Premier Christy Clark speaks to LNG conference in Vancouver

Difficult birth for LNG cash cow

Before Premier Christy Clark can launch a natural gas prosperity fund, BC has to stop the bleeding from loss of US exports

VICTORIA – Debate is underway on the B.C. Liberal government’s tax and environmental plan for liquefied natural gas exports, amid the usual political theatre.

Most media reported that the government “slashed” its proposed seven-per-cent LNG processing income tax by half, caving in to demands of international energy giants led by Petronas of Malaysia.

The 3.5 per cent tax wouldn’t even take full effect until the massive capital investment is written down, and would rise to five per cent after 20 years of production. All of this casts further doubt on Premier Christy Clark’s extravagant election campaign promise to use LNG revenues to wipe out B.C.’s debt, currently approaching $70 billion, and provide an Alberta-style “prosperity fund” to perform further miracles.

The seven per cent figure was the top end of the range presented this spring while negotiations with LNG investors were ongoing, so it’s not really accurate to say it was “slashed.” This cash calf hasn’t been born yet, and it remains to be seen if it will survive.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong pointed out some of the shifts in the global gas market that have reduced expectations. Japan, one of the potential investors, is considering restarting its nuclear plants as it recovers from the 2011 Fukushima earthquake.

China’s manic growth is slowing, and it has signed a long-term deal to import cheaper Russian pipeline gas. Oil prices have dropped.

The government’s change of tone started with the recent throne speech, which emphasized the fate of B.C.’s only current export market.

“Like forestry, B.C.’s natural gas industry has relied on exports to the United States,” the speech observed. “But the American shale gas revolution has meant the export south has dried up – and is never coming back.”

So before B.C. gets to that prosperity fund, it’s got to stop the bleeding. You may recall it was a U.S. hurricane-induced spike in gas revenues that allowed the province to spread an extra billion to calm its labour waters for the 2010 Olympics.

The finance ministry estimates that after the startup period, a medium-sized LNG export operation would pay total taxes of around $800 million a year to the province. De Jong notes that this is more revenue than B.C. will collect from the entire forest industry this year, from a single plant. There are 18 currently proposed.

This new LNG income tax is nowhere near the biggest source. It’s bigger than the carbon tax that LNG producers will pay on fuel use, but only a fourth of what B.C. collects in royalties for selling the gas.

The biggest source of revenue from this hoped-for plant is “other taxes,” which include sales tax and corporate income tax, which B.C. increased to 11 per cent last year.

University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz, who supported B.C. on its ill-fated harmonized sales tax, says this additional LNG tax is wrong-headed at any rate.

“If other provinces take the same view with respect to resource taxation, new levies would be applied to oil refining, forest product manufacturing, mining processing and a host of other activities linked to resource industries,” Mintz wrote last week in the Financial Post.

If B.C. does get a substantial LNG export industry, it will include gas from Alberta, with royalties going there, not here. And companies are also wrangling with the federal government over its taxes, with local governments and First Nations still in line for their cut.

The big question isn’t whether B.C. will get its fair share. It’s whether there will be anything to share.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Minor injuries in car, semi accident near Greenwood

Road conditions were likely a factor in the Friday morning crash.

UPDATE: B.C. legislature managers accused of excessive travel, personal expense claims

Clerk Craig James, security chief Gary Lenz call allegations ‘completely false’

B.C. man fined $10,000 after leaving moose to suffer before death

Surrey man was convicted last week on three Wildlife Act charges

‘Blue Monday’ isn’t real, but depression can be

CMHA encourages people to prioritize their mental health

Anti-pipeline group wants NEB to consider impact of emissions, climate change

Stand.earth filed NEB motion asking to apply same standard to the project as it did with Energy East pipeline

B.C. man charged in 2014 snake venom death of toddler

Henry Thomas was taking care of the North Vancouver girl the day before she died

Parole granted for drunk driver who killed B.C. RCMP officer

Kenneth Jacob Fenton will be able to attend alcohol abuse treatment, nearly three years after crash that killed Const. Sarah Beckett

B.C.’s largest public-sector union wants inquiry into money laundering, drugs

Union officials say Premier John Horgan and Attorney General David Eby have not ruled out the possibility of a public inquiry

Teen in confrontation with Native American: I didn’t provoke

Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic High School said he was trying to defuse the situation

New military armoury opens in Cranbrook

Military presence in the Key City a part of the 44th Engineer Squadron

Most Read