Last week we looked at the volatility of Canadian natural gas prices and how it had kept altering plans for a liquefied natural gas plant here.
And asked if that was all behind us now.
In the immediate short term it would appear so, but beyond that there could be another significant shift – starting in as little as eight years.
KM LNG and all the other big operators considering building an LNG export plant in the Kitimat Valley are looking to sell into Pacific Rim Asian markets.
South Korea, Japan and China are the most obvious targets.
China’s huge population suggests that, in terms of volume anyway, it would also be the preferred market.
But China also has something else that is huge – shale gas reserves.
In fact the US Energy Information Administration estimates there could be as much as 1,275 trillion cubic feet of “technically recoverable” shale gas in that country.
That is more than we have in the BC/Alberta fields.
At the moment it’s not a factor because the Chinese haven’t got a single shale gas well operating commercially.
But that’s about to change.
E & E Publishing Service correspondent Coco Liu reported in Climate Wire that on December 31 the Chinese government changed the rules when it came to shale gas, designating it an “independent mining resource”.
Until then, the sector was the sole turf of government-controlled companies.
Now Chinese private firms can get involved and can bring in foreign partners to make it happen – and the latter will be needed because they have the technical expertise to tap the reserves, something the Chinese don’t.
Regulations have also been changed to allow the market to decide prices for shale gas – previous government-controlled pricing made it unprofitable.
These changes are intended to see China produce 2,800 billion cubic feet of shale gas a year by 2020.
To put that in perspective, the KM LNG plant, even if taken to the second stage, will be using only 511 billion cubic feet a year.
And what the Chinese government wants, it tends to get, especially as it is not encumbered by our rigorous regulatory system.
But, you say, they still need that technical expertise and if North American companies don’t give it to them by entering partnerships in China, we still hold the high hand.
Except the Chinese already have that covered.
Back to Liu’s article in which he quotes MIE Holdings, a Chinese oil and gas producer which has recently invested in a shale gas project in Colorado, as saying, “The purchasing allows the company to gain key technologies in shale gas drilling.”
Chinese firms have been just as active buying into Canadian plays as well.
And in any case companies, driven by ravenous shareholders demanding evermore profits, share price increases and dividends, will go where the money is.
One the face of it, there is no question that LNG exports from Kitimat will happen.
But it could be the glory years may not stretch as far into the future as we imagined.
Which is all the more reason to keep pushing for other long term economic development possibilities since the broader our economic base, the better able the community will be to withstand future shocks.