Don’t expect a Final Investment Decision on LNG until (or if) Brexit is resolved

Analysis

Monday’s decision by LNG Canada to postpone the all-important Final Investment Decision for the Kitimat liguified natural gas project came as a momentary shock—but no real surprise. After the Brexit vote, you could see the hold button blinking from across the Atlantic.

Andy Calitz CEO of LNG Canada and a long time, experienced, executive with the lead partner, Royal Dutch Shell blamed the current market conditions for natural gas in both a news release and an investors’ conference call. However, the turmoil in the world economy brought about by Britain’s (largely unexpected) vote to leave the European Union made the postponement inevitable.

Immediately after the vote on June 23, when the now not so United Kingdom voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, to leave the European Union, financial analysts predicted that given the uncertainty, companies based in the United Kingdom would immediately begin to adjust their long term planning.

The stock market has stabilized and reached new highs, at least for now, but the British pound remains weak.

Most important, according to reports in the business press around the world, many long term projects by companies not only in the UK but everywhere are being re-examined, postponed or cancelled. All due to the long term uncertainty in world markets.

Even without Brexit, the situation with long term planning for the natural gas market is complicated, as LNG Canada’s External Affairs Director Susannah Pierce explained in this interview on CKNW ‘s Jon McComb show.  ( It is an informative interview. Autoplays on opening the page)

“ Postpone investment decisions”

Royal Dutch Shell is one of the world’s largest corporations. It is based in the United Kingdom although its corporate headquarters are in the Netherlands (also a member of the European Union).

From June 24 to July 11 was just enough time for the bean counters and forecasters in London, Vancouver, Calgary, Tokyo and Beijing to crunch the numbers and decide that the prudent move would be to put the LNG Canada project on hold.

Rio Tinto is also a dual national company, listed on both the London and Australian stock exchanges and with its headquarters in London. (More about Rio Tinto later.)

Although both Shell and Rio Tinto are giant transnationals with operations worldwide, the turmoil in the United Kingdom, in the corridors and cubicles of the home offices, is having a psychological and personal, as well as professional, impact, meaning more of the work in those towers of London will be focused on Brexit.

brexitkitimat

The decision doesn’t mean that the LNG Canada Final Investment Decision will be on hold forever. Of all the world’s energy companies, Shell is one of the oldest and it has a solid reputation for better long term planning than some of its competitors.

In the news release, Calitz noted

I can’t say enough about how valuable this support has been and how important it will be as we look at a range of options to move the project forward towards a positive FID by the Joint Venture participants.

The news release goes on to say

However, in the context of global industry challenges, including capital constraints, the LNG Canada Joint Venture participants have determined they need more time prior to taking a final investment decision. decision.

How much time? Well, as Theresa May became the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the New York Times noted, like other media, that investment decisions are on hold:

Ms. May does not plan to depart the union quickly because it could put Britain’s negotiators under pressure, and at a disadvantage…

And the longer Britain drifts, the greater the uncertainty for businesses that could postpone investment decisions until things are clearer, potentially pushing the nation into a recession.

As Don Pittis, business columnist for CBC.ca wrote in the immediate aftermath:

The extrication of Britain from Europe will likely be more in the character of the Greek financial collapse, a seemingly endless process where each event and each piece of news has the power to set off a new round of financial fears.
And like the Greek crisis, each piece of bad news will compound fears in markets that were nervous for other reasons.

So once (and when) Theresa May invokes Article 50 that opens a two year window for Britain to leave the European Union, starting negotiations for Brexit.   Then it gets complicated, if Scotland votes to leave the United Kingdom or if Northern Ireland also demands a dual referendum in both the Republic and the North on a united Ireland (as permitted under the Good Friday Peace Agreement).

Although May says she will continue to the UK`s next fixed date election, what if May calls a snap general election, with an uncertain outcome, perhaps another minority government, with seats split among several parties, including those who advocate remaining in the EU?

The price of oil is still low compared to a few years ago. That price is expected to remain low with all that the Saudis are pumping to retain market share, the Iranians want to recover from sanctions, and according to Pittis in another column, that means everyone else is pumping as well

The main thrust for Canadian producers is to build more pipelines so they can expand capacity and push ever more of their relatively expensive oil into the world supply chain. If that’s the strategy for high-cost producers, how could anyone think the world’s lower-cost producers wouldn’t be doing the same thing?

There is the glut of natural gas currently in Asian markets and no one knows what Brexit will mean.  Unless there’s a drastic change in the marketplace, energy project investment will remain on hold for years to come. (So forget any dreams of a refinery anywhere on the coast. )

Rio Tinto

Brexit is also going to be a problem for London based Rio Tinto—and for the current negotiations with the Unifor local in Kitimat. Rio Tinto’s bottom line is weak because the price of iron ore, its main source of income, has been dropping. After completing the $4.8 billion Kitimat Modernization Project, Rio Tinto is spending huge amounts of money on its Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold and other minerals mine in Mongolia, a project that many analysts believe could provide up to 60 per cent of Rio Tinto profits as commodity markets recover.

Add to that US presidential election. Donald Trump has threatened to halt imports of both steel and aluminum into the United States if he actually gets to sit in the White House.

On June 29, outgoing President Barack Obama also looked at aluminum at the recent “Three Amigos” summit in Ottawa, noting in the news conference.

Given the flood of steel and aluminum on the global markets, however, it points to the fact that free trade also has to be fair trade.

That means if Hilary Clinton becomes president, she will also be looking at the state of aluminum imports to the United States market.

World conditions are a warning for the Unifor negotiating team in Kitimat. One reason for last year’s prolonged municipal strike was that Unifor spent a good deal of time planning for negotiations with the District but failed to adjust its contract demands when the price of oil unexpectedly collapsed, which meant the District had less money and a lot less flexibility.

