Chuck Fowler: Pipelines and bakeries

chuckfowler-fortstjohn

Unlike Paul Simon’s smash hit in 1975, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, there are limited options for natural gas producers to ship their product once it leaves the wellhead. Producers dream of 50 ways to capitalize on getting their gas to market, but unfortunately that’s not the case. 

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The word “pipeline” has become a buzzword and a politically-charged word all wrapped up into one in the endless push-and-pull debate on fossil fuels. What is undeniable to us in Northeast B.C. is the critical importance of pipelines to the natural gas industry and expansion of additional pipelines to create more access to other markets. 

The development of shale gas plays has inundated our pipeline systems in Northeast B.C. This has unequivocally hindered future development until we find more capacity and access for our gas. A pipeline system created in the age of smaller vertical well production was taken by storm when shale gas came online in ways many didn’t expect. Until the recent expansion, the access to different options of pipelines, and the capacity to ship, the access is a constant struggle for producers in the north. 

The picture I’m painting is admittedly a gloomy one, but the good news is that there’s a glimmer of hope on an otherwise rainy day. Enter the North Montney Mainline and Coastal Gas Link. These are game changers in the gas business and are a long-awaited addition to access and capacity. 

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I equate it to a crude analogy of a bakery and you’re the baker. Until now, you had access to a couple delivery trucks and restaurants for your bread. There has been no need to buy extra ovens or get more employees with such limited customers and access to them. Then one evening, while stressing over your bills and how they get paid, you get the call: “We like what you are making, and we are getting more delivery trucks and found more restaurants for your bread!” These new pipelines are your trucks and the customer list just expanded to included Asian markets. Now that you have a place for your bread and ways to get it there, investing in ovens and employees starts to become a reality. 

This is no different for the gas producers who are now investing in plant capacity and eventually drilling with the new pipelines on the way. 

The industry has seen unprecedented change with the shale gas revolution and will see unprecedented change again with large infrastructure projects tackling the capacity issue of where to sell our gas and how to get it there. It won’t happen overnight, but the gas business will look entirely different in the future. A gloomy day might just start to smell like fresh baked bread. 

Chuck Fowler is a Fort St. John resident and employee of Peace Country Filtration.

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