Environmental Law Centre calls for independent review of proposed B.C. petrochemical, plastics complex

Lawyers at the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre are calling for an independent assessment of three proposed petrochemical and plastics facilities in Prince George, B.C., that they say pose “profound risks to the global environment.” 

The request filed with Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman asks him to refer West Coast Olefins’ proposals for Prince George to an independent panel of experts that can assess the project in its entirety. 

UVic Environmental Law Centre president Calvin Sandborn said he’s optimistic Heyman will agree with the filing “because it would be irrational to proceed with the largest project in Prince George history without an independent panel conducting public hearings.”

Calgary-based West Coast Olefins Ltd. has been quietly forging ahead with their plans for the $5.6 billion complex, putting together proposals for review by the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission and the Environmental Assessment process. 

The company’s website says an investment decision on the project will be made in 2022 and that the Environmental Assessment is in the early stages of determining the scope of information the company will be required to provide.

A diagram of West Coast Olefins’s interconnected plants proposed for Prince Georege. The first would recover propane, butane and natural gas condensate (known as natural gas liquids or NGLs) from an existing gas pipeline then process NGLs into separate feed stocks. The second ethylene plant would process recoverd ethane for use in a third plant to manufacture polyethylene, or plastic, products. (West Coast Olefins Ltd. )

The project is proposed for a site within city limits. The complex would include natural gas liquids extraction and separation plants, an ethylene plant, and a third-party-owned polyethylene plant which would make plastics for primarily Asian markets. As outlined by the company, the three plants feed into each other. 

Annie Booth is a University of Northern B.C. professor and organizer with a citizen’s group opposed to the project, Too Close 2 Home. She says the assessments currently underway will not account for the cumulative or long-term impacts of all three facilities. Too Close 2 Home reached out to the Environmental Law Centre in March 2021 after years of raising the alarm over these proposals.

The filing, submitted Aug. 25, states the proposed complex, when considered together and in context, would entrench demand for products made from petrochemicals, making it impossible to address the current climate change emergency. Other points of concern are its impact on Prince George’s already polluted airshed, water and fish, and the social impact of work camps during construction. 

West Coast Olefins declined to comment. In the past, CEO Ken James (pictured here) has promised that the facility could create 1,000 permanent jobs at a time when lumber mills are shutting down or curtailing operations. (Nicole Oud)

West Coast Olefins declined to comment. In the past, CEO Ken James has promised that the facility could create 1,000 permanent jobs at a time when lumbers mills are shutting down or curtailing operations.

Booth is concerned that short-term gains in the job market may be offset by subsequent recruitment challenges. She fears students and workers might not want to move to Prince George, or stay, if they must contend with heavy industry on their doorsteps and increasingly polluted air and water. 

The project is also facing opposition from the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, whose unceded territory includes the proposed construction site.

In a press release earlier this month, Lheidli T’enneh Chief Dolleen Logan said, “I want the federal government, the B.C. government, and our local government partners to be clear in our position… [West Coast Olefins] is not welcome in our territory and on our unceded ancestral lands.”

A spokesperson for the City of Prince George said they aim to “facilitate a welcoming business climate” but their involvement at this time is limited. Council will review the proposals if they are successful in gaining approval from B.C. Oil and Gas, the Environmental Assessment Office and the Agricultural Land Commission. The Regional District of Fraser-Fort George also declined to comment. 

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