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Chetwynd gas plant would need up to 2,000 workers

A decision could be made this year on a proposed $2.5 billion gas plant near Chetwynd that would come with up to 300 full time jobs.
New Zealand Plant: Blue Fuel Energy proposed to build a massive $3.8 billion natural gas-to-gasoline plant outside of Chetwynd, similar to the one pictured here in New Zealand.

A decision could be made this year on a proposed $2.5 billion gas plant near Chetwynd that would come with up to 300 full time jobs.

Blue Fuel says it hopes to have an Environmental Assessment Certificate granted by mid- to late 2015, and it will make a final investment decision by the end of the year.

The large natural gas-to-gasoline and methanol plant planned for a 1,055-acre site outside
Chetwynd is projected to create 1,500 to 2,000 jobs during construction and 250 to 300 full-time positions once its up and running. 

But according to Blue Fuel Energy’s CEO Juergen Puetter, many of the temporary positions may be filled by Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs). “We may have to [use TFWs for construction]. This is something we are working with our engineering firms on, because we don’t know where we are going to get the people from,” Puetter said in an interview.

“Site C [is] a big negative, because it’s a large project nearby that is going to take away a big workforce.”

The first phase of the Sundance Fuels project will cost approximately $2.5 billion, and will consist of a plant that will use natural gas, wind, and hydro power to produce reduced carbon gasoline. 

The second phase will be lead by Canadian Methanol Corporation, and will consist of a second plant on the site, using the same natural gas to produce methanol, which will be sold overseas for use in developing plastics, lubricants and gels.

All told, the capital cost of the Sundance Fuels facilities is projected to be in the range of $3 billion to $4 billion.

The two companies are independent but will share infrastructure at Sundance.

Two hurdles remain for the project: a shortage of local labour, and the lack of a secure source for the natural gas.

Blue Fuel’s communications director Alan Bryce admits they don’t have any firm plans yet on a natural gas source. 

“We are currently in discussion with a couple of potential suppliers,” he said. “That is a key element of the equation, but its not going to be very difficult to solve. People want to get rid of their gas up there.”

To address the shortage of local labour, CEO Peutter noted that the company is working on a construction design that would see much of the plant built outside of the region, and then transported and installed on site.

Whether this will bring down the construction job estimates is unclear at this time. But certainly, constructing parts of the project outside of the province will have an impact.

“We’re working on getting as much manufacturing done elsewhere because we don’t know where we are going to get the people from,” Puetter said. “There are many variables. We don’t know exactly how we are going to handle that one yet.”

Everything else, from permitting with the Oil and Gas Commission to First Nations engagement and support from the District of Chetwynd, are a showing good signs for the project moving ahead. 

The plant is currently in the permitting stage with the provincial government, and Blue Fuel is working closely with the Oil and Gas Commission, the Agricultural Lands Commission, Canadian National Rail and the District of Chetwynd. 

Chetwynd Mayor Merlin Nichols has thrown his support behind the project.

The company has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in place with the West Moberly First Nation, which allows “both parties to explore additional opportunities and commercial benefits arising from the prospective production of renewable hydrogen and gas-derived liquid fuels on West Moberly First Nation’s traditional territory.”

The project has also been given what the company terms “broad-based” support among other Treaty 8 First Nations in the region. Puetter notes that similar MOU’s are close to being completed with the Saulteau First Nation and the McLeod Lake Indian Band. 

The negotiations are quite positive, Puetter said, because there are opportunities there for First Nations owned spin-off businesses.

“One that is particularly suitable for the First Nations is, we will be giving them free hot water for green house growing operations.”

Blue Fuel commissioned a study to review the feasibility of using the plant’s wastewater to heat greenhouses to grow crops year round. 

“ I can stand here and say it’s a wonderful opportunity sure – but now we have a third party doing the analysis and it came back better than we anticipated,” Puetter remarked. “It’s a very elegant way of taking what is a waste byproduct and making it into something that is green, clean and renewable.”

The Sundance Fuels plant will draw water directly from the Pine River, just downstream of its confluence with the Murray. 

At this point, 800 million cubic metres of water per year is available for industry or agriculture, which is about 10 per cent of the river’s flow. Sundance will use 203 per cent of this.

Construction of the plant is estimated to take two and a half years. Initial production is projected for late 2018.

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