Apache will “completely exit” the Kitimat LNG project, company CEO Steven Farris told investors Thursday as the company reported its second quarter results.
The pull out from Kitimat is part of a plan by Apache to spin off assets that are not part of its “base business” so it can concentrate on its “North American onshore assets.”
“We have said for some time that Canada is part of our North American onshore portfolio,” Farris told analysts in a conference call.
“Certainly we have two businesses up there. [in Canada] We have a business which is a base business with respect to the Duverney Shale and Monteny shale and some of the other things we working on there. We also have the Kitimat-Horn River- Liard. Kitimat -Horn River -Liard is part of our LNG project which we reindicated today that we intend to exit.”
The Horn River and Liard natural gas fields would have served the LNG project. The divesture could either be as a complete package or sold separately perhaps through the capital markets. The Duverney Shale and Monteny shale plays are considered North American assets, while the Horn RIver Liard plays are considered international because the product from there would be sold in Asia via an LNG terminal.
Chevron, the 50 per cent partner with Apache in Kitimat LNG, said it would have no comment on the Apache move until its own investor conference call Friday morning.
Apache also intends to divest its stake in the Australian Wheatstone LNG project, where Chevron is also a partner.
It was about 18 months ago, Farris said, that Apache changed its focus to “enhancing its North American onshore resource base… We’ve also made it clear that there are no sacred cows as our efforts continue.”
Change in company strategy
Farris and other executives repeatedly emphasized on the call that the Kitimat and Wheatstone sales were part of an overall change in company strategy.
“I have to honestly say that the complete exit by Apache will not have an impact on Kitimat going forward one way or another,” Farris said.
“Whether we’re in it or not, they will contact with world class reserves and frankly Chevron and Apache are way a head of anybody else in that arena. We’ve always been in a position that we felt we could not be in these LNG projects. I think it’s important that we state that.”
Some other financial analysts on the call seemed a little skeptical about the move, with a couple of questions focused on whether Apache was giving up long term investments.
“In terms of business and priority of capital and time frame of LNG specifically Kitimat it make sense for someone to own it who has a different timeline,” Farris said.
As for the timing of the sale, both Farris and Chief Financial Officer, Alfonso Leon, would not give specifics. “We haven’t decided on a specific timeline, we are working on a number of different opportunities,” Leon said. “Each of them has a different timeline associated with it. So we will make decisions as we reach decision points. Specificaly on the separation work flow…it is not something that will be executed on an imminent basis. Work has been underway but there is still significant work ahead of us.”
The executives would not say how much Apache has spent on Kitimat LNG so far, but it has been estimated at $2 billion just this year.Upgrading the old forest service road to a modern highway capable of supporting heavy truck traffic was estimated to cost $25 million Kitimat LNG officials said late last year.
As for the selling price, Farris said that company will hold out for the best deal, saying that Apache has got a “fair price” for international assets that is has already sold, adding that when it comes to Kitimat and Wheatstone. “We won’t sell at prices that don’t make sense,” whether that comes from a package deal with the northeast BC shale assets or through the capital markets.
Overall, Apache Corporation is making money, announcing second-quarter 2014 earnings of $505 million Net cash provided by operating activities totaled approximately $2.3 billion in second-quarter 2014, compared with $2.8 billion in the prior year, with cash from operations before changes in operating assets and liabilities totaling $2.2 billion, compared with $2.6 billion in second-quarter 2013.
In the quarterly report news release, Farris said, “Record-setting performance by our Permian Region continues to drive strong results for the company… Apache’s onshore North American liquids production increased 18 percent on a pro forma basis in the second-quarter 2014 compared with the same period a year ago”
Although some enviromental groups and First Nations are claiming victory in the Apache divestiture, it is clear that those activities had negiligble impact on the decision, which was driven in part by the demands of a New York hedge fund and by the growing uncertainty in the LNG market as Asian countries seek natural gas at much lower North American prices. As the old Godfather movies often said, “It’s not personal, it’s business.”
Apache’s exit, however, does increase the uncertainty in both the short term and long term development of LNG export terminals in northwestern BC, and clearly shows that Premier Christy Clark made a mistake in promising that the provincial economy will boom thanks to LNG.
Both Premier Clark and LNG Minister Rich Coleman were unavailable to the media Thursday. Coleman’s office did send an e-mail tothe media saying, “With 16 LNG proposals involving over 30 partners, we recognize partnerships will change over time, as companies make decisions that make commercial sense for their business. It’s the nature of the business and the energy sector.”
Little noticed in the media attention over Apache, was the fact Royal Dutch Shell also issued its quarterly report early Thursday. Unlike Apache, Shell is still investing in LNG projects around the world, and getting returns from existing LNG projects, while divesting under performing natural gas assets both upstream and downstream. There is no mention of LNG Canada and Kitimat in the report. In a statement issued with the quarterly report Royal Dutch Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden commented in part:
I am determined to get a tighter grip on business performance management in the company, and improve thebalance between growth and returns. Our financial performance for the second quarter of 2014 was more robust than year-ago levels but I want tosee stronger, more competitive results right across the company, particularly in Oil Products and NorthAmerica resources plays….
Sharper accountability in the company means that we are targeting our growth investment more effectively,focusing on areas of the business where performance improvement is most needed, and driving asset sales innon-strategic positions….
We see attractive growth opportunities there such as natural gas integration and liquids-rich shales. We are taking firm actions to improve Shell’s capital efficiency by selling selected assets and making tougher project decisions. We have completed some $8 billion of asset sales so far in 2014. This represents good progress towards our targets to focus the portfolio, and to maintain the financial framework in robust health.
Aurora LNG, a partnership headed by Nexen, the Canadian branch of CNOOC, one of China’s largest energy companies, has applied to the National Energy Board for an export licence to ship 24 million tonnes of liquified natural gas over 25 years to Asian customers from Grassy Point near Prince Rupert.
Two Japanese companies, Inpex Corp and JGC are partners with CNNOC in the joint venture.
