Stakeholders from all levels and backgrounds have played a huge role in Canada’s oil and gas development since production began decades ago. In recent years, Canada has experienced major division between those who advocate for the continued investment in hydrocarbon projects and those who are against it. With a changing dynamic in global oil and gas markets (primarily caused by overproduction), oil prices have hit record lows in recent years. These prices have impacted the cashflows of Canadian producers who must also account for the costly nature of Canadian oil deposits that make for higher breakeven costs. The oil companies that survive these economic downturns are investing in capital projects in an attempt to bring down overall costs (primarily the costs associated with the supply chain). Pipelines have become the proposed solution to reduce transportation costs because they are more cost effective than other modes, like rail and truck. Advocates for pipelines have noted that the interior location of major oil and natural gas deposits in Canada mean it is too time consuming and costly to ship the resources via rail or truck to the coasts or across borders for export.
Canada is currently the fourth largest producer and fifth (or sixth, depending on the source) largest exporter of natural gas in the world. China has been a growing target for Canadian exporters, especially as oil production increases in the United States. As China’s population grows, the country’s demand for both bitumen and natural gas products also grows. The Coastal Gaslink pipeline project has been proposed to meet that growing demand. The pipeline would offer a way for Canada’s natural gas to be transported to the West Coast, where it could then be processed and made available to China’s market via boat. However, the Coastal GasLink project has experienced delays as multiple stakeholder groups disagree with the project.
The scope of a pipeline project typically ranges from hundreds to thousands of kilometres across borders and state/province lines, which means that many groups of people are impacted by their construction. The Coastal GasLink pipeline is no exception. For example, First Nations and Indigenous groups in Canada have raised concerns that construction of the proposed pipeline will destroy archeological sites and interfere with traditional ways of life. Environmental activists in Alberta and British Columbia (BC) are also concerned about the environmental impacts of the proposed pipeline. It is important that no parties are taken advantage of or left out of the consultation process.
Construction on the Coastal GasLink pipeline began in 2019. The pipeline is designed to transport natural gas approximately 670 kilometres from Groundbirch, BC, to Kitimat, BC, where facilities will convert the natural gas to liquid natural gas (LNG) for export to global markets (TC Energy, 2013). Figure 1 shows a map of the Coastal GasLink project and the 8 construction sections into which it is divided.
Figure 1: Coastal GasLink map and sections (TC Energy, 2019).
The project was first proposed in 2012, and TC Energy was selected to uptake all activities associated with the project including its construction, operation, and ownership (TransCanada Pipelines Ltd). Construction and primary components of the proposed 6.6 billion dollar bill include building the 48-inch diameter pipeline out of high-quality steel and coating it to protect against corrosion. This piping would undergo ultrasonic x-rays and pressure tests to ensure the welds and materials are adequate (TC Energy, 2019). Construction of this project is to be completed in stages, starting with clearing and grading the land, followed by trenching, stringing/bending, welding/coating, lowering in and tie-ins, backfilling, pressure testing, and eventually reclamation (TC Energy, 2019). Together, these stages would create 2000 to 2500 jobs with over one billion dollars in wages for direct employees and contractors (TC Energy, 2019).
Since inception, TC Energy has formalized agreements with over 20 First Nations and Indigenous groups (including the Wet’suwet’en people) whose lands are to be crossed along the proposed pipeline route, (Morgan, 2020). However, in January 2020, the Wet’suwet’en heredity chiefs notified TC Energy and the supreme court of BC that they were withdrawing from the agreement, primarily due to the destruction of archaeological sites (Morgan, 2020). Indigenous groups located near the town of Houston, BC, have also voiced their objections of the pipeline. The delays that result from these renewed conversations add to the cost of the pipeline (Morgan, 2020).
Planning and development of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project first started in 2012. A focus in the planning stage was to come up with ways to minimize the pipeline’s direct impact to the land. Aerial inspections, mapping, and online information sources were used to first establish a conceptual corridor for the Coastal GasLink pipeline route (TC Energy, 2020). Once a conceptual pipeline corridor was established, TC Energy met with stakeholders that would be affected by this project, including First Nations and Indigenous groups, local governments, landowners, and community residents. In 2016, as a result of feedback from stakeholders, TC Energy developed an alternative route for one of the pipeline sections, called the South of Houston Alternate Route (TC Energy, 2020). This alternative route moved the pipeline away from cultural areas that are important to the Wet’suwet’en people (TC Energy, 2020). In 2018, Coastal GasLink was given approval for the South of Houston Alternate Route by the Environmental Assessment Office of BC (TC Energy, 2020).
Since 2012, project transparency has been emphasized and feedback has been encouraged. Community information sessions, open houses, and stakeholder engagement have played important roles in fostering project transparency. TC Energy has also participated in conferences and events at the local, regional, and provincial levels, and a “Stay Informed” mailout list was created so any interested parties could sign up to receive quarterly newsletters and special project updates (TC Energy, 2015). Throughout the development of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, feedback from project stakeholders has been used to develop programs that will be put in place to protect the communities and environment along the pipeline route (TC Energy, 2019).
Globally, the outlook for liquified natural gas (LNG) in the coming years is bullish, with the economy and industry predicting a 33% spike in demand by 2035 (Findlay, 2019). Canadian oil and gas companies are anticipating the increase by preparing the resources and infrastructure necessary to support rising demand. Pipelines, such as the Coastal Gaslink, are part of this infrastructure. Canada has a long-standing export of natural gas products and ranks 17th in the world for proven natural gas reserves, at approximately 1087 trillion cubic feet (Tcf). This gas is mostly found in shale and tight gas formations primarily throughout formations in Alberta and northern BC, mostly in the DuVernay, Montney, and Spirt River regions (National Energy Board, 2019).
