Mayor Luke Strimbold was one of many who attended the recent meeting with  David Keane

Mayor Luke Strimbold was one of many who attended the recent meeting with David Keane

Will the LNG industry create direct jobs in the Burns Lake area?

Community members raised concerns at a lunch with the president of B.C. LNG Alliance.

Burns Lake residents recently had the opportunity to voice their concerns and ask questions about the burgeoning liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry and its potential effect on Burns Lake.

David Keane, President of the B.C. LNG Alliance, was invited to have lunch at the Burns Lake and District Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 11, 2016.

Participants raised concerns on the likelihood of corporations hiring locally or bringing in foreign workers to construct the facilities and pipelines.

“You need some experience, so finding that experience will most likely come maybe from the rest of Canada or from abroad to fill this many jobs,” said a participant.

To that, Keane replied, “We said locals first, British Columbians second, Canadians third, and then we’ll start looking elsewhere; but when we hire, they have to be qualified and they have to have experience.”

Another participant asked a question about the creation of direct jobs in Burns Lake.

“What are the realistic expectations of how many jobs we will directly get in Burns Lake?” asked the participant. “I don’t see direct jobs here in Burns Lake.”

“Unfortunately I can’t answer that question,” Keane answered. “I don’t know what the pipelines are doing or whatever so…”

Lynn Synotte from the College of New Caledonia raised the concern that there is a disconnect between industry and training in B.C., where apprentices with foundational level training are graduating from training institutions, but industry tends to only hire fourth year apprentices with experience.

Keane acknowledged the transitory nature of the industry by describing a meeting where a participant asked why a student should invest in training in trades when many are short-term jobs.

“You have to look at the trades like they’re a career,” he said. “It’s not, ‘I’m going to be a welder today and whatever tomorrow,’ it’s ‘I’m going to be a welder and have a long-term career in this’, but it may not be that you can work in Burns Lake for the rest of your life; it may mean that you may have to work in Eastern Canada, or Columbia or the middle east.”

As president of the alliance, Keane represents the interests of seven energy companies including Exon, Chevron, and Shell, who formed the alliance in order to promote and develop a globally competitive LNG industry in B.C.

Although there are currently 22 proposed LNG projects in B.C., Keane believes that the actual number of facilities built will more likely be around five to seven.

“When the province says that there might be 22 different facilities that are going to get built, that’s simply not going to happen, and what it does is it gets environmental groups, First Nations groups, and a lot of people running around in Vancouver drinking their lattes all excited.”

Although there have been setbacks to LNG development in B.C. – including low LNG prices, an unexpected drop in demand from Asia, and opposition from First Nations groups such as the Unist’ot’en camp -, Keane said he remains optimistic. He said he has actually been surprised at the amount of political support the industry has received so far.

“Sometimes I think we have too much support from the provincial government, and at some point in time the province is going to have to become the regulator rather than cheerleader for this industry.”

Keane explained how the construction of one large LNG facility could contribute as much as just under a billion dollars a year in terms of taxes to all levels of government.

“If we get one plant built, we’re looking at one of the biggest investments in B.C.; if you have three or four of these going then you have the largest investment in Canada, even in comparison to the tar sands.”

Keane said he also believes B.C. is in a solid position to create a strong LNG industry; he described the advantages specific to B.C. including our relative proximity to Asian markets and the province’s abundance of natural gas.

“We have a huge amount of natural gas in B.C., an amount that could supply this province for 150 years.”