The Implications of Chevron's Big Move into Gas Export Pipelines in B.C.
At present, one of the major Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) processing terminal and shale gas pipeline undertakings in northern B.C. is the Kitimat LNG/Pacific Trails Pipeline project. KLNG/PTP was until very recently owned by a consortium including EOG Resources, Encana Corporation, and majority owner Apache Corporation. The scheme would aim for PTP to connect shale gas from the existing Spectra Energy transmission system near Summit Lake, BC, to its processing terminal in Kitimat on the west coast. From there, the LNG is to be loaded onto tankers via the dubious Douglas Channel, and bound for Asian markets.
In recent months and weeks, business news and analysis had been reporting that KLNG may have overplayed its hand, estimating itself too easily capable of securing contracts with lucrative Asian markets. Serious buyers such as Japan and China with some of the world’s largest markets hold the ability to dictate the terms of negotiation, and typically look for producers of size, clout, and reputation that can guarantee supply. KLNG has continued struggling to secure contracts.
In a November 25 article in Alberta Oil Magazine, Jeff Lewis writes that “Apache Canada Ltd. and partners EOG Resources and Encana Corp. have struggled to ink sales deals with overseas buyers for their Kitimat LNG scheme, citing “unrealistic expectations” on prices.”
In the same article, Asish Mohanty of the energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie said in an interview that “the Asians see that Kitimat LNG, as a partnership, doesn’t really have any partners with significant LNG experience, or an LNG portfolio that it can draw upon.” Dave Cooper of the Edmonton Journal writes that what Asian LNG buyers seek is "experienced operators with their own supplies from other regions of the world." Mohanty, for his part, goes on to say that Apache and its smaller partners "don't bring that level of credibility in the marketplace. That’s why the market expects a discount on the LNG price." The three giant projects in northern B.C. that are seen to have everything it takes to lock down the higher-end Asian deals are Shell and PetroChina's LNG Canada, Petronas/Progress, and BG/Spectra.
The plan for KLNG had been that profit for the operation would come from the difference between the North American market price and the higher Asian price. But, in October and November, 2012, it became clear that Apache and the KLNG consortium would struggle to find the contracts they were looking for, when "Cheniere Energy, owners of the only approved U.S. LNG export terminal project in Louisiana, signed a deal with foreign customers that is based on North American gas prices, not the hoped-for oil-linked index used in Asia. The difference is huge."
That sought-after Asian price is called the Japan Cleared Customs price, which is a percentage of the price of oil. Some analysts even go as far as saying that if Cheniere has set a precedent for future North American LNG deals, that some of B.C.'s touted LNG projects will not be built.
On November 20, 2012, Apache-contracted surveyors doing work for PTP were intercepted on Unist'ot'en territory. The field workers, employees of a smaller land surveying and engineering company Can-Am Geomatics out of Fort St. John, B.C., had set GIS and mapping equipment some 20 kms west of the Unist'ot'en resistance camp. They were ordered to vacate the territory immediately and told that industry activity was unwelcome on Wet'suwet'en territory. The surveyors returned the next morning and were engaged in the Unist'ot'en's Free Prior and Informed Consent Protocol, but were denied access to the territory. They had come to retrieve their materials left behind the previous day which were instead confiscated by the resistance camp.
Following the eviction, a call was put out for a broad day of action. On November 27 allies mobilized from twenty cities across Canada and the U.S, stretching coast to coast from St. John's, Newfoundland to Victoria, B.C., with support actions south of the border in New York, California and Texas. Letters were delivered to PTP consortium companies as well as major shareholders RBC, and Jarislowsky Fraser Ltd. The letter asserted the sovereignty of Wet'suwet'en territory and clearly re-iterated their denial of consent to the pipeline project, stating that "any further unauthorized incursion into traditional Wet'suwet'en territory will be considered an act of colonialism, and an act of aggression against our sovereignty."
Chevron steps in
It may have been EOG and Encana desisting due to Unist'ot'en resistance and grassroots divestment pressure, or Apache may have urged a shift in the project lagging under emerging challenges. Maybe a little bit of both. On Christmas Eve, KLNG/PTP announced that EOG and Encana had sold their shares in the project to Chevron, allowing the California-based oil giant to move into a 50 per cent ownership position along with Apache. It seems likely that Apache felt it necessary to make a change under building adversity by enlisting brunt and experience from a big player to help muscle through.