While the NEB is expected to grant the export licence with little difficulty, the company still has to go through environmental assessment and make a final investment decision.
So far none of the LNG projects in northwestern BC, including three in Kitimat where the NEB has already granted export licences, have been given that final go ahead from the boards of their parent companies. Tne NEB is also considering five other applications for LNG export licences.
At the time BC granted Nexen the potential tenure at Grassy Point, CEO Kevin Reinhart said: “Through project assessment and stakeholder consultation we are committed to examining the potential to build a best-in-class LNG facility – one that creates jobs, delivers lasting economic and social benefits and is developed with the environment top-of-mind.”
According to the BC government news release:
The agreement is for the northern part of Grassy Point, which covers 614.9 hectares of land, plus foreshore land equalling 158.7 hectares.
Aurora LNG will be examining the viability of constructing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant and export terminal at this location.
Under the agreement, Aurora LNG will pay $12 million to the Province upon signing the sole proponent agreement. Another $12 million will be paid by Aurora LNG on, or before, the first anniversary of the agreement, as long as the proponent wants the arrangement to continue.
The right to acquire the land for construction or long-term use remains a matter of future negotiations. If the land is acquired by Aurora LNG, the $24 million submitted to government will be subtracted from the final sale price.
Nexen’s plans include a natural gas liquefaction plant, LNG storage and a marine terminal to handle LNG tankers capable of carrying between 210,000 and 217,000 cubic metres of gas. The initial plans call for two trains with a possibility of two more if conditions in the always volatile LNG market warrant.
Nexen is in talks with a number of “major pipeline providers” and no pipeline route has been announced.
It is expected the first LNG shipment from Grassy Point would occur sometime between 2021 and 2023.
The Dow Jones wire is reporting that Chevron has postponed a final investment decision on the Kitimat LNG project until 2014, “putting a deadline on a project that has already seen delays.”
Competitors are trying to sell natural gas to Asian customers using the cheaper Henry Hub North American market benchmark rather than higher Japanese bench mark which is based on the price of oil.
The Dow Jones report says Chevron, which is partnered with Apache, is still having problems finding customers in Asia. It quotes George Kirkland, head of Chevron’s upstream business, as saying that the company is offering customers equity stakes in the Kitimat project. Kirkland told a conference call that equity should be more attractive to buyers.
Kirkland said the company won’t approve the project until it has lined up customers for at least 60 per cent of Kitimat’s total 5 million metric tons a year of export capacity, although Kirkland expects that to happen in 2014.
“We’ve have had some discussions with Asian buyers,” Mr. Kirkland said during a call with investors. He declined to name the companies with which Chevron was negotiating. “It’s more likely to be a 2014 (decision), not late 2013,” he said.
A report issued by Ernst & Young, The Global LNG Report, says that there will be strong demand for liquified natural gas over the next 10 to 20 years. At the same time LNG buyers will increasingly push back from “price-sensitive buyers who are likely to be less willing to pay supply security premiums.
That means that the pricing for LNG in Asia will move away from the link to the price of oil, which, so far, has been driving the potential profit picture of Kitimat’s LNG projects.
Ernst & Young says:
Even with reasonably strong demand growth, this implies growing supply-side competition and upward pressures on development costs and downward pressures on natural gas prices. Nevertheless, the very positive longer-term outlook for natural gas is driving investment decisions, both in terms of buyers’ willingness to sign long-term contracts and sellers’ willingness to commit capital to develop the needed projects.
The report says there have been three waves of LNG development.
The first wave was dominated by Algeria, Malaysia and Indonesia, while the second wave has been dominated by Qatar and Australia. The third wave could come from as many as 25 other countries, many of which currently have little or no capacity; but by 2020, these countries could provide as much as 30 per cent of the world’s LNG capacity.
The accounting and consulting firm says the most important LNG exporters will be those in western Canada and the United States “where the source gas is likely to be priced on a spot basis, unlike gas elsewhere in the world which is generally priced (wholly or partially) on an oil-linked basis.”
The report, and the charts that accompany it, show that Kitimat appears to be well positioned in the new LNG market. That’s because the capital cost of developing LNG projects in Kitimat, when
compared to potential return, is a lot lower than in many competing countries.
The one problem Kitimat may face in the future is competition from U.S. “brownfield” developments that could turn import terminals into export terminals.
Ernst and Young says that country most cited as Kitimat’s competition Australia, is facing problems.
LNG project proposals are growing faster than industry’s capabilities to develop them. Generally at the high-end of the cost curve, with development bottlenecks and spiraling construction costs, Australian projects are typically under the most pressure. Sanctioned projects are generally less significantly impacted, but projects still seeking contracted off-take are at substantial risk.
One advantage for Kitimat may be that buyers, worried about the volatility of the market, may be more inclined to sign long term contracts.
Overall Ernst & Young concludes:
The proposed North American LNG export projects are particularly well-positioned, even though the US Gulf Coast projects will give up some of their Free On Board (FOB) cost advantage with higher shipping costs. As substantial volumes of lower-cost LNG move into Asian markets, projects at the high end of the supply curve – namely, many of the Australian projects – will become increasingly vulnerable.
Going forward over the medium-to-longer-term, Ernst & Young expects to see a gradual but partial migration away from oil-linked pricing to more spot or hub-based pricing. LNG sellers are reluctantly facing realities and are offering concessions in order to remain competitive.
Dale Nijoka, Ernst & Young’s Global Oil & Gas Leader concludes: “LNG prices are unlikely to collapse, simply because the cost to supply is high and incentives to develop new capacity must be maintained.”
When the story of the Stephen Harper government is told, historians will say that the week of March 17 to 23, 2013, is remembered, not for the release of a lacklustre federal budget, but for day after day of political blunders that undermined Harper’s goal of making a Canada what the Conservatives call a resource superpower.
It was a week where spin overcame substance and spun out of control.
The Conservative government’s aim was, apparently, to increase support for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project with a spin campaign aimed at moving the middle ground in British Columbia from anti-project to pro-project and at the same time launching a divide and conquer strategy aimed at BC and Alberta First Nations.