In its negotiations with Rio Tinto, Unifor cannot make the same mistake again. There were a handful of unexpected layoffs down at Smeltersite on June 30; there could be more layoffs in the future. Mandatory overtime is a major sticking point—but that overtime demand is coming from the bean counters in Montreal and London, calculating that the overtime costs are, in the long term, less expensive than a lot of new hires.
Media reports show that Rio Tinto is in tough negotiations with its employees around the world. With LNG on hold, disgruntled employees can’t just turn off Haisla Boulevard to the old Methanex site before reaching Rio Tinto’s property line. That means Unifor should be tough but very realistic in its talks with Rio Tinto, knowing that the powers that be that hold the strings in London are more worried about what Brexit will do to the company bottom line than any temporary shutdown of the smelter by a strike.

What does this mean for Kitimat?

A We Want LNG Canada lawn sign in Kitimat. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A We Want LNG Canada lawn sign in Kitimat. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

So the boom and bust cycle once again moves to bust.

Ellis Ross, chief councillor of the Haisla First Nation, speaking to CBC Radio said Ross said

the Haisla nation has been working to get its people jobs in the construction of the facility and related infrastructure, as well as full-time jobs once the plant opens…This was our first chance as Haisla to be a part of the economy, to be part of the wealth distribution in our area. To witness the wealth generation in our territory for the last six years but to not be a part of it, and now to continue to not be a part of it, is really distressing to us, because we had built up our entire future around this.

Mayor Phil Germuth in the same interview said

There’s no doubt that there’s going to be a little bit of hurt for a while, but we still fully believe that Kitimat is by far the absolute best location anywhere on the West Coast [for] a major LNG export facility… We are absolutely confident that it will come.

There’s time in this bust for everyone in town to recover from the hangover of the past few years of the fight over Northern Gateway and the heady hopes of the LNG rush. Demand for natural gas is not going to go away, especially as climate change raises the pressure to eliminate coal, so it is likely that LNG Canada will be revived.

It’s time to seriously consider how to diversify the Valley’s economy, making it less dependent on the commodity cycle. It’s time to stop chasing industrial pipe dreams that promise a few jobs that never appear.

Like it or not, the valley is tied to globalization and decisions made half way around the world impact the Kitimat Valley.

Who knows what will happen in 2020 or 2025 when the next equivalent of a Brexit shocks the world economy?

Suppose, as some here would wish, that all the opposition to tankers and pipelines suddenly disappeared overnight. Does that mean that the projects would then go ahead?

The corporate planners would decide based on their projections for the world economy and the viability of the project for their profit picture. Enbridge was never really able to secure customers for its bitumen. Chevron had no customers for Kitimat LNG. LNG Canada is a partnership, and the partner customers in Asia decided that at this time, the investment is too risky, even if LNG Canada’s longer term prospects are good.

Promoting tourism should now be the priority for Council, for Economic Development, for the Haisla Nation Council, for the local business.

Beyond tourism, it’s time for some innovative thinking to come up with other ideas that would free Kitimat from the commodity cycle. At the moment there are no ideas on the horizon, but unless everyone starts looking for new ideas, practical ideas,  the commodity cycle will rule.

BC Environment Appeal Board upholds Rio Tinto sulphur dioxide emissions in Kitimat airshed

The British Columbia Environmental Appeal Board has upheld Rio Tinto’s plans for sulphur dioxide emissions in the Kitimat airshed and dismissed the appeal from residents Emily Toews and Elisabeth Stannus.

The 113 page decision was released by the EAB late on December 23. It contains a series of recommendations for further studies and monitoring of the health of Kitimat residents. In effect, the EAB is asking the province (which is all it can do) to spend money and create a new bureaucracy at a time when Kitimat’s medical community is already short staffed and under stress.

By December 31, 2016…. engage with Ministry executive to secure their support for, and action to encourage, a provincially-led Kitimat region health study, based on the development of a feasibility assessment for such a study.

On December 24, Gaby Poirier, General manager – BC Operations
Rio Tinto, Aluminium Products Group released a statement saying:

Based on the evidence and submissions made by each of the parties, the EAB confirmed our permit amendment.
Although it is welcome news for Rio Tinto that the MOE Director’s decision was upheld, and the rigor and cautious approach of the science were confirmed by the EAB, we also recognize that there is more work to do to address community concerns regarding air quality in the Kitimat Valley.
In providing their confirmation, the EAB included a series of recommendations. Over the coming months, we will be working to fully assess them and we will continue to involve the local community including residents, stakeholders and our employees as we do so, noting that some of the recommendations have already started to be implemented.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the residents of Kitimat, our valued stakeholders and our employees for their support during this process. At Rio Tinto, we are committed to protecting the health and well-being of our employees, the community, and the environment as we modernize our BC Operations.

EAB decision 2013ema007g_010g

Rio Tinto BC Operations statement 20151224 – SO2 appeal decision

Unifor 2301 protest says Rio Tinto is cutting back on smelter health and safety

UNIFOR-theunion-Canada-wMembers of Unifor 2301 rallied in front of the Rio Tinto offices at City Centre Mall in Kitimat, Wednesday, October 7, to protest against what they called “precarious work” and health and safety issues at the Rio Tinto BC Operations aluminum smelter.

The rally was part what the union calls a “Rio Tinto Global Day of Action” aimed at Rio Tinto operations in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia. Unifor 2301 is part of the “Rio Tinto Global Union Network,”

Sean O’Driscoll, president of the local, concentrated on what he said was an increasingly tense relationship with Rio Tinto over health and safety issues. O’Driscoll told a group of supporters that relations with the company over health and safety have gone down hill since Rio Tinto took over Alcan.  He said the CAW,  predecessor to Unifor, had negotiated a strong health and safety agreement with Alcan that Rio Tinto is now trying to weaken down to minimum government imposed standards.

Unifor 2301 president Sean O'Driscoll addreses the Global Day of Action At Rio Tinto Rally at City Centre, Oct. 7, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Unifor 2301 president Sean O’Driscoll addreses the Global Day of Action At Rio Tinto Rally at City Centre, Oct. 7, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

 

O’Driscoll said that the list of grievances between the union and management are growing and that instead of trying to solve the grievances, RIo Tinto has filed a grievance of its own claiming the union has filed too many grievances.

