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Proposed LNG Plant Reignites Concerns

Worker accommodation latest stage of contentious development

The 'Floatel' MV Isabelle. photo: CNW Group/Bridgemans Services Group

The announcement early in January of the imminent arrival of a so-called 'Floatel', a floating accommodation for work crews, has brought the proposed Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant at the former Woodfibre pulp and paper site on Howe Sound back into the public consciousness.

The refurbished cruise ship, last used for housing Ukrainian refugees in Estonia, is being repurposed as a solution for housing temporary workers hired to build the plant at the decommissioned pulp and paper site on the western shores of Howe Sound. However, for those concerned with the long-term protection of the Sound, this is another battle in a long-term fight.

Lions Bay resident Ruth Simons (profiled last October in The Watershed) is president of the Átl’ka7tsem/ Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society. She is on the steering committee of the Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound Marine Stewardship Initiative and was a driving force behind Howe Sound being declared Canada's 19th Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

Simons is concerned about the safety of siting the proposed LNG facility in the midst of this protected area.

"This LNG proposal is a complex project" she said in a recent interview. "The construction of the Woodfibre LNG plant is just one component. They are dependent on Fortis BC to deliver the gas to the new plant, a project called the Eagle Mountain pipeline."

This means there can be a number of permit applications required for the different elements of each project. "The bilge discharge from the ship is treated, but there are three other applications for effluent discharge that are probably more concerning. Fortis has two applications and Woodfibre has one. Transport Canada and the federal government talk and talk about cumulative impacts, but in Howe Sound here, who's looking at that?"

British Columbia has four Canadian Port Authorities in Vancouver, Nanaimo, Prince Rupert and Port Alberni. Federal regulation of waterways in this country is governed by a wide variety of shipping and environmental legislation. BC Ferries traverse Howe Sound daily and the local port authorities oversee the transport of safe goods every day, but Simons points out there is no official Port Authority status for Squamish or for the Woodfibre site.

"Management and safety plans are still unknown," she says. "Yes, we have Coast Guard, we have BC Pilots, we have all these professionals that are going to take a role in the responsibility, but who is ultimately accountable?"

Simons is not alone in her concerns. Squamish-based 'My Sea to Sky' is an environmental organization that was established in 2014 with the goals of defending, protecting, and restoring Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound. Their website has a timeline  outlining their efforts to stop the construction of both Woodfibre LNG and Fortis BC's Eagle Mountain pipeline.

With the number of individuals and groups raising concerns around the safety, oversight and climate and environmental impacts of an LNG Plant at Woodfibre, The Watershed presents the first in a series of articles addressing the questions around the proposed LNG plant.

LNG: A Primer

Natural gas is a fossil fuel widely used and available in Canada. As many of the easily-accessed reserves of natural gas are now depleted, these days it's commonly gathered through a process known as hydraulic fracturing. More commonly known as fracking, this is a drilling method used to extract natural gas by injecting water, chemicals, and sand at high pressure into cracks deep in the ground. Without rigorous regulations, fracking can negatively impact ground and surface water, impair wild landscapes, and threaten wildlife.

Once collected, natural gas is generally shipped across North America via pipelines. When transported to overseas markets, the gas is cooled into a liquefied state. The process of cooling and purification of the gas reduces its volume and makes it easier to ship and store. This liquefaction takes place at LNG facilities such as the one proposed at the Woodfibre site.

LNG is often presented by its proponents as clean energy. Former Premier Christie Clarke touted it as a potential economic saviour for British Columbia in the 2010s. In 2013, Clark foresaw an industry that was worth $100 billion, with more than a dozen projects contributing to the province's coffers.

Fast forward to the present. Market forces and the lack of appetite in many quarters of B.C. for natural gas development has meant that many of these projects have evaporated. In Kitimat, the LNG Canada project backed by Shell is still under construction. And here in Howe Sound, Woodfibre LNG continues to inch forward.

For their part, Woodfibre says that by powering the site with renewable hydroelectricity, the LNG produced will be the cleanest in the world. They add that Canadian LNG exported to Asia will offset coal as an energy source, leading to reduced emissions.

As president of the Howe Sound Biosphere Society, Simons says "our role is not to be taking a position. It's to elevate everybody's awareness and engagement to ensure we have the best practices, the highest environmental standards. And while Woodfibre will claim that's what they're doing – great. But we have a whole bunch of questions that need answers still."

The idea of using a Floatel to house temporary workers for the project was first suggested in 2019 as an alternative to a land-based work camp, taking into account Squamish's almost non-existent available rental accommodation. For now, the MV Isabelle is receiving final upgrades at a North Vancouver shipyard. Earlier this month, Mayor Armand Hurford was quoted in the Squamish Chief as saying the applications for permission to dock such a vessel are still under review by staff and have not yet been received by Squamish City Council.

This is the first in a series of articles addressing the construction of an LNG facility in Howe Sound. We value your opinions. Please share your comments below, or email us at

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3 comentarios

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Thanks so much for this comprehensive overview of the proposed LNG facility in Squamish!

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kc dyer
kc dyer
21 ene
Contestando a

More coming, Rod. Stay tuned!

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Norma Rodgers
Norma Rodgers
19 ene

Thank you kc for reporting on this issue. I had hoped this project was shelved since there has not been any news in the last few years. How disappointing to envision tankers in Howe Sound.

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