It all backfired. If on Monday, March 17, 2013, the troubled and controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway project was on the sick list, by Friday, March 23, the Enbridge pipeline and tanker scheme was added to the Do Not Resuscitate list, all thanks to political arrogance, blindfolded spin and bureaucratic incompetence. The standard boogeymen for conservative media in Canada (who always add the same sentence to their stories on the Northern Gateway) “First Nations and environmentalists who oppose the project” had nothing to do with it.
Stephen Harper has tight control of his party and the government, and in this case the billion bucks stop at the Prime Minister’s Office. He has only himself to blame.
All of this happened on the northern coast of British Columbia, far out of range of the radar of the national media and the Ottawa pundit class (most of whom, it must be admitted, were locked up in an old railway station in the nation’s capital, trying interpret Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s spreadsheets).
The story begins early on that Monday morning, at my home base in Kitimat, BC, the proposed terminal for Northern Gateway, when a news release pops into my e-mail box, advising that Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver would be in nearby Terrace early on Tuesday morning for an announcement and photo op.
I started making calls, trying to find out if anyone in Kitimat knew about Oliver’s visit to Terrace and if the minister planned to come to Kitimat.
Visitors to Kitimat
I made those calls because in the past two years, Kitimat has seen a parade of visitors checking out the town and the port’s industrial and transportation potential. The visitors range from members of the BC provincial Liberal cabinet to the staff of the Chinese consulate in Vancouver to top executives of some of the world’s major transnational corporations (and not just in the energy sector). Most of these visits, which usually include meetings with the District of Kitimat Council and District senior staff as well as separate meetings with the Council of the Haisla Nation, are usually considered confidential. There are no photo ops or news conferences. If the news of a visit is made public, (not all are), those visits are usually noted, after the fact, by Mayor Joanne Monaghan at the next public council meeting.
It was quickly clear from my calls that no one in an official capacity in Kitimat knew that, by the next morning, Oliver would be Terrace, 60 kilometres up Highway 37. No meetings in Kitimat, on or off the record, were scheduled with the Minister of Natural Resources who has been talking about Kitimat ever since he was appointed to the Harper cabinet.
I was skeptical about that afternoon’s announcement/photo op in Vancouver by Transport Minister Denis Lebel and Oliver about the “world class” tanker monitoring.
After all, there had been Canadian Coast Guard cutbacks on the northwest coast even before Stephen Harper got his majority government. The inadequacy of oil spill response on the British Columbia coast had been condemned both by former Auditor General Sheila Fraser and in the United States Senate. The government stubbornly closed and dismantled the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. It’s proposing that ocean traffic control for the Port of Vancouver be done remotely from Victoria, with fixed cameras dotted around the harbour. Leaving controllers in Vancouver would, of course, be the best solution, but they must be sacrificed (along with any ship that get’s into trouble in the future, on the altar of a balanced budget).
The part of the announcement that said there would be increased air surveillance is nothing more than a joke (or spin intended just for the Conservative base in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Toronto suburbs,that is not anyone familiar with BC coastal waters). Currently the Transport Canada surveillance aircraft are used on the coasts to look for vessels that are illegally dumping bilge or oil off shore. As CBC’s Paul Hunter reported in 2010, Transport Canada aircraft were used after the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster to map where the oil was going after it erupted from the Deepwater Horizon.
Given the stormy weather on the west coast (when Coast Guard radio frequently warns of “hurricane force winds”) it is highly unlikely that the surveillance aircraft would even be flying in the conditions that could cause a major tanker disaster. Aerial surveillance, even in good weather, will never prevent a tanker disaster caused by human error.
I got my first chance to look at the Transport Canada website in late afternoon and that’s when a seemingly innocuous section made me sit up and say “what is going on?” (I actually said something much stronger).
Public port designations: More ports will be designated for traffic control measures, starting with Kitimat.
(Transport Canada actually spelled the name wrong—it has since been fixed—as you can see in this screen grab).
Kitimat has been one of the few private ports in Canada since the Alcan smelter was built and the town founded 60 years ago (the 60th anniversary of the incorporation of the District of Kitimat is March 31, 2013).
The reasons for the designation of Kitimat as a private port go back to a complicated deal between the province of British Columbia and Alcan in the late 1940s as the two were negotiating about electrical power, the aluminum smelter, the building of the town and the harbour.
For 60 years, Alcan, later Rio Tinto Alcan, built, paid for and operated the port as a private sector venture. For a time, additional docks were also operated by Eurocan and Methanex. After Eurocan closed its Kitimat operation that dock was purchased by the parent company Rio Tinto. The Methanex dock was purchased by Royal Dutch Shell last year for its proposed LNG operation.
The announcement that Kitimat was to become a public port was also something that the national media would not recognize as significant unless they are familiar with the history of the port. That history is known only to current and former residents of Kitimat and managers at Rio Tinto Alcan.
The port announcement came so much out of left field; so to speak, that I had doubts it was accurate. In other words, I couldn’t believe it. I went to Monday evening’s meeting of District of Kitimat Council and at the break between the open and in-camera sessions, I asked council members if they had heard about Kitimat being redesignated a public port. The members of the district council were as surprised as I had been.
Back from the council meeting, I checked the Transport Canada news release and backgrounders. I also checked the online version of Bill C-57, the enabling act for the changes announced earlier that day. There was no mention of Kitimat in Bill C-57.
Tuesday morning I drove to Terrace for Joe Oliver’s 9 am photo op and the announcement at Northwest Community College (NWCC) that the government had appointed Douglas Eyford as a special envoy to First Nations for energy projects, an attempt on the surface to try and get First Nations onside for the pipeline projects, an appointment seen by some First Nations leaders as an attempt by the Harper government to divide and conquer.
As an on site reporter, I got to ask Oliver two questions before the news conference went to the national media on the phones.