Participants in the Unifor 2301 rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Participants in the Unifor 2301 rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

 

The main reason for the rally was a worldwide protest over what the union calls “precarious work,” the use of short term, usually poorly trained workers,  what most industries call call “casuals” to save money.  The other issue at the protest was increasing contracting out.

 A participant in the rally listens to speeches. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A participant in the rally listens to speeches. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

O’Driscoll also pointed to the controversial issue of increased sulphur dioxide emissions from the upgraded smelter. Unifor has joined environmental groups in a successful court challenge to  the BC  Environmental Assessment Agency’s approval of the emission plan.

Sean O'Driscoll and other union leaders at the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Sean O’Driscoll and other union leaders at the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A Plant Protection security guard recorded and photographed the rally in front of the Rio Tinto City Centre office. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A Plant Protection security guard recorded and photographed the rally in front of the Rio Tinto City Centre office. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A spectator watches the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A spectator watches the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Participants applaud at the conclusion of the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Participants applaud at the conclusion of the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Court orders Environmental Assessment Board to investigate impact of Rio Tinto sulphur dioxide

UNIFOR-theunion-Canada-wKitimat Unifor local 2301 has succeeded in forcing the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB) to take responsibility for investigating the impact of plans for a dramatic increase of sulphur dioxide (SO2) at the Rio Tinto smelter in Kitimat. The BC Supreme Court has sided with Unifor in a judicial review involving the Ministry of Environment’s approval of the smelter’s expansion without a SO2 “scrubber”.

A news release from Unifor 2301 goes on to say:

The project will increase SO2 emissions from 27 tonnes per day to 42 tonnes per day.

“Expanding the smelter without a scrubber is a terrible health risk to my community,” said Sean O’Driscoll, Unifor Local 2301 President. “We’re very pleased that Rio Tinto’s proposal will have to go through an environmental assessment. It’s a shame that it takes a Supreme Court Judge to force the BC Liberal government to do the right thing.”

The decision to approve the smelter expansion without scrubbers will now be sent back to the EAB.

Airborne sulphur dioxide is a well-known cause of respiratory ailments. Excessive SO2 levels in Kitimat are likely already impacting human health. In July 2012 a Community Health Synopsis study published by Northern Health concluded that the incidence of death from bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma is 60 per cent higher in Kitimat than the British Columbian average. Expert evidence known to the Minister of the Environment reveals that increased SO2 can cause serious health problems, including fatal respiratory failure.

In the decision, BC Supreme Court Justice W.F. Ehrcke wrote that it was unreasonable for the EAB to conclude that Unifor’s appeal must be rejected on the ground that the 2014 Letter of Approval to Rio Tinto was not an appealable decision within the meaning of the Act.

Other challenges to the emissions of sulphur dioxide from the Rio Tinto smelter are continuing.

Court orders man to donate $5,000 to wildlife trust in deer harassment case

A Portuguese man was fined $1 in Terrace Provincial Court Wednesday Sept. 2 and ordered to donate $5,000 to the Heritage Conservation Trust Fund for hitting a swimming deer on the head off Bish Cove in Douglas Channel on May 14.

Rodolfo Lopes, previously misidentified in court documents as Martins-Lopes, pleaded guilty in to one count under the BC Wildlife Act of harassing wildlife with a motor vehicle.

Evidence in the case showed that Lopes hit the deer on the head with a jig or gaff in an attempt to bring it on board. The deer managed to escape and make it to shore.

Such donations are permitted under the BC Wildlife Act. The money, which Lopes originally paid in bail, will be allocated to conservation efforts in the Kitimat region.

Other charges against Lopes, a former supervisor at the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Project, including one count of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal under the Criminal Code were stayed by the Crown.

Provincial Court Judge Terence Wright also prohibited Lopes from approaching wildlife for the next two years unless required by his employment.

Lopes did not return from Portugal for the hearing. Vancouver lawyer Don Sorochan, QC, appeared on his behalf.

Crown counsel Corinne Baerg said Lopes was a supervisor at Brasco, one of the subcontractors at KMP, and had hired a fishing guide to help celebrate both the end of their work at the aluminum smelter modernization project and Lopes’ planned wedding in August.

After a day of what was apparently unsuccessful fishing, Lopes and five others were on board the boat, returning to Kitimat, when a deer was spotted swimming in Douglas Channel.

According to the submission, the guide then took the boat “ running up alongside” the deer. At that point Lopes hit the deer on the head with what some witnesses said was a jig and others said was a gaff in attempt to haul it on board. The deer was able to free itself, swam to shore and disappeared into the bush.

After Conservation Officers were told  about the incident by residents in Kitimat who saw a video of the fishing trip on Facebook, one of the men on the boat voluntarily surrendered cell phone video and other evidence was seized under a search warrant. The video was not shown in court.

Because Lopes was not a Canadian resident he was arrested and spent time in custody before being granted bail and was permitted to return to Portugal.

In his defence submission, Sorochan said Lopes was not familiar with Canadian hunting and wildlife laws and was totally dependent on the “advice of his professional guide.” Sorochon told the court that the incident had become exaggerated by people gossiping on social media.

Sorochan told the court that Lopes began with Brasco as a bricklayer in 1996 and had quickly risen to supervise construction projects all over the world. The lawyer called the attempt to get the deer “a naive impulse” by a man who was trying to be macho in an unfamiliar setting.

He submitted letters of reference for Lopes from Brasco, another company and a Kitimat union.

Wright, in confirming the proposed sentence, said that given the circumstances, the fine and donation was the “appropriate penalty.”

Wright noted that it was not possible to ascertain how badly injured the deer was. He also noted that Lopes did not have a criminal record and his employer had praised his work in many parts of the world.

Andreas Handl, who runs Kitimat’s Kingfish Westcoast Adventures, was scheduled to appear in a Kitimat court Thursday, Sept 3, but the appearance was adjourned until October.

