Council members of the Squamish Nation have delayed their vote on whether a liquefied natural gas project meets their environmental and cultural conditions.
Chief Ian Campbell said the vote by the 16-person elected group will now take place in the fall, after further talks with Woodfibre LNG over 25 conditions outlined last month by the aboriginal council on behalf of its 4,000 members.
The main concern is Woodfibre LNG's planned seawater cooling discharge system – specifically the impact that warm chlorinated water would have on small fish in Howe Sound.
"With the revitalization of Howe Sound and the visible presence of whales, that has really heightened the anxiety – not only of the Squamish Nation but also local residents," Mr. Campbell said in an interview Tuesday.
Of the 19 LNG projects on the drawing board in British Columbia, none of the proponents has made a final investment decision yet. Woodfibre LNG, privately owned by Singapore-based RGE Pte. Ltd. and controlled by Indonesian businessman Sukanto Tanoto, is seeking approval from the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office before deciding whether to forge ahead.
The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office is leading the regulatory review through a co-ordinated process with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. The process, which began in mid-January, was recently put on hold at the request of Woodfibre LNG in order to consult further with the Squamish Nation on the proposed LNG terminal and FortisBC Energy's related pipeline project.
The aboriginal group has launched an independent review, saying it will determine whether to grant its own environmental certificate to Woodfibre LNG over and above the provincial regulatory process.
"The provincial environmental assessment doesn't typically look closely at cultural or spiritual values or aboriginal rights and title to our lands and territory," Mr. Campbell said. "Our assessment is not a showstopper for Woodfibre LNG."
Byng Giraud, Woodfibre LNG's vice-president of corporate affairs, said he remains optimistic about the project site – a former pulp mill seven kilometres southwest of Squamish. "We respect the Squamish Nation's process. We entered into this process voluntarily, and they are not yet in a position to render a decision based on the conditions that they have imposed," Mr. Giraud said.
Squamish has roots as a pulp town dating back to 1912, but the local mill closed in 2006. Activists say community leaders' efforts to increase Howe Sound's profile as a place for tourism and recreation are threatened by the $1.6-billion project's plans to export LNG by tankers to Asia.
The export terminal's capacity is pegged at 2.1 million tonnes a year. The original goal was to be operational by March, 2017, but the launch date has been postponed until 2018.
In a recent report, the Squamish Nation said it was worried about the company's proposal to release warm water from the planned terminal into Howe Sound. Heat is created when cooling natural gas into a liquid state, and the seawater would absorb the heat. Woodfibre LNG emphasizes that its system is designed to remove most of the chlorine from the discharged water.
"We do not find that the proponent's conclusions of negligible impacts on herring and plankton (tiny fish, plants, marine insects, larval fish or shellfish) are sufficiently proven," the report said. "We found that the development of this project adds to other industrial impacts on Howe Sound at a time when the waters are coming back to life."
Other conditions sought by the aboriginal group include relocating a compressor station, routing a pipeline so it avoids a wildlife management area and ensuring proper insurance coverage in the case of an industrial spill or explosion.