Canada has relied heavily on the United States as the sole buyer of Canadian natural gas in the past (Orland, 2020). With massive increases in production coming from the US since 2007, Canada’s southern neighbor now ranks number one, ahead of Russia, as the world’s leading producer of natural gas (Orland, 2020). Investors have been attracted to the magnitude of reserves within Canadian basins, and foreign investment was supporting 20 proposed LNG projects just a few years ago (CAPP, 2019). The Alberta Energy Company (AECO) is a Canadian benchmark for natural gas that sells for cheaper than the United States gas benchmark, Henry Hub (Orland, 2020). The laws of supply and demand indicate that with lower prices comes greater demand. However, many major projects in western Canada that are necessary to fulfil this demand, such as Coastal GasLink, have been delayed.
Canada has competitive advantages in the natural gas market, including the shorter and cheaper shipping costs of LNG to Asia. Natural gas products shipped to Asian markets from Canada take less than half the time of products sent from the US Gulf Coast (USGC) to Asia (Findlay, 2019), and the costs reflect approximately a dollar less per MMBtu (metric million British thermal unit). Additionally, LNG shipments from Canadian east coast terminals are slightly more expensive to Asia than shipments from the Gulf Coast, but they are more cost effective than from the USGC to Europe. However, the Canadian natural gas market also has some disadvantages. The location of Canada’s hydrocarbon resources are inland, which means it is difficult to transport these resources to an export location. Implementing ways to move these products large distances across difficult terrain is challenging and affects many groups of people and stakeholders. The opposition to natural gas pipelines and projects has also dampened the demand for and the foreign investment in Canadian products.
Besides pipelines, Canada is also lacking in adequate liquification facilities to convert natural gas to LNG for export. Numerous Canadian import facilities were built in the early 2000s in anticipation of an increased Canadian demand for natural gas, but the markets have suggested greater pressure coming from foreign markets since then (Natural Resources Canada, 2018). In recent years, there have been discussions about converting regasification facilities (Canaport LNG – East Coast) into liquification facilities and expanding facility capacity, but no significant changes have been made. Economists predict such projects could add over 7.4 billion dollars to the gross domestic product (GDP) and provide 60,000 jobs to Canadians over the next 30 years (Natural Resources Canada, 2018).These projects could play a key role to the future of Canadian oil and gas; a future that many industry experts believe lies beyond oil sands and encompasses LNG.
Canada is a country rich in natural resources, but its ability to export those resources is uncertain. There are emerging markets for natural gas in Asian countries as their populations grow, and this consumer demand might be a great opportunity for Canada. However, this opportunity also comes with obstacles and challenges. The main obstacle that Canada faces with this opportunity is that the country’s natural gas is primarily located inland, hundreds of kilometres away from the current ports for international export. A solution to this problem might be the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. This pipeline would transport natural gas from northern Alberta and British Columbia to the West Coast of BC, where it would be converted into LNG and shipped to international markets.
However, oil and gas activity in Canada is under immense public scrutiny. Oil and gas projects often take longer to complete than expected as companies and stakeholders navigate how to best complete the proposed project. These discussions can cause delays on new projects, and these delays often result in lost revenue and lost investment opportunities. The Coastal GasLink project is an example of one such project that has been delayed as its implementation is re-evaluated and re-considered. But, even at the risk of delays or missed opportunities, careful, transparent consideration of oil and natural gas projects by both the producers and stakeholders is an important step in Canadian oil and natural gas production.
CAPP . (2019). Liquefied Natural Gas . Retrieved from https://www.capp.ca/natural-gas/lng/
Findlay , P. (2019, December). Canadian LNG Competitiveness. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordenergy.org/wpcms/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Canadian-LNG-Competitiveness-NG-156.pdf
Morgan, G. (2020, January 7). Coastal GasLink gets eviction notice from breakaway First Nations chiefs on $6.6B LNG project. Retrieved from https://business.financialpost.com/commodities/energy/coastal-gaslink-gets-eviction-notice-from-breakaway-first-nations-on-6-6b-lng-project
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Orland , K. (2020, March 8). Canada's LNG dreams fade as blockades add new costs to industry. Retrieved from http://www.worldoil.com/news/2020/3/6/canada-s-lng-dreams-fade-as-blockades-add-new-costs-to-industry
TC Energy. (2013). Environmental Assessment of the Proposed Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project. Open House Notification.
TC Energy. (2015). Aborginal Consultation and Engagement Report. Retrieved from https://projects.eao.gov.bc.ca/api/public/document/5e4edb7315e9820021d171e9/download/CGL - EAC E14-03 Amendment 01 - Aboriginal Consultation Report - 20151113.pdf
TC Energy. (2015). Proposed MRNA Route Amendment Public Consultation Report. Retrieved from https://projects.eao.gov.bc.ca/api/public/document/5e4edb2015e9820021d171da/download/CGL%20-%20EAC%20E14-03%20Amendment%2001%20-%20Public%20Consultation%20Report%20-%2020151113.pdf
TC Energy. (2019). Coastal GasLink Project Overview. Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://www.coastalgaslink.com/siteassets/pdfs/about/cgl-project-overview-june-2019.pdf
TC Energy. (2020). Approved route. Retrieved from Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project: https://www.coastalgaslink.com/about/approved-route/