He is charged under the B.C. Wildlife Act with harassing wildlife with a motor vehicle and hunting wildlife while swimming, as well as causing unnecessary pain and suffering under the Criminal Code.

Shining moment as Rio Tinto celebrates first metal at modernized Kitimat smelter

Gaby Poirier, BC operations manager for the Rio Tinto Aluminum metals group called it a shining moment as the first ingots from the new modernized potlines were wheeled into the also new Henning Hall at the Kitimat smelter on Tuesday, July 7. Referring to the nearly complete Kitimat Modernization Project (KMP), Poirier said, “It’s now like these ingots, our time to shine. Let’s all shine together and become the best aluminum smelter in the world.”

The Kitimat Modernization Project increases aluminum production capacity by 48 per cent. “I have no doubt that KMP will help secure the future for Rio Tinto in British Columbia as a supplier of high quality, low carbon footprint aluminium for the Pacific Rim customer,” Poirier told employee and guests at the First Metal ceremony. (The company held similar ceremonies later in the week for employees unable to attend the first event).

BC Operations Manager Gaby Poirier addresses the First Metal Ceremony in Kitimat, July 7, 2015  (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
BC Operations Manager Gaby Poirier addresses the First Metal Ceremony in Kitimat, July 7, 2015 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“As we move to ramp to full production sometime in 2016, the transition is still at an early stage. Now more than ever we have to keep the focus to have a safe, sustainable ramp up. When we reach our full capacity of 420,000 tonnes sooner than you think… we’ will have been here 60 years. We’re aiming for another 60 years now.

“It’s more than a ramp up for us; it’s our journey to be the best aluminium smelter in the world. And yes the best, nothing less. Everything starts with a dream. So today we’ve got about 10 pots started, there are still 374 to go. And all this ramp up will be done to a scheduled drum beat, with a safe and sustainable. So today’s a well-deserved celebration for first hot metal and we are now preparing our first metal shipment but there are still significant challenges among us that we’ll go through together. One team one goal. That’s the only way we’ll be successful by working together.”

Crews were still at work at the fume treatment stack, at  the Rio Tinto smelter. July 7, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Crews were still at work at the fume treatment stack, at the Rio Tinto smelter. July 7, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The modernized smelter, which was delivered in line with the revised schedule and budget, is powered exclusively by Rio Tinto’s wholly owned hydro power facility [at Kemano] and uses the company’s proprietary AP40 smelting technology which will effectively halve the smelter’s overall emissions, Rio Tinto said in a news release.

Michel Charron, KMP Project Director with Rio Tinto’s Technology Group, told reporters that the project did come in at the revised budget of $4.8 billion up from the original estimate of $3.3 billion, discounting reports in some media that the costs had reached as high as $5.5 billion. ‘”They gave me 4.8 and I finished at 4.8,” Charron said.

Charron compared what’s left to do with someone moving into a new house. “There’s a bit of asphalt to be put in, there’s a bit of construction on the last part of the potline…. there’s three months to finish up everything, the little things, the painting, so we’re going to be doing that.”

As of July 7, KMP employed 1024 people, Charron said. As the construction finishes, he said, “The work force will be going down quite rapidly at the end of July and through August and September,”

Kitimat mayor Phil Germuth signs the new ingot at Phil Newsome, Bechtel and Michel Charron,  Rio Tinto, watch. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Kitimat mayor Phil Germuth signs the new ingot at Phil Newsome, Bechtel and Michel Charron, Rio Tinto, watch. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The newly constructed Henning Hall cafeteria, meeting hall and change facility, named in honour of Paul Henning, now Vice President of Strategic Projects, was packed as Charron, Poirier, Henning, Phil Newsome, KMP Project Director for Bechtel, Sean O’Driscoll, Unifor 2301 president, Mayor Phil Germuth and Haisla Nation Deputy Chief Councillor Taylor Cross brought in the two ingots which were actually poured on June 29.

 

Inside the modernized smelter. (Rio Tinto)
Inside the modernized smelter. (Rio Tinto)

“As we focus on getting a brand new and somewhat very complex facility up to speed, I urge you to remember that safety remains our top priority, ” Poirier said. “If we get this right the start-up and ramp up will be right too. And this is the only way we can be successful in delivering that world class project. So now in a few words, it is now the time to show what four generations of aluminum producers can do,” Poirier said.

new potline
Final construction at the new potlines, July 7, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Poirier then turned to Haisla Nation hereditary chief Sammy Robinson. Robinson and his wife Rose unveiled a totem pole commissioned by Rio Tinto for Henning Hall.

Sammy and Rose Robinson bless the new totem pole at Henning Hall. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Sammy and Rose Robinson bless the new totem pole at Henning Hall. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The pole tells the story of a time when there were a lot eagles in the Kitimat region. One young man was told “to listen to your elders, listen to your mother, not to laugh at handicapped people, not to laugh at old people for they are good in their own way,” Robinson said. Another thing that this young man was told was never to pick up anything shiny, but he didn’t listen and tried to capture a fur seal that has shiny fur. Unfortunately, for the young man, at that moment a giant eel was swallowing the fur seal and dragging them both down to the bottom of the sea. The eagles, however, got together and lifted the seal and the young man from sea and he safely returned to the beach.

Taylor Cross, Deputy Chief Counsellor for the Haisla, said “It’s a great feeling that big companies like this are doing their best to protect the environment we all live in. Every last one of us enjoys this beautiful country we live in. Myself I’m on my boat almost every weekend, down the Channel. I want to that to continue that for the rest of my life and for my kids’ lives. I want to pass that knowledge on that I’m getting. This project created employment opportunities for us, contracting opportunities for the Haisla Nation and training that we would have never gotten.