In answer to my first question, Oliver confirmed that the federal government had decided to make Kitimat a public port, saying in his first sentence: “What the purpose is to make sure that the absolute highest standards of marine safety apply in the port of Kitimat.” He then returned to message track saying, “we have as I announced yesterday and I had spoken about before at the port of Vancouver we have an extremely robust marine safety regime in place but we want to make sure that as resource development continues and as technology improves, we are at the world class level. As I also mentioned there has never been off the coast of British Columbia a major tanker spill and we want to keep that perfect record.”
For my second question, I asked Oliver if he planned to visit Kitimat.
He replied. “Not in this particular visit, I have to get back [to Ottawa] There’s a budget coming and I have to be in the House for that but I certainly expect to be going up there.”
The question may not have registered with the national media on the conference call. For the local reporters and leaders in the room at Waap Galts’ap, the long house at Terrace’s Northwest Community College, everyone knew that Kitimat had been snubbed.
Back in Kitimat, I sent an e-mail to Colleen Nyce, the local spokesperson for Rio Tinto Alcan noting that Joe Oliver had confirmed that the federal government intended to make the RTA-run port a public port. I asked if RTA had been consulted and if the company had any comment.
Nyce replied that she was not aware of the announcement and promised to “look into this on our end.” I am now told by sources that it is believed that my inquiry to Nyce was the first time Rio Tinto Alcan, one of Canada’s biggest resource companies, had heard that the federal government was taking over its port.
The next day, Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan told local TV news on CFTK the Kitimat community was never consulted about the decision and she added that she still hadn’t been able to get anyone with the federal government to tell her more about the plan.
Who pays for the navigation aids?
Meanwhile, new questions were being raised in Kitimat about two other parts of the Monday announcement.
New and modified aids to navigation: The CCG will ensure that a system of aids to navigation comprised of buoys, lights and other devices to warn of obstructions and to mark the location of preferred shipping routes is installed and maintained. Modern navigation system: The CCG will develop options for enhancing Canada’s current navigation system (e.g. aids to navigation, hydrographic charts, etc) by fall 2013 for government consideration.
Since its first public meeting in Kitimat, in documents filed with the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, in public statements and advertising, Enbridge has been saying for at least the past four years that the company would pay for all the needed upgrades to aids to navigation on Douglas Channel, Wright Sound and other areas for its tanker traffic. It is estimated that those navigation upgrades would cost millions of dollars.
Now days before a federal budget that Jim Flaherty had already telegraphed as emphasizing restraint, it appeared that the Harper government, in its desperation to get approval for energy exports, was going to take over funding for the navigation upgrades from the private sector and hand the bill to the Canadian taxpayer.
RTA not consulted
On Thursday morning, I received an e-mail from Colleen Nyce with a Rio Tinto Alcan statement, noting:
This announcement was not discussed with Rio Tinto Alcan in advance. We are endeavoring to have meetings with the federal government to gain clarity on this announcement as it specifically relates to our operations in Kitimat.
On Friday morning, Mayor Monaghan told Andrew Kurjata on CBC’s Daybreak North that she had had at that time no response to phone calls and e-mails asking for clarification of the announcement. Monaghan also told CBC that Kitimat’s development officer Rose Klukas had tried to “get an audience with minister and had been unable to.” (One reason may be that Oliver’s staff was busy. They ordered NWCC staff to rearrange the usual layout of the chairs at Waap Galts’ap, the long house, to get a better background for the TV cameras for Oliver’s statement).
Monaghan told Kurjata, “I feel like it’s a slap in the face because we’re always being told that we’re the instrument for the whole world right now because Kitimat is supposed to be the capital of the economy right now. So I thought we’d have a little more clout by now and they’d at least tell us they were going to do this. There was absolutely no consultation whatsoever.”
By Friday afternoon, five days after the announcement, Transport Canada officials finally returned the calls from Mayor Monaghan and Rose Klukas promising to consult Kitimat officials in the future.
Monaghan said that Transport Canada told her that it would take at least one year because the change from a private port to a public port requires a change in legislation.
Transport Canada is now promising “extensive public and stakeholder consultation will occur before the legislation is changed,” the mayor was told.
On this Mayor Monaghan commented, “It seems to me that now they want to do consultation….sort of like closing the barn door after all of the cows got out!”
There are a tiny handful of people in Kitimat openly in favour of the Northern Gateway project. A significant minority are on the fence and some perhaps leaning toward acceptance of the project. There is strong opposition and many with a wait and see attitude. (Those in favour will usually only speak on background, and then when you talk to them most of those “in favour” have lists of conditions. If BC Premier Christy Clark has five conditions, many of these people have a dozen or more).
Oliver was speaking in Terrace, 60 kilometres from Kitimat. It is about a 40 to 45 minute drive to Kitimat over a beautiful stretch of highway, with views of lakes, rivers and mountains.
Scenic Highway 37 is the route to the main location not only for the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline but three liquefied natural gas projects, not to mention David Black’s proposed refinery half way between Terrace and Kitimat.
Why wouldn’t Kitimat be a must stop on the schedule for the Minister of Natural Resources? In Terrace, Oliver declared that Kitimat was to become a public port, run by the federal government. Although technically that would be the responsibility of Denis Lebel, the Minister of Transport, one has to wonder why the Minister of Natural Resources would not want to see the port that is supposedly vital to Canada’s economy? You have to ask why he didn’t want to meet the representatives of the Haisla Nation, the staff and council of the District of Kitimat and local business leaders?
Oliver has been going across Canada, the United States and to foreign countries promoting pipelines and tanker traffic, pipelines that would terminate at Kitimat and tankers that would send either bitumen or liquefied natural gas to customers in Asia.
Yet the Minister of Natural Resources is too important, too busy to take a few hours out of his schedule, while he is in the region, to actually visit the town he has been talking about for years.
He told me that he had to be in Ottawa for the budget. Really? The budget is always the finance minister’s show and tell (with a little help from whomever the Prime Minister is at the time). On budget day, Oliver would have been nothing more than a background extra whenever the television cameras “dipped in” on the House of Commons, between stories from reporters and experts who had been in the budget lockup.
