Fort St. John residents turned up in droves over the weekend to add their signatures to a letter calling on the federal government to approve the Pacific NorthWest LNG project.
On Saturday, the upstart FSJ For LNG group collected more than 500 signatures outside Home Hardware in support of the project, signatures that group founder Alan Yu says are being sent the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).
"We are hoping we will be able to sway the government to approve with finality the Pacific NorthWest LNG plant. That's our immediate goal," said Yu.
"We would like to send a message to Ottawa that we are pro-LNG and that it's about time they approve these plants."
Earlier this summer, project-leader Petronas and its partners sanctioned the $36-billion project near Prince Rupert on two conditions: approval from British Columbia's legislature, considered a formality, and the granting of an environmental certificate from the federal government. The project has already received the approval and necessary legislation to proceed from the province, and awaits a decision from the federal government.
Earlier in February, the CEAA released its draft environmental assessment report on the facility, and is accepting public comment until March 11.
Yu said the plant must proceed in order for Fort St. John and the North Peace to access new markets in Asia and lift itself out of the current slowdown in the natural gas industry. He said about one-third of those who signed the letter Saturday worked in the industry and were unemployed.
"We recognize in a few years, the United States, which is our only export market, will be self-sufficient," Yu said. "When that day happens, and we don't have any alternative markets, then our production will be lower and it will be really, really bad for Fort St. John."
Yu, a former technician who programmed two-way radios for the oilpatch and was laid off in January, began his efforts in December, which has since ballooned to a group of more than 1,300 supporters on Facebook. Yu wants to combat what he says is "well-funded and well-organized" opposition to natural gas pipelines and LNG facilities, pointing to a trio of Russian scientists who were in B.C. earlier this month to lend their support to opponents of the Petronas project.
Yu says Canadian regulations are stricter than those in Russia—"it's comparing oranges and apples," he says—and that natural gas pipelines are safer than pipelines that carry oil.
"The pipelines are totally different, people should know that," he said. "They're so safe, all over cities in Canada, and they even go into our homes."
Yu's plan is to expand his group to cities along pipeline routes to the coast, including Prince George, Terrace, Kitimat and Prince Rupert.
He's also planning to hold a simultaneous rally with a similar citizen-led group in Fort Nelson before the CEAA's March 11 deadline for public comment.
"The reason we want this coalition is that the bigger our voices the more we are going to be heard," he said.
"With a synchronized rally, I think we can get national attention."