Fraser Forum

Cancelled LNG plan—government foot-dragging can kill potentially lucrative projects

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This week, Petronas, Malaysia’s state-owned oil company, cancelled plans for the Pacific Northwest LNG (liquified natural gas) project in British Columbia. The $36 billion project fell prey to what Petronas claims to be an “extremely challenging market.” In announcing its decision, Petronas explicitly rejected the idea that B.C.’s recent change in government caused its decision.

This makes sense—the new government has been in office for a very brief time, and may not even endure for very long in its current form. It would not be prudent for a company the size of Petronas to make such multi-million dollar decisions based on potentially short-term political changes.

Rather, the real story is that previous government approval processes in Canada have been slow and laborious, and those delays meant that promising projects missed the window for profitable market entry.

We warned of this in a study in 2015, when we analyzed the costs of missing this important global market window. As we wrote then:

British Columbia’s natural gas resources are substantial and the international market for liquefied natural gas is growing, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. British Columbia is well placed to serve that market: under conservative assumptions, B.C.’s export capacity could be 42% to 74% of Asia-Pacific imports of LNG in 2020.

Under the conservative assumption that actual sales of B.C. LNG to Asia-Pacific importers would be only 11% to 20% of that market in 2020, the annual export revenues lost due to delay would be equal to between 2% and 9.5% of B.C.’s GDP [as it was] in 2014.

This cost is substantial: CA$22.5 billion in 2020, rising to CA$24.8 billion in 2025.

The Petronas pull-out should be a wake-up call to regulators: We have already missed the strongest window for LNG exports when prices were higher. If we continue with regulatory-business-as-usual, we may miss those windows entirely, depriving Canadians of a potentially huge source of economic growth.


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