According to the time code on my video camera, Oliver’s news conference wrapped at 9:50 a.m., which certainly gave the minister and his staff plenty of time to drive to Kitimat, meet with the representatives of the District, the Haisla Nation and the Chamber of Commerce and still get to Vancouver for a late flight back to Ontario.
On Tuesday, Joe Oliver’s snub pulled the political rug out from under the Northern Gateway supporters and fence sitters in Kitimat. Oliver’s snub showed those few people in Kitimat that if they do go out on a limb to support the Northern Gateway project, the Conservatives would saw off that limb so it can be used as a good background prop for a photo op.
Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers councils have all voted against the Northern Gateway project. Kitimat Council, despite some clear divisions, has maintained a position of absolute neutrality. Kitimat Council will continue to be officially neutral until after the Joint Review report, but this week you could hear the air slowly leaking out of the neutrality balloon.
Oliver may still believe, as he has frequently said, that the only people who oppose Northern Gateway are dangerous radicals paid by foreign foundations.
What he did on Tuesday was to make the opposition to Northern Gateway in Kitimat into an even more solid majority across the political spectrum.
Blunder No 2. Rio Tinto Alcan
It doesn’t do much for the credibility of a minister of natural resources to thoroughly piss off, for no good reason, the world’s second largest mining and smelting conglomerate, Rio Tinto. But that’s just what Joe Oliver did this week.
I am not one to usually have much sympathy with rich, giant, transnational corporations.
But look at this way, over the past 60 years Alcan and now Rio Tinto Alcan have invested millions upon millions of dollars in building and maintaining the Kitimat smelter and the port of Kitimat. RTA is now completing the $3.3 billion Kitimat Modernization Project. Then without notice, or consultation, the Conservative government—the Conservative government—announces it is going to take over RTA’s port operations. What’s more, if what Transport Canada told Mayor Joanne Monaghan is correct, the federal government is going to start charging RTA fees to use the port it has built and operated for 60 years.
Too often RTA’s London headquarters acts like it is still the nineteenth century and the senior executives are like British colonialists dictating to the far reaches of the Empire on what do to do.
No matter what you think of RTA, it boggles the mind, whether you are right wing, left wing or mushy middle, that the federal government simply issues a press release–a press release– with not even a phone call, not even a visit (even to corporate headquarters) saying “Hey RTA, we’re taking over.”
There’s one thing that you can be sure of, Rio Tinto Alcan’s lobbyists are going to be earning their fees in the coming weeks.
(One more point, even if there wasn’t a single pipeline project planned for Kitimat you would think that the Minister of Natural Resources would want to see what is currently the largest and most expensive construction project in Canada, a project that comes under his area of political responsibility).
It took five days, from the time of the minister’s news conference on Monday until Friday afternoon, for officials in Transport Canada to return phone calls from Mayor Joanne Monaghan and Rose Klukas, to explain what was going to happen to the Port of Kitimat.
This week was yet another example of the decay of Canadian democracy under Stephen Harper. Executives from Tokyo to Houston to the City of London quickly return phone calls from the District of Kitimat, after all Kitimat is where the economic action is supposed to be. At the same time, the federal government doesn’t return those calls, it shows that something really is rotten in our state.
Blunder No 5. LNG
There are three liquefied natural gas projects slated for Kitimat harbour, the Chevron-Apache partnership in KM LNG, now under construction at Bish Cove; the Royal Dutch Shell project based on the old Methanex site and the barge based BC LNG partnership that will work out of North Cove.
None of these projects have had the final go ahead from the respective company board of directors. So has the federal government thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into these projects? Will making Kitimat a public port to promote Enbridge, help or hinder the LNG projects? Did the Ministry of Natural Resources even consider the LNG projects when they made the decision along with Transport Canada to take over the port?
And then there’s…..
Kitimat has a marina shortage, especially since RTA closed the Moon Bay Marina. The only one left, the MK Bay Marina, which is straining from overcapacity, is owned by the Kitimat-Stikine Regional District. That means there will be another level of government in any talks and decisions on the future of the Kitimat harbour. There are also the controversial raw log exports from nearby Minette Bay.
Although Transport Canada has promised “extensive public and stakeholder consultation,” one has to wonder how much input will be allowed for the residents of Kitimat and region, especially the guiding and tourism industries as well as recreational boaters. After all, the Harper government is determined to make Kitimat an export port for Alberta and the experience of the past couple of years has shown that people of northwest count for little in that process. Just look at the Northern Gateway Joint Review, which more and more people here say has no credibility.
Big blunder or more of the same?
I’ve listed five big blunders that are the result of the decision by the Harper government to turn Kitimat into a public port.
Are they really blunders or just more of the same policies we’ve seen from Stephen Harper since he became a majority prime minister?
This is a government that has muzzled scientific research and the exchange of scientific ideas. The minister who was in the northwest last week, who has demonized respect for the environment, is now squeezing the words “science” and “environment” anywhere into any message track or speech anyway he can.
That’s just the point. Joe Oliver’s fly-in, fly-out trip to Terrace was not supposed to have any substance. Changing the chairs at the Waap Galts’ap long house showed that it was more important to the Harper government to have some northwest coast wall art behind Joe Oliver for his photo op than it was to engage meaningfully with the northwest, including major corporations, First Nations and local civic and business leaders.
Joe Oliver’s visit to Terrace was an example of government by reality television. The decision to change the private port of Kitimat into a public port was another example of Harper’s government by decree without consulting a single stakeholder. The problem is, of course, that for decades to come, it will be everyone in northwest British Columbia who will be paying for those 30 second sound bites I recorded on Tuesday.
Epilogue: Alcan’s legacy for the socialist Prime Minister, Stephen Harper
If an NDP or Liberal government had done what Harper and Oliver did on Monday, every conservative MP, every conservative pundit, every conservative media outlet in Canada would be hoarse from screaming about the danger from the socialists to the Canadian economy.
That brings us to the legacy left by R. E. Powell who was president of Alcan in the 1940s and 50s as the company was building the Kitimat project.
