By Christopher Reynolds
Enbridge Inc. has extended its push into liquefied natural gas as global demand soars, scooping up a stake in a proposed LNG project on the West Coast — even as the projected cost of the venture more than tripled.
On Friday, the Calgary-based energy company announced it was buying a 30 per cent stake in the construction and operation of the Woodfibre LNG processing and export facility near Squamish, B.C.
Pacific Energy retains a 70 per cent stake in the in the $5.1-billion project under the partnership agreement with Enbridge.
Previous stakeholder estimates pegged the cost at $1.6 billion. The higher price tag stems in part from funding to expand FortisBC Energy Inc.’s Eagle Mountain pipeline, which will connect the proposed plant to the Enbridge network.
“This facility will provide global LNG markets with a safe, secure and sustainable source of B.C. natural gas through long-term transportation agreement on our T-South pipeline system” — a pipeline section that links British Columbia’s Lower Mainland to production-heavy northeastern B.C. — Enbridge CEO Al Monaco said in a statement.
“Expanding global access to natural gas through LNG will play a critical role in North America’s energy future and will help to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas emissions through the displacement of coal-fired power generation.”
The announcement comes as U.S. benchmark natural gas prices approached US$9 per mmBTU this week amid concerns about global energy security and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Monaco has been vocal in recent months about his belief in natural gas exports as a major opportunity for North America right now, and said Enbridge is seeing a strong pickup in commercial interest from Asia and Europe to secure export capacity.
The project, which Woodfibre LNG said in 2017 would likely begin two years later, stated earlier this year it expects major construction to get underway in 2023, issuing in April a notice to proceed to McDermott International, its main contractor.
Planned for the site of the century-old Woodfibre pulp and paper mill — it closed in 2006 — the plant is slated to pump out 2.1 million tonnes of LNG per year, with a storage capacity of 250,000 cubic metres.
In 2017, the National Energy Board approved a 40-year export licence for the facility. The project has also received environmental green lights from the provincial and federal governments as well as the Squamish First Nation, which gave the go-ahead following a $1.1-billion benefit agreement.
The venture continues to face some opposition, however.
Climate-activist group My Sea to Sky said the project’s economic viability is “shaky” and hinges on hefty incentives and subsidies from the government.
“This is a risky investment by Enbridge that has a high likelihood of becoming a stranded asset,” Tracey Saxby, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.
“Building LNG facilities is a multi-decade investment that will increase fracking in northern B.C. and lock the province into fossil fuels for decades … There is no such thing as low-emissions LNG.”
Saxby also claimed the facility would put residents of Howe Sound and Vancouver at risk due to ramped-up tanker and pipeline activity.
Ratnesh Bedi, president of Pacific Energy, which is owned by Singapore-based RGE, said Enbridge’s investment “further accelerates Canada’s ability to be a meaningful player in the global energy transition with the production of the world’s lowest carbon LNG.”
Woodfibre LNG will use electric motor drives powered by hydroelectric energy, making the plant “one of the lowest-emission LNG export facilities in the world,” Enbridge said.
On Friday, the company reported that earnings attributable to common shareholders dropped in its most recent quarter despite higher revenue.
Enbridge earned $450 million or 22 cents per share in its second quarter, compared with $1.39 billion or 69 cents per share a year earlier.
Adjusted profits were $1.35 billion or 67 cents per share, compared with $1.36 billion or 67 cents per share in the same period of 2021.
Revenue in the three months ended June 30 was $13.22 billion, compared with $10.95 billion in the prior year quarter, the company said.
Enbridge reaffirmed its 2022 financial guidance for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of between $15.0 billion and $15.6 billion and distributable cash flow of $5.20 to $5.50 per share.
It said strong operational performance is expected to be offset by challenging market conditions affecting energy services and higher financing costs due to rising interest rates.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2022.
Companies in this story: (TSX:ENB, TSX:FTS)
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