Taylor Cross. Haisla Nation Deputy Chief Counsellor speaks to the First Metal Ceremony, July 7. 2015 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Taylor Cross. Haisla Nation Deputy Chief Counsellor speaks to the First Metal Ceremony, July 7. 2015 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“Our unemployment rate when from about 60 to 65 per cent down to may be five or eight per cent. Every Haisla Nation member who wanted to work was working. It was a great achievement, it gave them skills, training, anything they wanted to be. And getting ready for the next project that’s going to come through Kitimat.” Cross warned that with KMP ending, unemployment among the Haisla will be going up again. The legacy agreement signed between Rio Tinto and the Haisla will ensure that members of the First Nation will continue to be trained and be part of running the smelter. A Haisla joint venture runs catering for the cafeteria.

Paul Henning, who had pushed the modernization project for years was greeted by a sustained round of applause. He opened his talk by saying how he told Sean O’Driscoll about the intent to modernize the plant. “He was the kind of guy like Gabby is striving and thriving and pushing and pulling. Nothing was a barrier, nothing was too high to climb to get this project and this guy said ‘hey just cool it these mega projects can take a decade.’ Well boy did we show him. Boy did we show him Boy did we show him, we did in it nine years,” as the guests laughed.

Paul Henning speaks to the First Metal Ceremony. (Robin Rowland/ Northwest Coast Energy New)
Paul Henning speaks to the First Metal Ceremony. (Robin Rowland/ Northwest Coast Energy New)

“Of course we have a wonderful platform. The platform not only being Kemano…the Douglas Channel and of course the site that… we have here in BC. The modernized smelter we know well. It is world class we have adopted the best technology we can apply in this location coupled to the lowest cost energy supply to a smelter anywhere in the world with access to global markets particularly the Asian Pacific Rim

“Sounds like a factor of success to me. If you’re going to build it, you build it right here.

“Even though the economic climate was difficult during the journey we’ve been through, I always felt that I had support at every level. We continued to get funding, even if it at sometimes it was smaller than we wanted. We got funding to keep this project alive. We engaged at different levels the creativity in construction… to help us get over that threshold and that hurdle to allow us to be here today. to be able to celebrate this fantastic milestone.

“I truly believe that KMP is a catalyst for megaprojects in the northwest. I am fortunate to be involved in other projects that are looking to come to Kitimat and they’re going to come to Kitimat because of its location but what I think you’ve also demonstrated as a community that they’re coming to Kitimat because of its people, As a host community you’ve demonstrated that you can live alongside and support three and half thousand construction professionals at any given time,

Gas treatment plant at smelter
The new gas treatment plant has an art deco look. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“I’m delighted that we’re through. I’m delighted that the team has got through before the next wave comes.

“I hope that legacy of the learning is two things, It’s enabled the community to be ready and be better prepared for the next one, also for those companies to learn from some of the opportunities and challenges we’ve been through and overcome.

“It was built in Kitimat BC by Canadians… I think at one point I think we had a hundred international workers. So the [labour agreement] allowed the ebb and flow of workers here form a Canadian base. I think that is also a true success factor.”

“For myself each milestone that we go through is a pinch. My goodness we actually pulled this off. We actually pulled this off. So my challenge, you know have the tools. you know have the equipment. You have the people, I was never worried about the people, smelting is in our DNA, three perhaps four generations of smelter experts in Kitimat. Now is your time to show what the best smelter in the world can do.”

Rowlandgastreatment4

Inside the gas treatment plant at the smelter. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Inside the gas treatment plant at the smelter. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

 

gas treatment plant
Construction workers putting the finishing touchs on the new gas treatment plant (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A view of Mt. Elizabeth with the gas treatment stack in the foreground. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A view of Mt. Elizabeth with the gas treatment stack in the foreground. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Mongolia to hold text message referendum on future of Rio Tinto copper mine

Rio TintoMongolia will hold a reality television style text message referendum on the future of Rio Tinto’s troubled Oyu Tolgoi copper mine project, the Financial Times reports.

The FT says Mongolian prime minister Saikhanbileg Chimed will ask voters whether their country should develop more of its mineral resources or resort to austerity to support the faltering economy.

Mongolian voters will have four days, beginning Saturday, to text their vote on the future of Rio Tinto’s plans for the  $6 billion project.

Oyu Tolgoi
Shaft at the Rio Tinto Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine in the southern Gobi, Mongolia (Brücke-Osteuropa via Wikipedia)

Economists say the copper mine project, which is stalled because Rio Tinto has been unable to reach an agreement with Mongolia over project financing and revenue sharing could generate about a third of the country’s gross domestic product. The lack of an agreement, in concert with current instabilty on financial markets has sent Mongolia’s currency plunging.

Like Kitimat’s plebiscite on the Northern Gateway, the vote will be non-binding. The FT says the vote “could help Mr Saikhanbileg broker a consensus in favour of allowing OT to proceed, cutting through the arguments of critics who say Mongolia is not getting its fair share of the mine’s earnings.”

The FT reports: “The prime minister, who explained the referendum this week on television, was trying to appeal to the general public ‘over the heads of squabbling factions in parliament and break the logjam.'”

Full story at Mongolia holds text message vote on mining v austerity
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Phil Germuth, Enbridge’s “What the….” moment and what it means for British Columbia

Phil Germuth
Councillor Phil Germuth questions Northern Gateway officials about their plans for leak detection, Feb. 17, 2014 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Enbridge Northern Gateway officials are loath (to put it mildly) to speak to the media but sometimes they let things slip. Earlier this summer, at a social event, I heard an Enbridge official (probably inadvertently) reveal that when the company’s engineers came before District of Kitimat Council earlier this year they were surprised and somewhat unprepared to fully answer the detailed technical questions from Councillor Phil Germuth on pipeline leak detection.

In January, 2015, Phil Germuth will take the centre chair as mayor at the Kitimat Council Chambers.

The results of the municipal election in Kitimat, and elsewhere across BC show one clear message; voters do want industrial development in their communities, but not at any price. Communities are no longer prepared to be drive by casualties for giant corporations on their road to shareholder value.