As Global Mission, the company’s official history, relates, in 1951, Alcan signed an agreement with the British Columbia provincial government, that “called upon the company to risk a huge investment, without any government subsidy or financial backing and without any assured market for its product.”
According to the book, Powell sought to anticipate any future problems, given the tenor of the times, the possible or even likely nationalization of the smelter and the hydro-electric project.
So Powell insisted that the contract signed between Alcan and the province include preliminary clauses acknowledging that Alcan was paying for Kitimat without a single cent from the government:
Whereas the government is unwilling to provide and risk the very large amounts of money required to develop those water powers to produce power for which no market now exists or can be foreseen except through the construction of the facilities for the production of aluminum in the vicinity and….
Whereas the construction of the aluminum plant at or near the site of the said waterpower would accomplish without risk or to the GOVERNMENT the development power, the establishment of a permanent industry and the new of population and….
(Government in all caps in the original)
…the parties hereto agree as follows (the agreement, water licence and land permit)
Powell is quoted in the book as saying:
I asked the political leaders of BC if the government would develop the power and sell the energy to Alcan and they refused. We had to do it ourselves. Someday, perhaps, some politician will try to nationalize that power and grab it for the state. I will be dead and gone but some of you or your successors at Alcan may be here, and I hope the clauses in the agreement, approved by the solemn vote of the BC legislature, will give those future socialists good reason to pause and reflect.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the federal government had very little to do with the Kitimat project. With the declaration that Kitimat will be a public port, the federal government comes to the party 60 years late. But one has to wonder if the late Alcan president, R.E. Powell, ever considered that the “future socialists” he hoped would “pause and reflect” would be members of Canada’s Conservative party, Stephen Harper, Joe Oliver and Denis Lebel?
British Columbia newspaper magnate David Black says he’ll know in about 60 days whether his controversial idea for a new refinery on the West Coast will move forward or die a quiet death.
In a recent interview, Black said he has signed memorandums of agreement with parties interested in the idea of a $15-billion refinery at Kitimat, done some preliminary design work and talked to financial backers — though any deal has a long way to go.
“I’ve been pulling threads together — potential customers, financiers, government, First Nations — and they should all be saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ within 60 days.”
If the parties say “yes,” there would be two years of regulatory approvals required before construction could begin, he said.
Enbridge Northern Gateway has told the Joint Review Panel that expansion of the proposed bitumen and condensate terminal in Kitimat is urgent so the company can access offshore markets for Alberta bitumen sands crude.
The JRP ruled against two of Weir’s motions but upheld, in part, her objection that the terminal plans were not part of a route revision.
In the Motion, Ms. Wier argues that there are a number of completely unrelated documents embedded within the route revision changes including, for example, a “noticeable increase in the number of oil tanks at the Kitimat terminal” with “significant size increases included.” There is no discussion in the update documents on how these changes are related to the proposed routing change. Ms. Wier further notes that this evidence was submitted after the completion of questioning on engineering (including regarding the Kitimat tank farm) in Prince George last
The Panel notes that it may be of use to parties for Northern Gateway to identify which of the exhibits submitted on 28 December, 2012, were: (i) directly related to Route Revision V; (ii)corollary to Route Revision V; or (iii) unrelated to Route Revision V. Accordingly, the Panelorders Northern Gateway to submit, on or before 1 February 2013, a chart setting out this information for each of the exhibits submitted in the 28 December 2012 update. Further, where the documents are listed as “unrelated to Route Revision V”, Northern Gateway is to provide a
brief description as to why this evidence is being filed at this time.
In response, Northern Gateway filed a spreadsheet with the JRP to clarify the reasons for including the expansion of the tank farm. As the JRP requested, the explanation is brief, but significant.
Northern Gateway stated that “the size and spacing of tanks will be optimized during detailed design.”
In recognition of the urgency of accessing offshore markets, Northern Gateway and its Funding Participants have recently agreed to proceed with engineering and design activities.
Brief description as to why this evidence is being filed at this time required:
…for preparation of a Class III Cost Estimate, at an expected cost of over $150 million. Discussions with the Funding Participants in late 2012 resulted in a more detailed analysis of the tankage required by shippers, with particular emphasis on ensuring an adequate degree of commodity segregation within the tank farm. That analysis, which concluded in December 2012, revealed that additional tankage would be required to satisfy commodity segregation requirements.
Northern Gateway included this information along with its Route V filing as a matter of convenience to all involved.
In respone to Weir’s objection that the Enbridge Northern Gateway filed a major change to the project and noted that most intervenors are limited to the deadlines set by the JRP, and that the engineering hearings in Prince George had already concluded.
In response, the panel ruled that Enbridge could present the evidence at the marine hearings in Prince Rupert that resumed today.
In its letter enclosing the 28 December 2012 update on Route Revision V, Northern Gateway noted that, “to the extent that there are questions regarding this filing that have not been previously addressed, members of the Northern Gateway Kitimat River Valley engineering design and emergency preparedness witness panel will be available to answer same when they appear in Prince Rupert.”
The Panel is of the view that any substantive questions on the updated evidence could best be
addressed through questioning in Prince Rupert, as suggested.
At the opening of the hearings in Prince Rupert, Coastal First Nations withdrew from the process, citing the cost and complexity of the hearings. Both events once again call into question the fairness of the Joint Review Process and whether or not there is a double standard, with one set of standards for Enbridge Northern Gateway and another for intervenors.
The Haisla Nation, the federal government and the province of British Columbia have signed an agreement that opens the way for liquified natural gas development on Haisla territory on Douglas Channel.
The federal government also announced new regulations under the the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act (FNCIDA). The regulations are necessary because First Nations are still governed by provisions of the century old Indian Act and reserve land is outside of provincial jurisdiction.
The agreement was announced at a news conference in Vancouver today, January 22, 2013. At this point it mainly concerns the Kitimat LNG project (also known as KM LNG)
The tripartite agreement with the Government of Canada, Government of British Columbia and Haisla Nation “ensures administrative, monitoring and compliance activities for the LNG facility are performed and enforced by provincial officials.”
