Future of Canada-Asia Energy Relations in Kitimat
I have just returned from Kitimat where I met with First Nations, industry, and municipal leaders to discuss the challenges facing this picturesque community on the Northwest coast of British Columbia. The town and its surrounding region are poised for massive changes in the years ahead, spurred by the $3b modernization of Rio Tinto Alcan’s smelter to meet increased demand from Asia; a $4b plan by Kitimat LNG to construct a liquefaction plant for the shipment of Liquefied Natural Gas to Asian countries; sharply increased vessel traffic through the Douglas Channel; and other proposed LNG projects that could be even larger than the KLNG venture. This is also the place where the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline would terminate, allowing for the transfer of crude oil onto very large tankers for shipment across the Pacific Ocean. Kitimat’s livelihood depends on trade with Asia and the community knows it.
With all the attention currently on Prime Minister Harper’s trip to China and what it might mean for energy exports to Asia, I couldn’t help thinking that the media has it all wrong: The future of Canada-Asia energy relations is not about Beijing; it is about Kitimat. It is in this remote coastal community that the confluence of Asia’s growing economic clout, Canada’s abundance of natural resources, the livelihoods and economic aspirations of First Nations, the challenge of supporting rural communities, and the pristine environment of the Canadian wilderness have created conditions that demand new forms of partnership for a sustainable future.
There is no guarantee that partnerships will be forged to accommodate all the interests in and around Kitimat, but the Alcan Modernization Project and the Kitimat LNG Plant are excellent examples of community and First Nations consultation and collaboration that have so far yielded positive results. The challenges facing the Northern Gateway Pipeline project are of a different order of magnitude, but even on this most contentious of projects, I would not underestimate the capacity of stakeholders to find a uniquely Canadian solution that is based on mutual benefit, compromise, and the long-term good.