Convoy hits the highway in support of LNG industry

As federal decision looms, residents rally to send a message to Ottawa

They belched and they blared, a convoy 600-trucks strong barreling down the Alaska Highway on a crisp Wednesday morning with a message for Ottawa: approve Pacific NorthWest LNG.

The importance of that decision for the $36-billion project—which many industry and political observers expect will come down shortly after the federal Liberals unveil their 2016 budget on March 22—was underscored by the hundreds of jobless and anxious Peace Region residents who parked their trucks side-by-side along the East Bypass Road and waited for the rally to mobilize to Charlie Lake. 

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"Some days, I might get a half day of work in and then not work for four or five days," said Marcel Phillips, a mobile mechanic who has been self-employed since 1995.

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Tamera Thomas, dispatch supervisor with D&G Traffic Control. - Matt Preprost

Phillips was unsure what decision Ottawa will make on the project, which proponent Petronas gave a conditional final investment decision on last year dependent on federal approval. But he was sure of one thing: the world revolves around oil, he says, and that's not changing anytime soon.

"All those bleeding hearts that don't want us to bring in oil can take their clothes off, take their shoes off, get out of their car and start walking down the street because everything's made with oil," he said. 

"If they don't like it, then they can go naked and get out in the bush. It's the same with natural gas. Oil, natural gas, propane, butane. All that comes from oil. It's all tied together."

Further down the lineup of trucks sat Lynda Flegel, listening to rally organizers chatter on her radio: the lineup to hit the highway to Charlie Lake stretched down the Bypass Road all the way to Northern Lights College. 

Flegel left a career in banking roughly a decade ago for the oilpatch, "to try something completely outside my comfort zone," she said.

Flegel is still on the payroll at Caliber Oilfield and Production Services, but she hasn't worked since Feb. 2.

"This is a small company. We're a family. It's not a big conglomerate, this is it. Fort St. John is it," she said.

"Everybody is very close. We've worked together for a long time. It's more than just a job."

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Source: Matt Preprost

Canada is competing in a global economy, she said, and while the country's oil and gas sector has taken a turbulent nosedive, "misinformed" opponents of the industry are doing little to help the industry return to some semblance of stability.

"I've had people unfriend me (on Facebook) if they know I'm involved with anything to do with fracking because they are so misinformed," she said. 

"I've had hate messages and everything. If I'm out (on a job) and take a picture and say, 'three more fracks to go,' I'll lose 10, 15 friends. 

"Everybody's got their Tupperware, brand new car, laminate flooring, hardwood flooring. This all takes fossil fuels not only to manufacture these items, but to bring it to us. They don't just arrive here like magic," she said.

While Flegel and her coworker Vanessa McClelland were among the first wave of trucks to lead the procession to Charlie Lake around 11:15 a.m., other waves were still waiting to leave the staging area at 1 p.m.

Despite the delay, one of the rally's organizers, Alan Yu, was ecstatic and still waiting for them to arrive at the lake, where hot coffee was brewing and hot dogs were grilling.

He expected news of the event to make the daily media briefings for cabinet ministers and other members of Parliament on Thursday. 

"We are sending a message to Ottawa to approve (Pacific NorthWest LNG) and all the LNG plants that are pending," he said.

"The jobs here in Northeast B.C. are dependent on natural resources, specifically natural gas. We have to have alternative markets, more markets, and the only way to do this is to have the LNG plant to ship it overseas."

Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies MP Bob Zimmer was scheduled to speak at the rally, and said he's been pushing his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Parliament to see an approval go through.

Zimmer credited his previous Conservative government for laying the foundation to get an LNG industry off the ground in B.C., which included an attractive tax regime for project proponents. 

"The first freighter leaving for Asia is what we're all waiting to see," he said.

"I have quite a positive outlook on it. It's a good industry and I think it's going to be easy to say yes. A show like this today supports our cause."

B.C. Senator Richard Neufeld said Petronas is ready to put shovels in the ground, a move that would have impacts across the province. 

"All you have to do is OK a $36-billion investment that will create thousands of skilled jobs that people need right now, and you don't have to go out and borrow $40 or 50 billion as the government to actually encourage the economy," he said.

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Vanessa McClelland (left) and Lynda Flegel of Caliber Oilfield and Production Services. - Matt Preprost

With a federal budget expected to post a $30 billion deficit, Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman believes it would be a wasted opportunity to ignore the revenues that would flow from Pacific NorthWest. She's optimistic Ottawa won't pass those up.

"What this is going to mean as a British Columbian and as a Canadian is … we are going to be able to contribute to the revenues of our province to assist with healthcare and education, and it's going to mean we're going to be able to assist with revenues for the rest of Canada so our neighbours can thrive as well," she said.

On the possibility of outright federal rejection, Ackerman painted a grim picture.

"If the message is 'no, this industry is not going to happen,' then I think what we need to do is start making a list of hospitals and schools that need to shut down," she said bluntly.

"Where else are we going to get the revenue from? We cannot borrow money that our children and grandchildren are going to be paying for."

editor@ahnfsj.ca

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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