The Potential for Canadian LNG Exports to Europe
Offering numerous ports with the shortest shipping distances to Europe from North America, Eastern Canada has the potential to be a player in the European liquefied natural gas (LNG) market. However, the slower-moving nature of proposed projects on Canada’s East Coast, combined with a glut of global LNG liquefaction capacity, means it will likely be difficult for Canadian projects to gain a foothold in the market in the near term. As just one player in the worldwide competitive market, Eastern Canada will face challenges keeping up with faster-moving and lower-cost entrants, particularly those on the U.S. Gulf and East Coasts.
Geography, too, is a double-edged sword for proposed projects in Quebec and the Maritime provinces. While they offer the benefit of proximity to Europe, they are located significant distances from Canada’s major natural-gas-producing provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. Further, there are no direct natural gas pipelines connecting proposed projects to supply sources in either Western Canada or the Northeastern U.S. This places these projects at a significant disadvantage relative to projects on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The latter are located in a petrochemical hub, complete with major infrastructure connections to numerous sources of natural gas supply.
Also working against Eastern Canadian LNG development is anti-pipeline and anti-fossil fuel sentiments across the country. These sentiments are slowing Canada’s regulatory process and have also contributed to the establishment of moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing in three Maritime provinces. This virtually rules out local supply sources of natural gas for export from Canada’s East Coast in the near term.
None of this necessarily means, however, that Eastern Canada’s future in LNG exports is doomed. Reason for optimism remains and it centres on indications that European countries are looking to diversify their natural gas supply sources and are prioritizing geopolitically stable and environmentally responsible supplies.
Canada is a world benchmark for that kind of stability, thus making it a dependable, reliable supplier unshaken by whichever way the geopolitical winds are blowing. The kind of stability Canada offers will be key to obtaining long-term LNG supply contracts and the financial capital accompanying them to build pipelines and LNG export facilities.
In 2015 the NEB granted export licenses for six proposed LNG export facilities on Canada’s East Coast. Since then, one project was cancelled and the remaining five have repeatedly pushed back their timelines. This has left Canada in a limbo of sorts, but it can extricate itself. Market entry in the 2020s is within reach and aligns with a current opening in the European LNG contract market. Canada must move faster, however, if it is going to compete with the U.S., which currently has two operating LNG export facilities and an additional four under construction. The longer Canada’s process, the more likely that, for example, countries in Europe wanting to wean themselves off unstable Russia as a supplier, will turn to the U.S. rather than Canada.
Windows of opportunity continually open and close for entrance to any LNG market. For Eastern Canada to compete in the European market it will need secure supplies of natural gas, and investment and long-term contracts to shore up the financing for building the necessary export infrastructure. For all those things to work in harmony, Canada must pick up the pace and deviate from the status quo or risk losing out entirely.
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