The federal Conservatives and the BC provincial Liberals have, up until now, successfully used the “all or nothing thinking” argument. That argument is: You either accept everything a project proponent wants, whether in the mining or energy sectors,  or you are against all development. Psychologists will tell you that “all or nothing thinking” only leads to personal defeat and depression. In politics, especially in an age of attack ads and polarization, the all or nothing thinking strategy often works. Saturday’s results, however, show that at least at the municipal level,  the all or nothing argument is a political loser. Where “all politics is local” the majority of people are aware of the details of the issues and reject black and white thinking.

Ray Philpenko
Northern Gateway’s Ray Philpenko gives a presentation on pipeline leak detection to Kitimat Council, Feb. 17. 2014. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The Enbridge official went on to say that for their company observers, Germuth’s questions were a “what the…..” moment.  As in “what the …..” is this small town councillor doing challenging our expertise?

But then Enbridge (and the other pipeline companies) have always tended to under estimate the intelligence of people who live along the route of proposed projects whether in British Columbia or elsewhere in North America, preferring to either ignore or demonize opponents and to lump skeptics into the opponent camp. The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel also lost credibility when it accepted most of Northern Gateway’s arguments at face value while saying “what the ……” do these amateurs living along the pipeline route know?

Pro Development

“I am pro-development,” Germuth proclaimed to reporters in Kitimat on Saturday night after his landslide victory in his campaign for mayor.

On the issue of leak detection, over a period of two years, Germuth did his homework, checked his facts and looked for the best technology on leak detection for pipelines. That’s a crucial issue here where pipelines cross hundreds of kilometres of wilderness and there just aren’t the people around to notice something is amiss (as the people of Marshall, Michigan wondered at the time of the Line 6B breach back in 2010). Enbridge should have been prepared; Germuth first raised public questions about leak detection at a public forum in August 2012. In February 2014, after another eighteen months of research, he was ready to cross-examine, as much as possible under council rules of procedure. Enbridge fumbled the answers.

So that’s the kind of politician that will be mayor of Kitimat for the next four years, technically astute, pro-development but skeptical of corporate promises and determined to protect the environment.

Across the province, despite obstacles to opposition set up by the federal and provincial governments, proponents are now in for a tougher time (something that some companies will actually welcome since it raises the standards for development).

We see similar results in key votes in British Columbia. In Vancouver, Gregor Roberston, despite some problems with policies in some neighborhoods, won re-election on his green and anti-tankers platform. In Burnaby, Derek Corrigan handily won re-election and has already repeated his determination to stop the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline through his town. In Prince Rupert, Lee Brain defeated incumbent Jack Musselman. Brain, who has on the ground experience working at an oil refinery in India, supports LNG development but has also been vocal in his opposition to Northern Gateway.

The new mayor in Terrace Carol Leclerc is an unknown factor, a former candidate for the BC Liberal party, who campaigned mainly on local issues. In the Terrace debate she refused to be pinned down on whether or not she supported Northern Gateway, saying,  “Do I see Enbridge going ahead? Not a hope,” but later adding, “I’d go with a pipeline before I’d go with a rail car.”

 

election signs
Kitimat election signs. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Plebiscite confirmed

Kitimat’s mayor and council elections also confirm that Northern Gateway plebiscite vote last April. Kitimat wants industrial development but not at the price of the community and the environment. The unofficial pro-development slate lost. A last minute attempt to smear Germuth on social media was quickly shot down by people from all sides of the Kitimat debate. Smears don’t usually work in small towns where everyone knows everyone.

Larry Walker, an environmentalist with a track record in municipal politics as an alderman in Spruce Grove, Alberta, won a seat. Together with Rob Goffinet and Germuth, that is three solid votes for the environment. The other new councillor is Claire Rattee who will be one to watch. Will the rookie be the swing vote as Corinne Scott was?

Mario Feldhoff who came to third to Goffinet in the overall vote (Edwin Empinado was second) is a solid councillor with a strong reputation for doing his homework and attention to detail and the unofficial leader of the side more inclined to support development. Feldhoff got votes from all sides in the community.

During the debates, Feldhoff repeated his position that he supports David Black’s Kitimat Clean refinery. But as an accountant, Feldhoff will have to realize that Black’s plan, which many commentators say was economically doubtful with oil at $110 a barrel, is impractical with oil at $78 a barrel for Brent Crude and expected to fall farther. Any idea of a refinery bringing jobs to Kitimat will have to be put on hold for now.

LNG projects are also dependent on the volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace. The companies involved keep postponing the all important Final Investment Decisions.

There are also Kitimat specific issues to deal with. What happens to the airshed, now and in the future? Access to the ocean remains a big issue. RTA’s gift of land on Minette Bay is a step in the right direction, but while estuary land is great for camping, canoeing and nature lovers, it is not a beach. There is still the need for a well-managed marina and boat launch that will be open and available to everyone in the valley.

Germuth will have to unite a sometimes contentious council to ensure Kitimat’s future prosperity without giving up the skepticism necessary when corporations sit on a table facing council on a Monday night, trying to sell their latest projects. That all means that Germuth has his job cut out for him over the next four years.

RTA donates part of Minette Bay waterfront to District of Kitimat

Updates with corrected figure 156 acres from Rio Tinto Alcan and District of Kitimat

Rio Tinto Alcan has donated 156 acres (63 hectares) of waterfront land on Minette Bay to the District of Kitimat, Gaby Poirier, RTA  General manager BC Operations, said Wednesday, November 12, 2014. It’s a major step in getting people in Kitimat access to the waterfront which is being closed off by industrial development.

In a news release, Poirier said.

It is with great pleasure that Rio Tinto Alcan confirms today a gift to the people of Kitimat of  approximately 56 acres of water front land that make up District Lot 471, located in Minette Bay.

For more than half a century Rio Tinto Alcan has participated with pride in the development of  Kitimat and Northwest British Columbia. In the 1950’s Rio Tinto Alcan developed a company  town from mostly undeveloped land. Today it is a mature, vibrant, and highly liveable northern  community. We are very proud of our involvement in making this happen.