The news release also quotes Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross as saying: “Kitimat LNG offers new, important and sustainable economic opportunities which the Haisla people are eager to embrace. We have seen new jobs, business opportunities, and skills training come to our people since KM LNG signed its agreement with us, and we know that the agreement signed today with Canada and BC is a milestone in making the project a reality. On behalf of the 1,700 Haisla people, I thank both governments for their commitment to this important agreement and the better future it is bringing our people.”
The federal news release goes on to quote BC Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Bill Bennett as saying: “The BC Government is working with industry and First Nations to foster economic growth through the expansion of our province’s natural gas sector. I would like to thank the Government of Canada and the Haisla Nation for working with us to move the Kitimat LNG facility another step forward.”
The federal release also quotes executives from both major companies involved in the Kitimat LNG project, Apache and Chevron. Chevron recently took over operating control of the project from Apache when that company had difficulty finding customers in Asia for the LNG.
The Government of Canada, Government of BC and the Haisla Nation have shown exceptional leadership and support towards BC’s new LNG industry” said Tim Wall, President of Apache Canada. “This regulatory agreement builds on the many other agreements with the Haisla that has led to jobs, training, education and economic development in Kitimaat Village.”
“I want to congratulate the Haisla First Nation, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia, and Apache Canada for their shared leadership in finalizing the regulations governing the Kitimat LNG facility site,” said Jeff Lehrmann, president, Chevron Canada Limited. “We look forward to working with the Haisla First Nation, both governments, other First Nations and local communities to realize the project’s long-term economic potential.”
In remarks prepared for the meeting Canada’s Aboriginal Affairs minister John Duncan was quoted as saying
The proposed project will provide Canada’s energy producers with a doorway to overseas markets, in addition to creating jobs and economic development opportunities not just for the Haisla First Nation, but the entire northwest region of British Columbia.
That’s good news for members of the Haisla Nation, good news for British Columbia, and good news for all Canadians.
These regulations are passed under the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act, known as FNCIDA, which allows the federal government to develop regulations for complex commercial and industrial development projects on reserve in partnership with First Nations and Provincial governments.
For First Nations, FNCIDA can remove the barriers they face in pursuit of economic development opportunities, while providing the certainty investors require, and assuring the community that the necessary oversight measures are in place.
Together with the Province of British Columbia and the Haisla Nation, the Government of Canada has also signed an agreement which ensures administrative, monitoring and compliance activities for the facility are performed and enforced by provincial officials who have the necessary experience and expertise.
As a result, the regulatory pieces are now in place for project to proceed.
To protect the environment as it relates to natural gas production, together with the Province of British Columbia we have completed an environmental assessment pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. With our partners, we will ensure that the LNG plant is designed and built to industrial safety standards and that the operation is properly regulated
Apache has a new partner in the Kitimat LNG project, Chevron Canada Ltd and, in effect, Chevron is taking over the project from Apache who has been unable to find customers for the liquified natural gas project in Asia.
A news release from Apache announced “a broad agreement with Chevron Canada Limited to build and operate the Kitimat LNG project.”
Chevron Canada and Apache Canada each will become a 50 per cent owner of the Kitimat LNG plant, the Pacific Trail Pipeline and 644,000 gross undeveloped acres in the Horn River and Liard basins. Chevron Canada will operate the LNG plant, which will be located on the northern British Columbia coast, and the pipeline. Apache will continue to develop shale gas resources at the Liard and Horn River basins in north eastern BC.
Encana and EOG Resources — currently 30 percent non-operating partners in Kitimat LNG and Pacific Trail Pipeline — will sell their interests to Chevron and exit the venture. As part of the transaction with Chevron, Apache will increase its ownership of the plant and pipeline to 50 percent from 40 percent.
G. Steven Farris, Apache’s chairman and chief executive officer said in the company news release, “This agreement is a milestone for two principal reasons: Chevron is the premier LNG developer in the world today with longstanding relationships in key Asian markets, and the new structure will enable Apache to unlock the tremendous potential at Liard, one of the most prolific shale gas basins in North America.” “With experience developing LNG projects, marketing expertise and financial wherewithal, Chevron is the preferred coventurer to join Kitimat LNG,” Farris said. “Apache has a proven record in finding and developing shale gas resources in Canada and is the logical operator for the upstream elements of the joint venture.”
In its news release, Chevron quoted vice chairman George Kirkland as saying: “The Kitimat LNG development is an attractive opportunity that is aligned with existing strategies and will drive additional long-term production growth and shareholder returns.”
“This investment grows our global LNG portfolio and builds upon our LNG construction, operations and marketing capabilities. It is ideally situated to meet rapidly growing demand for reliable, secure, and cleaner-burning fuels in Asia, which are projected to approximately double from current levels by 2025.”
The two-train (stage) Kitimat LNG Project is still working through the Front-End Engineering and Design (FEED) phase. Construction has continued at the Bish Cove site throughout the summer but has slowed down to the uncertainty over the future of the project and some environmental problems.
Current plans call for two liquefaction trains, each with expected capacity of 5 million tons of LNG per annum (about 750 million cubic feet of gas per day). Kitimat has received all significant environmental approvals and a 20-year export license from the Canadian federal government.
The 290-mile (463-km) Pacific Trail Pipeline is planned to provide a direct connection between the Spectra Energy Transmission pipeline system and the Kitimat LNG terminal.
While the Apache release says: “The project has strong support from many of the First Nations along the route,” there is no support at this moment from the Wet’suwet’en, in the area from Burns Lake through Smithers to the mountains, because some houses are strongly opposed to the pipeline on their traditional territory.
In the Apache news release, Farris says: “”We want to thank and acknowledge EOG and Encana for their contribution to the development of the Kitimat project. We appreciate the hard work of many employees and contractors to advance the project to this stage and the strong support the plant and pipeline projects have received from local communities, provincial and federal officials and the Haisla and other First Nations.
