A positive final investment decision for LNG Canada could eventually encourage other projects to follow suit, creating demand needed to soak up Western Canada's glut of natural gas, producers say.
The projects would eventually provide a market for gas companies that are now discouraged from increasing production by low prices linked to fierce U.S. competition and Canadian pipeline capacity shortfalls, said Steve Laut, executive vice-chairman of Canada's largest natural gas producing company, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. of Calgary.
"If you get one plant through, there will be a second and third plant that will follow much easier, and that makes a difference," he said after participating in a panel discussion at the Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta.
"I think it gives confidence to the other proponents; they can see they can get through the process."
Published reports have suggested LNG Canada, an estimated $40-billion gas liquefaction plant and pipeline that was delayed in 2016, could be officially sanctioned as early as next week. Unconfirmed reports also suggest the federal government has agreed to waive import tariffs on steel plant modules built overseas that were estimated to add $1 billion to the cost.
But Susannah Pierce, director of external relations for the Kitimat, B.C., sited project, wouldn't say Friday after taking part in the panel discussion whether those reports are true.
She repeated the official line that the partners — Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsubishi Corp., Malaysia’s Petronas, PetroChina Co. and Korea Gas Corp. — will make a decision before the end of this year.
"I think we've presented to the joint venture participants what we consider to be a very compelling case but they're going to be the ultimate arbiter on this project based on any other place they could choose to invest," she said.
PetroChina and Korea Gas have approved paying their share of the project's cost, according to a published report from Bloomberg Friday citing documents filed by PetroChina on the Hong Kong stock exchange and an announcement in Seoul by Korea Gas.
Laut, who blasted Canada's regulatory system for failing to allow infrastructure projects to be built, says Canadian Natural produces as much as 1.6 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas in Western Canada but it has shut down wells with output of 100 million cubic feet per day because of poor gas prices.
He said the company will invest only to maintain its production levels until new markets and market access lead to higher prices.
The first phase of the two-phase LNG facility is expected to take five to seven years to build once it has been approved, Pierce said. It is expected to allow the export of 1.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.
Western Canada will have no trouble supplying gas to the LNG industry when it's needed, said panel participant Mike Rose, CEO of gas producer Tourmaline Oil Corp. of Calgary.
He touted the growth potential of two major gas pools near the Alberta-B.C. border — the Montney, which produces about four billion cubic feet per day, and the Deep Basin, with about three billion cubic feet per day.
The reserves still in the ground are estimated at 700 trillion cubic feet for the former and more than 80 trillion cubic feet for the latter, he said.
"This is an area that will last for decades and our efficiencies will continue to improve," he said.
"For Canadian resource development for LNG, the infrastructure is all in place. We built all the gas plants, all the in-field laterals for both the Deep Basin and the Montney and, really, now it's just connecting to the coast via the large pipelines. Hopefully a lot of them get built."