Petrochemical complex to head back to city

The massive West Coast Olefins Ltd. petrochemical complex is returning to Prince George.

Originally proposed for land on the BCR Industrial Site, proponents began looking north to sites near Summit Lake and Bear Lake in response to public pressure.

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But speaking on a webcast hosted by the B.C. Resources Coalition on Tuesday night, WCOL president Ken James said the project is heading back to the city.

He attributed the reversal to a combination of steadfast opposition from a "vocal minority" no matter where it was to be located combined with pleas from the "silent majority" to bring it back to the original site in Prince George.

"We didn't get the objectives we wanted by going north," James said. "But what we did discover is those in opposition were never going to be satisfied unless we were willing to just roll up our project and give up. "But when we moved north, that was actually (when we got) the most positive feedback we got for our project. People disappointed to lose the jobs, people disappointed if they were going to have to do 45-minute commutes each way for people that did get jobs out there, so there was a lot of positive actual messaging we got when we left."

First announced in July 2019, the complex is to consist of a natural gas recovery system that would take feedstock from the nearby Enbridge pipeline and transport it to a 120-hectare (300-acre) property zoned for heavy industrial on the BCR where it would supply an ethylene plant and an ethylene derivatives plant.

The ethylene plant would produce about one million tonnes per year of polymer-grade ethylene. At the derivatives plant, it would be further refined to produce polyethylene - essentially plastic in pellet form - and possibly mono-ethylene glycol - used as antifreeze and heat transfer fluid - mostly for export to Asia.

In all, the works would cost at least $5.6 billion to build, generate 2,000 to 3,000 jobs at its peak and employ about 1,000 people once completed. The natural gas recovery system would account for about $1.3 billion of that total, the ethylene plant for $2.8 billion and the derivatives plant for $1.5 billion.

James said a significant portion of the construction work will go to local contractors and, in an interview, he said about 20 acres of the site has been set aside for a fabricating shop that BID Group will operate.

He said the work would start with the recovery system. The hope is to start construction on that part in early 2022 and have it completed six months to a year ahead of completion of the ethylene and derivatives plants which James hopes to see up an running by as soon as early 2024.

Next steps include reviving an application to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office for the ethylene and derivatives plants and guiding an application for the natural gas recovery system through a process set out by the provincial Oil and Gas Commission. As well, negotiating an impact benefits agreement with the Lhiedli T'enneh is on the list.

Meanwhile, James said long-time city councillor Don Zurowski and Dennis Schwab founder of Western Industrial Contractors Ltd. and IDL Projects Inc. have been added to the company's board of directors. "I think we've got a couple of good leaders who are well connected with the community," James said.

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