DAWSON CREEK, B.C. - Liberal Leader Christy Clark attempted Thursday to drive home her party's evangelism on the rosy future an aggressive development strategy for liquefied natural gas could provide, while warning that hers is the only party that can deliver on the promise.
Clark was campaigning in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, in the province's northeast, a landscape dotted with a burgeoning natural gas industry that forms the backbone of Clark's economic plan for the province.
"LNG is the industry that will make British Columbia debt-free" Clark said after a tour of a water reclamation plant that takes sewage and purifies it for use in fracking.
The average family income in Dawson Creek is $74,000, Clark said, noting "natural gas will provide jobs for British Columbia and not just any jobs — high-paying jobs."
Clark has said the export of LNG is worth $1 trillion in economic growth over 30 years. The product will fetch five times more overseas than it will in North America.
The Liberals' BC Jobs Plan says the government would like to have the province's first LNG plant in operation by 2015. The Liberals have committed to having three facilities operating by 2020 but there are now at least a half-dozen proposals at various stages in B.C.
Clark has reiterated during her campaign her pledge to use the revenues from LNG to establish a Prosperity Fund to pay down the provincial debt in 15 years.
The Liberals are badly trailing the NDP in opinion polls. Clark has continually tried to suggest that a "tax-and-spend" NDP government would cost the province jobs and she said Thursday an NDP government would mean the death of the opportunity LNG could provide.
At a rally in Fort St. John, Clark told supporters the NDP want to put a moratorium on fracking. The party's proposal for a new natural gas tax would "threaten this industry at the worst possible time."
"We have a party (the NDP) that doesn't believe in natural gas," Clark said. "They want to put a moratorium on even getting it out of the ground."
Clark was basing her statement on a comment by NDP energy critic John Horgan, who was asked by The Province newspaper last fall whether the party would consider following Quebec's lead and imposing a moratorium on fracking.
Horgan responded: "I wouldn't rule it out if the evidence is we need to do that (a moratorium)." He went on to say: "But I haven't seen that evidence yet, and that's why we need to have a scientific assessment."
Horgan said Thursday his party would review LNG plans, but he denied the NDP was opposed to the industry.
"Our objective is not to constrain," he said in an interview. "Timing is certainly of the essence, but haste is often followed by failure. But we're not holding up developments. Full speed ahead. We are going to conduct a review as the industry carries on."
The New Democrat platform released last week said an NDP government would expand the province's carbon tax to include vented emissions from oil and gas operations.
NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston said at the time that the expansion would spur industry innovation and capture an additional five per cent of carbon emissions in the province. The New Democrats said the expansion, effective next April, would add $35 million to provincial coffers the first year and $100 million by 2016-17.
Brian Lieverse, a spokesman for EnCana, said there are about 20 natural gas compression facilities of various companies in the Peace region. He didn't criticize the NDP plan but suggested the investment potential in B.C. is volatile.
"It's a competitive industry so if the economics change... it will be reviewed as to how we go forward."
Taxes would "change the economics but to what extent we don't know yet."
Liberal candidate and two-term Dawson Creek mayor Mike Bernier said there are some people opposed to LNG expansion but the industry is safe and ever improving.
"We have zero unemployment because of this industry. We have some of the highest-paying jobs in the province in this area because of this industry. "
The Liberal plans for B.C.'s lucrative LNG future do not address some of the potential pitfalls.
Some environmental groups such as the Dogwood Initiative oppose the increase in tanker traffic off the B.C. coast from shipping LNG overseas. Others, such as the David Suzuki Foundation, are concerned about the process for extracting tight or shale gas from the ground. So-called "fracking" uses water, sand, and chemicals injected into the ground at high pressure to break up the underlying rock and release gas.
The process can cause earthquakes — minor quakes, according to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission — and results in toxic wastewater that they fear can contaminate drinking water.
Encana facilities near Dawson Creek were the target of a series of unsolved pipeline bombings in northeastern B.C. that began in the fall of 2008. Someone purporting to be the bomber sent a letter to local news media calling Encana and other companies terrorists and demanding a stop to the "crazy expansion of deadly gas wells."
Asked about the environmental concerns, Clark said B.C. natural gas exports will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world.
"The thing about liquefied natural gas is it's the cleanest fossil fuel on the planet, and so when we start exporting that to Asia we are going to be displace dirty fuels that they are using in those countries," she said.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said 30 trillion.