Now, 60 years later, a new era of industrial development is on our doorsteps. Rio Tinto Alcan’s  BC Operations is looking forward to having new neighbours beside us near the smelter site and  port terminals. It is important now, more than ever, to ensure the people of Kitimat continue to  have direct ocean access.

Minette Bay
A view of Minette Bay June 5. 2014. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

To that end, Rio Tinto Alcan is pleased and committed, in this our 60th Anniversary year, to  transfer ownership of the water front lot DL 471 to the District of Kitimat in trust for its citizens use for all time.

Minette Bay beach
Map shows land that Rio Tinto Alcan has donated to the District of Kitimat (RTA)

 

Ron Poole, District of Kitimat Chief Administrative Officer, tells Northwest Coast Energy News, “As part of the gifting of Lot 471, RTA has agreed to guaranteeing road access across their property to access this lot.”

“It has roughly one kilometre of waterfront on Minette Bay,” Poole says. “We do not have preliminary plans for the site, however, council for years has been negotiating with RTA to provide water access and this is one lot they owned that meets the public need.”

If the Shell-led LNG Canada project goes ahead, with LNG Canada taking over the old Eurocan dock (it already owns the old Methanex dock), that means Rio Tinto Alcan would have to expand its port facilities at “Terminal A” (the original port) and that would cut off access to Hospital Beach which has been the only beachfront available to residents since the 1950s.

Editorial Part II:Commodities dropping: Whether it is a correction or a cyclical downturn, Kitimat needs a plan B

You might not be seeing it at the gas pumps at the moment, but you soon will, the price of gas has gone down by 30 per cent since June.

Prices of key commodities, oil, coal and iron ore are dropping. And the weakness in the market for two of those commodities oil and iron ore should be setting off the alarm bells in Kitimat and the northwest.

The declining price of oil will soon affect all those energy-related projects that are supposed to bring an economic renaissance to northwest British Columbia.

As for iron ore, people might ask, what does iron ore have to do with us, there are no iron mines or steel mills around here.? However, in the highly integrated world economy, Rio Tinto is one of the world’s largest producers of iron ore, the decline in iron ore prices is affecting Rio Tinto’s bottom line and that is why, analysts say, the company may be vulnerable to a take over by the little known commodities giant Glencore.

There are two possibilities with commodity prices. Some analysts see the decline in commodity prices and the accompanying drop in prices on the world’s stock exchanges as a “correction” phase. However, others like Reuters analyst John Kemp says the downturn is an indication that the commodities “supercycle” has reached its peak and is on the way down.

The oil industry has always experienced very long, slow and deep cycles in supply, demand and prices: the current downturn is no exception.

Kemp says the current up cycle began around 2002, with rising oil prices. The financial collapse in 2007 and 2008 briefly interrupted the cycle but now according to Kemp and other analysts there is a glut of oil on the market and prices are falling world wide.

High prices meant not only new plays, especially in the Alberta bitumen sands, but also stronger efforts to save money by increasing energy efficiency and, yes, turning to cheap natural gas.

There are also new factors at play. In the past when there was a downturn in oil prices, OPEC led by Saudi Arabia, would limit supply to keep the price at a profitable level. However, the flood of oil on to the market from shale oil plays, mainly in the United States but also in Canada, has meant that OPEC can’t do that anymore. Too much competition. So the analysts say, the Saudis and other OPEC members are actually starting a price war to retain market share.
When Kemp was writing last week, he said the key marker, North Sea Brent crude:

if prices are adjusted for inflation (using average U.S. hourly earnings), Brent prices are at the lowest level in real terms since October 2007, exactly seven years ago.

There has always been a lot of skepticism among long term residents of Kitimat who have seen boom and bust cycles before and so they, rightly as it turns out, have been wary of industrial promises. Then there’s the current housing debate which may soon see the out of region speculators and developers caught with their pants down in the midst of a Kitimat January blizzard.

The commodity downturn also shows the foolishness of the politicians, business people and commentators who kept saying that BC is a “natural resource economy” and restrictions on corporations and strong environmental requlations will only hurt that economy. Who needs diversification? Who needs a fishing guide anway? It is fairly clear already that Christy Clark’s promises of a debt free province have as much credibility as speculating in Dutch tulip bulbs.

As for the idea among some here that if Kitimat had only voted in favour of Enbridge Northern Gateway, the gates to ecomonic paradise would open, that is foolishness. You can be certain when the Saudi princes decided on a price war to keep themselves in the luxorious lifestyle which they believe they are entitled, they didn’t consider whether Kitimat voted for or against Northern Gateway.

Editorial Part I: Kitimat needs a world class council

So what does Kitimat need to know

The nail in the coffin for Northern Gateway?

The Northern Gateway project was already in deep trouble before the downturn in oil prices.

Writing in The Globe and Mail last week, Jeff Rubin noted.

Part of the impetus behind constructing new pipelines to carry bitumen from northern Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast, Kitimat on the Pacific, or even all the way across the country to Saint John, N.B., was to help close the substantial discount between Canadian oil and world prices. Well, crude’s recent drop into the $85‑a‑barrel range has basically collapsed the once wide‑open spread that had existed between West Texas Intermediate and Brent crude with hardly any new lengths of pipe being laid into the ground at all.

Rubin went on to note that the decision by the Saudis to launch the price war has changed everything.

For pipeline companies with major proposals on the table, such as TransCanada and Enbridge, falling oil prices are a game‑changer of the same magnitude that rising prices were a decade ago. Back then, soaring prices created an urgent need to build new pipelines to connect North America’s burgeoning supply to coastal refineries and world markets.

We’re now in a different world. At the root of today’s problem is global demand that is no longer growing quickly enough to support the prices necessary to keep expanding expensive unconventional sources of supply such as the oil sands. Lower prices will effectively strand those reserves regardless of the transportation options that may become available. Even if President Obama approved Keystone XL or the National Energy Board gave the green light to Energy East, falling commodity prices mean that soon there might not be enough oil flowing out of northern Alberta to fill those new pipelines.

