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PRRD approves Encana gas plant

Peace River Regional District directors have approved zoning and official community plan amendments that will allow Encana to build its South Central Liquids Hub.
Taylor Mayor Rob Fraser (right) worried that opposing zoning and official community plan amendments to allow Encana to build its South Central Liquids Hub would send a wrong message to industry. Pretty soon, we have a reputation of not-in-my-backyard," he said.

Peace River Regional District directors have approved zoning and official community plan amendments that will allow Encana to build its South Central Liquids Hub.

Directors voted 8-3 July 28 in support of the amendments, allowing Encana to proceed with the 19-hectare development in Tomslake, south of Dawson Creek. The board’s decision allows the agricultural parcel to be used for heavy industrial.

Rural directors Karen Goodings, Larry Houley, and Hudson’s Hope Mayor Gwen Johansson were the only ones to oppose the amendments, while Director Leonard Hiebert, who represents Area D where the plant will be located, excused himself from the vote citing a conflict of interest.

“This facility is a reflection of Encana’s commitment to the world-class energy assets in the Dawson Creek area,” Encana spokesperson Doug McIntyre said.

“It will support a number of our near-term and future investment plans in the Montney, one of our core four assets.”

The costs for the project were not provided, but McIntyre said the facility is expected to be operational in the first or second quarter of 2017. “Encana always strives to hire locally and we anticipate there will be employment opportunities arising from the liquids hub,” he said.

As anticipated, much of the PRRD directors’ debate over the plan centred on the the area’s Official Community Plan (OCP)—the document that governs medium-term development in rural areas, including the size of industrial facilities.

“The situation is we have a proponent here that wants to carry on an activity that’s contrary to a community plan that’s been publicly vetted and adopted by this board. It’s the only document that enforces the interests of agriculture,” said Houley, an alternate director for Area E.

Houley said Encana brought forth a “very good business proposal,” but likened the matter to discussions that took place in the early 2000s on where to site the Peace Valley OSB plant in Fort St. John.

“There was a process where there was a long list of sites, then a short list of sites, and good reasons given on why it should be there,” Houley said. “In this case … all the reasons I see given by Encana are valid to their interests. I haven’t heard if any other sites could be considered and what the impact of other sites would be.”

The hub will draw natural gas from existing pipelines and separate the liquids, including propane and butane, to be sold on the open market.

Encana has said it chose the Blockline Road area just off Highway 2 for the plant because it is close existing pipelines, allowing the company to forgo building extra pipeline routes and facilities. Nearby Crown land, which many opponents would like to see the plant built on, isn’t suitable, according to the company. 

Encana adds that without the South Central Liquids Hub, further development of natural gas in the area would be difficult.

The PRRD received 176 letters and two petitions in support of the development, against 22 letters and a single petition in opposition. Many residents who live near the plant say they generally support the oil and gas industry, but oppose the project’s location due to health concerns, property values, and an “invasion” of their rural way of life.

Taylor Mayor Rob Fraser voted for the amendments, noting the district’s official community plan allows for the development of oil and gas production facilities on agricultural land. Community plans are also only a guideline, he added.

“They’re not written in stone,” Fraser said. “That’s why there’s an opportunity to make amendments to them.”

Fraser worried about the message that board opposition might send to the oil and gas industry, which he said “co-exists fine” with the region’s agricultural industry.

“We can say we might not be interested in it being in this area, go ahead and move it. Then all the other residents (around where) they’ll have to move it to, what if they kick up a fuss? ‘Well, we don’t like it because those residents don’t like it.’ Pretty soon, we have a reputation of not-in-my-backyard,” he said.

“And it just gets bumped all over the region, putting more and more multitudes of people through the process, and eventually it goes out of the province.”

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

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 remainder of the property not used for the facility will remain agricultural.

“I believe Encana has done an excellent job of being a good corporate citizen and I’m very sure that whether they get this approved today or not they will go ahead and they will certainly produce those liquids. It is to their advantage,” said Goodings, who represents Area B. 

“It is to the disadvantage of the residents of the community, when we have as much opposition as we had …  I feel I must support the residents of the community who are, by and large, opposed.”

Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead said not all residents who will live adjacent to the facility opposed the plan.

“Certainly, the landowners were not unanimous,” he said.

—with files from Mike Carter and Jonny Wakefield