then come back with some information for our members and, of course, our board of directors," said Jarvis. "And just be available for question-answering. Because I'm certainly [more] accessible than the majority of the government people."
Although Vancouver is a long way from where Bernier and Jarvis live and work, the natural gas producing region of the province, they understand why the government would hold the conference in that city.
"I think it's really important and exciting that this first LNG conference be held right here in B.C.," said Bernier. "When you look at the possibilities on the horizon for British Columbia basically being Canada's hub of LNG, this is obviously fitting that it's being held right here.
"Being the first one," he continued, "I think it's important to have it in a place where we're going to have … people involved and possibly large investors as well looking at what's going to be happening with LNG. So, being in Vancouver right now doesn't offend me at all."
Holding the conference in Vancouver could ensure the high level of attendance that Bernier believes is important for the first such event.
"Going forward," he added, "there's going to be lots of opportunity for similar conferences, maybe on a smaller scale, being in northern British Columbia where a lot of the activity's going to take place.
"But for now this is … just to get interest, understanding and investment opportunities."
Although the ministry indicated that much of the discussion during the conference could be around very high-level subject matter, Jarvis and Bernier are hoping that local concerns specific to northeast B.C. will be addressed.
Some of those concerns are fairly high-level as well.
"Getting right down the crux of it, what is the earliest date that the plants could be completed – and pipelined to of course – and solidify some contracts with the overseas markets," said Jarvis.
"We have to get our contracts in place as early as possible, because, if we don't, somebody else in another country has certainly got the opportunity to jump in there and get the best of the contracts. Because the longer you wait, the less opportunity you'll have for a decent contract."
"We need a better understanding of the global markets and why it's so important," said Bernier.
"A lot of this activity taking place here," he continued.
"And we want to make sure that, at the end of the day, as much of the money as possible and the job opportunities are in our region."