Whether Christy Clark’s government survives the May election or not, the natural gas “Prosperity Fund” idea floated in last week’s throne speech is a useful one.
B.C. is poised to join Alberta in the upper rank of energy producing jurisdictions, with an expanding network of natural gas collection, refining and processing into liquid (LNG) for export. Clark’s pre-election throne speech proposed a resource fund similar to Alberta’s Heritage Fund that would be reserved for debt reduction and major projects, rather than spent on programs, which tends to happen under the political pressure of four-year election cycles.
Opposition politicians and media commentators have dismissed this as a pre-election stunt. They note that the LNG industry in B.C. doesn’t exist yet, and may never produce the hundreds of billions of dollars projected over the next 30 years.
I returned for a visit to B.C.’s northeast earlier this month, and I can tell you the gas boom is real. My parents homesteaded east of Dawson Creek near the Alberta border in 1962, and I recall when our farm was drilled for gas by Gulf Canada 40 years ago.
Many more gas wells have been drilled since then, and country roads have been widened and numbered for industrial traffic. Hydraulic fracturing, already in use when our farm was drilled, has been combined with directional drilling to open up huge new supplies.
A farming community called Montney is the latest hot play, yielding not only shale gas but petroleum liquids, which are valuable for diluting heavy oil among other things.
B.C. has never seen this kind of international investment interest before. Initial projects have been joined by global players such as British Gas, and Mitsubishi, a key player in Japan’s replacement of its devastated nuclear power program.
Why would B.C.’s shale gas be seen as a priority for new global investment in LNG? For one thing, we’re a stable democratic country with a mature industry and competent regulation.
That adds cost to the pipeline system, but it has a benefit. At the beginning of the year, I predicted that the international protest movement that dishonestly targets Alberta oil would soon turn to demonizing natural gas.
That pseudo-scientific attack has begun, right here in B.C. I’ll have more on that in a subsequent column.
Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.