“Construction of the plant and pipeline will have a significant economic impact, and the operational phase will provide opportunities for employment as well as royalties and tax revenues for the Federal, Provincial and local governments for many years,” he said. “Chevron and Apache will continue to develop this project in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.”
As the news releases point out Chevron is a major player in Australia’s LNG projects, considered by many to be Canada’s rival in finding market for natural gas in Asia. Chevron is the operator and led marketing efforts at Wheatstone, a two-train plant with capacity of 8.9 million tons of LNG a year that is expected to commence operations in 2016. Chevron also operates the Gorgon LNG project in Australia and LNG Angola.
Much of the media attention is also on the deal for the natural resources northeastern BC, with, Chevron Canada acquiring approximately 110,000 net acres in the established Horn River Basin from Encana, EOG and Apache, and approximately 212,000 net acres in the Liard Basin from Apache. Chevron Canada Limited and Apache will each hold a 50 percent interest and Apache will operate these two natural gas resource developments.
In its news release, Encana concentrates on the natural gas deal, quoting Randy Eresman, Encana’s President & CEO, “This investment by Chevron, a multinational LNG player, represents a key step in the development of LNG export from Western Canada. Our main goal since we first acquired an interest in Kitimat LNG almost two years ago was to help ensure the progression of this project towards its development. While we are no longer a direct participant in this project, we continue to support LNG export as vital to diversifying markets for North American natural gas.”
The company goes on to say that: “The sale of Encana’s interest in the proposed Kitimat LNG export facility is consistent with the company choosing to focus on its core business. In addition, this transaction reduces Encana’s future capital commitments. The proceeds from this transaction will help to strengthen the balance sheet and provide further financial flexibility to fund capital programs and develop key and emerging resource plays.”
The Financial Post points out that “the Chevron deal leaves most of the LNG projects in the hands of foreign companies, which have competing interests in LNG projects across the world.” That means that the Haisla Nation, with its partnership with the BC LNG project, is one of the few Canadian players left in the LNG scramble.
PetroChina went on a multi-billion dollar natural gas buying spree Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, picking up shares in operations in both Canada and Australia.
In Canada, Encana, one of the partners in the Kitimat LNG project, signed a joint venture arrangement with Phoenix Duvernay Gas, a wholly owned subsidiary of PetroChina, to explore and develop Encana’s extensive undeveloped Duvernay naturgal gas holdings in west-central Alberta. According to an Encana news release, Phoenix will gain a non-controlling 49.9 per cent interest in Encana’s approximately 445,000 acres in the Duvernay play for total consideration of C$2.18 billion.
Hours earlier, PetroChina agreed to pay $1.63 billion for BHP Billiton’s 10 per cent share for an Australian LNG development, known as Browse, that like the KM LNG project in Kitimat had been delayed by the uncertainty in the LNG market. The other partners in the Browse are Woodside Petroleum, Chevron Corporation, Royal Dutch Shell and BP.
Encana says the PetroChina/Phoenix investment is significant for the Duvernay, which Encana describes as a “liquids rich play” with potential for natural gas, butane and oi development.
THE Encana release quotes Randy Eresman, Encana President & CEO. “A transaction of this magnitude keeps us on track to create a more diversified commodity portfolio and maintain our balance sheet strength. It is a strong endorsement of Encana’s position as a reliable long term partner.”
The release also quotes Zhiming Li, Phoenix’s President & Chief Executive Officer, as saying The Duvernay project will combine Phoenix’s integrated upstream and downstream capabilities and financial resources with Encana’s proven resource play hub expertise. This joint venture will build a foundation for the successful development of the Duvernay play and help to diversify our business portfolio. Encana is our ideal long term partner for the development of our future natural gas business.”
The company goes on to say:
Having entered into several joint venture transactions in 2012, these types of arrangements have become an important part of Encana’s business model. Joint ventures help the Company to achieve a highly efficient deployment of capital throughout its vast exploration and development asset base as Encana transitions to a more diversified portfolio of commodities.
Significantly, the Encana release, while talking about LNG development and export, it makes no mention of the Kitimat KM LNG project, instead looking south to Louisiana.
These relationships have the potential to increase natural gas demand as a number of Encana’s partners are actively exploring opportunities to export liquefied natural gas (LNG), while some are industrial consumers looking to transition to natural gas as fuel for their operations. An example is a recent agreement with Nucor Energy Holdings (Nucor) which is designed to support Nucor’s increased use of natural gas for its facilities, such as its direct reduced iron facility currently under construction in Convent, Louisiana.
Reports say PetroChina paid a premium price for the Australian Browse natural gas project, anticipating that if it comes on stream, as planned in 2018, the current glut in the natural gas market will have eased and once again LNG will be a seller’s market.
The Browse project at James Price Point on the north-western coast of Australia is facing similar opposition to projects in British Columbia, including some of the site’s aboriginal landowners and from some environmental groups.
The opposition to the Australian Browse project, according to reports, reflects a split in the local aboriginal community. While Wikipedia says that 60 per cent of the local aboriginal people voted in favour of the project, there is also fierce opposition, according to the Australian Mining Journal, which reported in 2009:
[A] number of Traditional Owners, as part of the Save The Kimberley organisation, issued a statement which said there is not unanimous support for this site.
In a signed declaration, Traditional Owners have affirmed that they do not support the imposition of an industrial site on their country and will legally challenge the authenticity of any agreements entered into by the Kimberley Land Council supporting the proposal.
The statement said that “…many local Indigenous people are disgusted by the apparent abandonment of the established process put in place by the previous State government. Concerns include the threats made earlier in the year by the Premier regarding compulsory acquisition of land and the pre-empting of the Joint State and Commonwealth environmental and cultural assessment process via announcements by Woodside and the Premier.”
A company called Woodside Petroleum, which leads the LNG venture wants to build the “greenfield” onshore terminal but is facing competition from Shell’s proposed offshore floating LNG “given the land access challenges and soaring development costs in Australia,” even though Shell also has a stake in the Browse project.