What does this mean for the grassroots resistance to KLNG/PTP? Absolutely nothing, in the sense that the effort must remain as determined, pointed, and focused as it has been. The community resistance to PTP must take this as an opportunity for a renewed and reenergized sense of purpose, and to resolve in the new year to get even more creative than it has been up to this point. Stay alert, stay responsive, closely follow the movements of industry, always stay one step ahead, and dictate the terms of the engagement. Confidence, love, and resolve in a cause are worth more than any dollar amount of billions.
Indigenous and radical environmentalist resistance has filled the action and awareness void that NGOs have left vacant during the recent months of endless one-track-mind Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway campaigning. So endemic has this trend been that certain chiefs and aboriginal nations along with settler communities alike have taken the deceived and confused position of opposing tar sands extraction and pipelines while seemingly treating the fracking and shale gas pipelines as non-existent.
To be sure, much of the disconnect is a void of information over an issue that is just recently beginning to properly register in the collective public consciousness. The shale gas pipelines have largely fallen under the radar because of institutional social justice's tendency to compartmentalize issues like high school subjects and treat them like pop culture trends. People eat up the Enbridge Northern Gateway hype like the latest Harry Potter movie. In other words, much of it has been the product of the narrow NGO campaign funding structure which isolates issues like islands, often obscuring the big picture perspective. We do, however, live in a big picture-world where ecological degradation and climate change are non-negotiable game cards which determine that opposing the Alberta tar sands while remaining silent on the pipelines slated to carry fracking's shale gas is not a rational proposition.
As if we didn't already have our hands full enough with the tar sands. But here we are, Turtle Island, Mecca of natural resources and coveted energy diamond in a future of scarcity. China is setting its pieces on the map; in South America with large energy stakes in Brazil and free trade deals with Chile and Peru, land grabs in Africa, and now taking its place amidst the shale gas and LNG export rush in B.C.'s northwest. U.S geopolitics will respond in kind with their giants, and Christmas Eve's Chevron move could be an early indication. Either way you spin it, the Montney Shale Formation and the Horn River and Liard basins will be big names in the upcoming decades of jockeying and development for unconventional fossil fuel sources, and the northwest is playing out as an up-and-coming and strategic energy battleground.
The greed mentality of industry and extraction seeks to lock up access to resources and markets before they are all gone, while the aspirations of grassroots communities aim to defend the sovereignty and integrity of the land for traditional and ecological living. Whether the Tar Sands, B.C.’s shale gas, or even the giant Green Point shale oil deposits in Newfoundland, the one thing that is clear is that they must all remain in the ground.
Finally, what also needs to be a game-changer is for us to cast aside the arrogant and grandiose globalized vision, and to forget about shipping energy half way around the world. The substance needs to be different, but the medium must also change. Massive centralized solutions are not going to get us anything except more of the same. If energy is to be in sync with communities and to have a positive role to play in the future, it will have to be localized and decentralized.
The second biggest U.S oil company is, of course, a far cry from this goal, but the question here is not who will be trying to pump all the fossil fuels out of the ground, but rather how we are going to stop them, and what radical, community-driven alternatives we will put in their place. It is not always the type of change that is most important, but how it happens, and it must be effectuated in a world that is ours, on our own terms. Creativity and resourcefulness will be the substance that guides this process. Let us put our hearts, hands, and minds together for a localized and decentralized energy future.
For more information on LNG Canada/Coastal Gas Link and other shale gas and pipeline projects in BC, please visit westcoastpipelinewatch.wordpress.com.
Julien Lalonde is a writer and community organizer who focuses on ecological justice, horizontal organizing and creative resistance. He is currently organizing with the Unist'ot'en Resistance Community on traditional Wet'suwet'en Territory. Julien blogs at culturesofresistance.wordpress.com and will be traveling the west coast and northwest U.S in January/February to develop the Community Corridor project with various communities. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information, comments and suggestions.