This week’s near disaster with the Russian container ship Simushir, where the coast of Haida Gwaii was saved by a change in the wind direction, hasn’t helped either.

Will the refinery fade to black?

Economists have always been skeptical about David Black’s plan for the Kitimat Clean refinery and Black has admitted that he also had not much support for the refinery idea either from the hydrocarbon indusry or from government.

Most important, Black has said that he as a businessman intends to eventually make a profit by selling refined product. In fact on his website, Black said he expected the refinery to go into profit after just seven  to ten years of operation.

But now comes the flaw in Black’s business plan. According to the website, the Kitimat Clean project is based on North Sea Brent Crude priced at $110 US a barrel. The refinery would take advantage of the “discount” on deliveries of Alberta bitumen crude which the site estimated at $35 a barrel. Black’s site says the refinery would be profitable if it could purchase bitumen at a $23 discount, making $12 a barrel over the world price.

Unfortunately, as of this writing, 11 am on October 20, the price of Brent Crude is now $85.79 and dropping slightly. West Texas Intermediate Crude, the other bench mark is even lower at $82.79 a barrel.

It looks like the drop in oil prices wipes out Black’s plan for profitability, since Brent Crude is already $25 a barrel cheaper than Black had projected.

What’s that got to do with the price of gas?

The falling price of crude oil is also going to have a major impact on the liquified natural gas projects in the northwest. The current economic situation will soon see the short term players and speculators cut and run, leaving, it is hoped, a couple of long term players in the west coast LNG terminal market. However the volatility in the dropping oil market may mean that the all important Final Investment Decisions are delayed yet again.

That’s because, at the moment, in Asia, the price of natural gas is calculated as a per centage of the price of crude oil, what is called the Japan Cleared Customs price. And as the LNG Journal has reported the price of LNG in Japan has dropped to the 2009 level.

 East Asian Delivered LNG Indicator Price hit its lowest level since 2009 at $12.30 million British thermal units with European Brent crude oil prices collapsing to $82.85 per barrel. The East Asia LNG price is based on the Japanese Crude Cocktail method of assessing long-term contract cargo prices for Japan, based on oil which last hit current levels and then slipped below $80.00 per barrel during 2009.

The idea of LNG exports, especially since the Japanese earthquake in 2011, is that the companies can make a big profit by buying natural gas at low North American prices, exporting and then selling at the higher Asia price. In a free market world, however, the Asian countries and companies have, for the past few years been balking at buying at the higher JCC price and attempting to buy at the much lower North American Henry Hub price which at this writing was $3.72 MMBTu. Today’s JCC LNG price was $12.75, still higher than the North American price, but as LNG Journal notes, at a five year low.

Bloomberg reports that slump in oil prices is already threatening the Northwest’s greatest rival in LNG, Australia.

Weaker oil prices may put proposed LNG projects “to sleep for a number of years,” Fereidun Fesharaki, chairman of Facts Global Energy, an industry consultant, said in a phone interview. “For the projects that are already under construction, it hits their pocketbooks seriously.”

Prices below $80 a barrel may be a “disaster” for some projects, said Fesharaki, who forecasts Brent may decline to $60 a barrel before the end of the year, then rebound to about $80 by the end of 2015.

and

“There’s no doubt if we were to see the type of crude oil prices we’re seeing now continue they would be looking at lower LNG prices,” Daniel Hynes, senior commodity strategist at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., said by phone. “On face value, it would put pressure on margins.”

Long term LNG prospects

On the other hand, long term prospects for LNG exports are good. Demand in the Asian markets is still growing.

LNGpricesAccording to the Nikkei Asian Review, the Japanese  Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry projects that by 2020, 70 per cent of Japan’s LNG will come from Australia and North America. That doesn’t mean that Canada won’t have rivals, the projections say that the United States, which is just starting many of its LNG export projects could be Japan’s third largest customer with Canada in fourth place.

There are big benefits to getting LNG from North America and Australia. The unlikeliness of pirate attacks is one. There is also less political uncertainty. And then there is the price. U.S. shale gas, for example, costs about 20% less than what Japan currently pays for LNG.

Diversification

With the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Project construction phase winding down, with some uncertainty about the future of Rio Tinto itself and with more possible delays in the Final Investment Decisions for LNG Canada and Kitimat LNG, Kitimat needs a Plan B (and a Plan C or D or E).

The idea of a retirement community is no longer viable, costs of housing, even if they drop, are just too great.

Kitimat’s second strength has always been tourism and fishing. In 2015, there must be stronger efforts of support both fishing and tourism, which, in the long term will support that regions economy through good times and bad.

That means the new council must be firm in demanding (yes demanding) full access to the Kitimat waterfront and that includes a well-managed marina or marinas that have the capacity for recreational, adventure and fishing guiding and industrial use.

The District of Kitimat must come up with a plan that will promote the advantages of the region as a tourist and fishing destination. While the Chamber of Commerce has being doing a good job, up to now as the main promoter of tourism, Kitimat’s public image across Canada and the world is soley industrial and the District should assume more responsiblity for changing that image. The economic development staff at the district have been working largely on large scale industry. It should devote more time and money to the natural wonders of the area.

The plan B should also mean balance. Balance between industry and environment. The sneering contempt for those who want to protect the environment of the northwest is short sighted thinking, because a large proportion of the economy will depend for decades to come on attracting visitors to the wild beauty of of this part of British Columbia. That means, as much as it can within municipal powers, the new council must strengthen environmental protection in Kitimat.

Back in the 50s, Kitimat was planned for a future, a future that didn’t exactly work out when the price of aluminum slumped in the early 60s. Now we’re facing a slump in energy prices, so those plans will change. The plan B must include, as much as possible, creating a mainstay base that will smooth out the boom and bust of the commodities cycle.

The motto on the Kitimat snowflake logo is “A marvel of nature and industry.” The new council should make sure that motto is applied during the coming years.