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Boom Times in the Northwest

The LNG Canada project leads a list of positive developments

LNG's proposed liquified natural gas plant in KitimatLNG CanadaOne of B.C.’s smallest economic regions by population, the North Coast nonetheless finds itself home to the largest capital project in Canadian history over the next several years. On October 1, 2018, LNG Canada, a joint venture of global energy companies led by Royal Dutch Shell PLC, announced it had made a final investment decision to proceed with a natural gas liquef action plant and export terminal in the North Coast city of Kitimat. Together with the Coastal GasLink pipeline that will bring the fuel to the terminal and upstream investments in northeastern B.C. and Alberta, the project unleashes $40 billion in investment, most of it to be spent in British Columbia and much of that specifically on the North Coast.

Northern statsWith the combined LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink construction workforce expected to hit 10,000 at its peak, “anybody who wants a job within 100 kilometres of the project, if they have the skill set, will be employed on that project,” B.C. Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson told Global News after the announcement. (The terminal will also create 900 permanent jobs during the first phase of operations beginning in 2023, LNG Canada says.)

All this will have a profound effect on a region that has seen big money-making ideas come and go while traditional jobs in the forests and fisheries have gradually grown fewer in number. An impact has already been felt in the real estate market. Last November, Central 1 Credit Union projected that home resales would be up 21 percent for 2018 and rise a further five percent in each of 2019 and 2020. “Increased economic activity, rental demand and speculative interest is forecast to send sales and prices significantly higher,” deputy chief economist Bryan Yu wrote in the financial institution’s regional economic outlook.

Given that the local labour force can’t come close to filling all the needs of the project, it’s expected the majority of the crews will be drawn from outside the region and housed on or near the construction sites in temporary camps. “The scale of that project suggests that its impacts will be felt throughout B.C. and could exacerbate the already tight labour market conditions in the province,” the Northern Development Initiative Trust noted in its 2019 State of the North report.

While LNG Canada ramps up, the recent refitting and production restart at Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter in Kitimat and expansions in the Port of Prince Rupert have also contributed to a firming labour market. Bulk shipments through the port jumped 30 percent to hit a new high of 24.3 million tonnes in 2017, largely due to metallurgical coal mine restarts in northeast B.C. Phase 2 of the Fairview container terminal was completed the same year, raising its capacity to 1.35 million TEU (20-foot-equivalent units) from 800,000. Meanwhile, AltaGas Ltd.’s $450-million propane export terminal on Ridley Island is due for completion this year, creating between 40 and 50 permanent jobs.

Don’t forget mining

The North Coast is also home to the Golden Triangle, an area rich in copper and precious metal deposits that is looking more attractive since the 2014 completion of the 344-kilometre Northwest Transmission line to Iskut from Terrace, which gives mine developers access to relatively cheap electric power from the BC Hydro grid for the first time. The first mine to take advantage was Imperial Metals Corp.’s Red Chris, opened in 2015, followed by Pretium Resources’ Brucejack Mine in 2017. The Triangle accounted for an estimated $164 million in exploration spending in 2018, a 65-percent increase over the previous year and close to half the provincial total.

The power line also created a market for independent power projects in the region such as the Forrest Kerr, McLymont Creek and Volcano Creek hydroelectric plants, majority-owned by AltaGas.

Either in anticipation of new opportunities or just finding a way to make a living, working-age people on the North Coast have been busy upgrading their skills.
“The share of Northwest B.C.’s labour force between the ages of 25 and 54 with a post-secondary certificate/diploma or higher has grown considerably in the past five years, from 54.9 percent in 2012 to 65.8 percent in 2017,” the Chartered Professional Accountants of B.C. noted in the association’s Regional Check-Up for 2018.

Red Chris mineImperial Metals Corp

▷ Hazelton ▷ Port Edwards ▷ Skidegate
Kitimat ▷ Port Simpson ▷ Telegraph Creek
▷ Masset ▷ Prince Rupert ▷ Terrace
▷ New Hazelton ▷ Queen Charlotte City
▷ Port Clements ▷ Sandspit  

Northern population