Fraser Forum

Missing the LNG window could cost Canada billions

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Down in the United States, newspapers are playing up a new fear. No, it’s not fear of Donald Trump, it’s a fear that the U.S. will soon export so much of its natural gas to other countries that prices for natural gas might increase in the states.

As Robert Walton notes on energy news site Utility Dive:

The country is poised to become a net exporter of natural gas by 2018, and soon after could be a world leader in global liquefied natural gas trade. That is a remarkable turnaround, considering a decade ago the United States was importing LNG to the tune of about 9 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d).

Before last year, there were no LNG exports out of the lower-48 states. Now there is one terminal—Cheniere Energy's Sabine Pass—and four more projects are under construction.

The four pending projects, he later notes, are expected to be online by 2020. While Walton’s article was ultimately inconclusive on whether that massive export surge means higher prices for Americans, it’s clear that it represents a windfall for American energy producers. And Canada? Not so much. Look at the below chart from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and look below the horizontal axis. See that shrinking pinkish zone? That’s Canadian natural gas exports to the U.S. shrinking over time.

All in all, the fear of selling too much gas seems like a nice worry to have when you’re looking south from Canada. Where is Canada in all this? Canada’s planned Pacific Northwest LNG project hit the skids last month when Petronas pulled the plug on the project after spending billions of dollars on it and on getting federal approval for the project. We pointed out that, in 2015, the International Energy Agency forecast that no Canadian project then proposed would start exporting LNG from Canada until 2020. That now looks wildly optimistic.

What’s at stake for British Columbia? In a Fraser Institute study from 2015, we estimated how much continued delays in developing B.C.’s LNG export capability would cost British Columbians, and it’s not a trivial amount. Using conservative estimates of how much LNG B.C. could sell into foreign markets, we estimated that foregone earnings would be significant, starting at $22.55 billion in 2020, and rising to $24.8 billion in 2025. Just for perspective, that $22.55 billion dollars was the equivalent of about 9 per cent of B.C.’s entire GDP in 2014.

And, it’s not just B.C. that will feel the pinch, Alberta takes (another) hit as well, losing potential markets for its natural gas.

If Canada’s governments do not get their acts together on more rapidly approving, and then forcefully supporting, large-scale energy infrastructure projects, Canadians will leave massive quantities of wealth on the table of international energy trade, ripe for America and Australia to scoop up.


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