CANADA, Oct 20 – The need to protect wild baby salmon was key in the delay in a study by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) on whether to approve the Petronas-led Pacific NorthWest LNG’s proposed US$11 billion (RM36 billion) export terminal, reported The Globe and Mail. The Canadian newspaper reported that CEAA suspended the one-year study on May 9.

“Even if the assessment were to resume this week, the federal environmental review would stretch into May 2015. “That timeline complicates matters because Petronas warned recently it wants regulatory answers soon to allow Pacific NorthWest LNG to make a final investment decision by the end of 2014.” The hiccup arose due to concerns expressed by environmentalists that the original project plan to construct a jetty supported would wreak havoc on the salmon habitat in the estuary of the Skeena River, near Lelu Island.

The Skeena River’s salmon stocks are the second-largest in British Columbia, the paper noted. Protecting the wild salmon is seen as important as it represents a major part of fishing livelihood in the area, especially among aboriginal groups. To lessen the project’s ecological impact, Pacific NorthWest LNG had proposed to instead build a 1.6km-long suspension bridge to minimise dredging and avoid damaging the sensitive salmon habitat.

Reuters had earlier reported that Petronas warned it might postpone the project if it couldn’t get a favourable tax arrangement with the province of British Columbia and Canada’s federal government – setting a deadline of end-October to reach a deal. “Missing this date will have the impact of having to defer our investments until the next LNG marketing window, anticipated in 10-15 years,” Petronas had said in a statement.

Christy Clark, the province’s premier, said that while negotiations with Petronas are complex, she remains hopeful a deal will be made. She added that her government is doing “everything we can to make sure this one works.” Petronas, which has proposed an export terminal near the northern city of Prince Rupert, said both parties had agreed on clear milestones and actions to meet its mid-December target for a final investment decision.

However, it warned that the current proposed fiscal package and slow regulatory pace in Canada threaten the future of its Pacific NorthWest LNG plant, especially given high construction costs in northern British Columbia. The consortium must also reach complex impact benefit deals with aboriginal communities near the proposed terminal and along a related pipeline route.

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