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Controversial natural gas liquids facility inches closer to approval

Residents in the area staged a recent protest against the proposed project

While stopping short of green-lighting the controversial facility, the Peace River Regional District (PRRD) allowed Encana's South Central Liquids hub to inch closer to reality July 14 . 

The board voted 7-5 to support a zoning amendment that would allow Encana to develop the project, which would process natural gas liquids in the Tomslake area south of Dawson Creek. However, the zoning changes have yet to be officially adopted, and a date for that decision has not been set.  

The PRRD will require Encana to increase air monitoring in the Blockline Road area in response to health concerns around flaring activity that will result from operations at the facility.

The board's approval is the last step for the project, which has already gained support from the B.C. Oil and Gas and Agricultural Lands Commissions.

What is a liquids hub?

The hub would remove "produced" water and sour gas from the natural gas flowing in existing pipelines near the proposed 19-hectare site. This allows the remaining natural gas to be compressed more easily and sent to market.

Condensates left behind will be trucked from the Blockline Road site until a pipeline east to a Pembina processing facility in Alberta is built. The water — which is not safe for drinking or use in agriculture — will be either reused in fracking operations or sent to disposal sites. 

Source: Supplied

At the July 14 PRRD meeting, all four rural representatives and Hudson’s Hope Mayor Gwen Johannson opposed the project. 

Taylor Mayor Rob Fraser spoke in favour of the plant, downplaying concerns about safety and quality of life impacts. 

He said it was not up to the regional district to decide whether the facility will be safe, saying that’s the responsibility of the province’s Oil and Gas Commission. As for the project's impact on real estate, he said he hadn’t seen evidence that oil and gas development drives down land values. 

“Despite oil and gas proliferation across the region, property values are increasing at a rapid rate,” he said. “I just don’t see in our region that these fears are being realized.”   

Merlin Nichols, mayor of Chetwynd, said the question of whether to approve the development “kept (him) awake at night.” Nichols ultimately supported Encana’s application. 

He said he understood residents’ concerns, including increased truck traffic in what was once a quiet, rural neighbourhood. 

“Though my sympathies are solidly on the side of the people wanting to protect what they have against a perceived danger, I believe in the greater interest of things, I’d have to support the people driving the trucks,” he said.

Those who opposed the development, including rural directors Karen Goodings, Joe Breti and Dan Rose, said they weren’t comfortable making changes to the area’s Official Community Plan (OCP)—the document that governs medium-term development in rural areas, including the size of industrial facilities. 

Goodings said she faced a difficult decision. 

“I’ve got five kids who work in the oil and gas industry,” she said. “I’m not saying no to industry, I’m saying yes to the OCP.” 

Rose agreed. 

“You can dream up a bogey man wherever you want,” he said, referring to environmental and health concerns. “This comes down to whether our OCPs have value. I think they do, so I can’t support this.” 

Johannson also opposed the development, saying the regional district is the only level of government that directly represents rural residents. 

“Senior governments are very invested in (oil and gas development),” she said “They’re not living with the consequences.”

Relocating the project would require two facilities to be built: Encana

The regional district received 150 letters of support for the project since July 8, many from residents in Fort St. John. Businesses in Dawson Creek and the Dawson Creek Chamber of Commerce have also shown their support.

It presented these to the public at a second hearing on the project July 13.

Residents who oppose the project say they generally support the oil and gas industry, but said they were concerned about Encana's proposed location.

Encana said it chose the Blockline Road location because it is close existing pipelines, which would allow them to forgo building extra pipeline routes and facilities. 

"It'll take two facilities rather than one if we relocate (it)," company representative Jason Blanch said.

The Blockline Road location would allow the facility to connect to the BC Hydro grid, rather than having to generate power by burning natural gas and creating emissions.

Encana said without the South Central Liquids hub, further development of natural gas in the area would be difficult.

The company added that the facility will reduce "black smoke" at current facilities that were not built to handle the liquids-rich gas in the area.

Residents continue to oppose the project's location, citing health concerns, property values declining once the plant is built and an "invasion" of their rural way of life.

Gray Jones, a supporter of the landowners, said that in economic downturns, companies promising jobs can "basically do whatever they want. It's undemocratic."