INSIGHT-Canada builds LNG army for West Coast, may come up short

Thu Jun 12, 2014 1:05am EDT
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By Julie Gordon

VANCOUVER, June 12 (Reuters) - The Canadian province of British Columbia is on the brink of a liquefied natural gas boom, but a shortfall of thousands of workers is imperiling billions in investment dollars.

More than a dozen LNG export terminals are being considered for the Pacific coast province, and analysts expect three to five will go ahead. They will also need hundreds of miles of pipeline and thousands of wells, which use the same fracking technology that has transformed the U.S. natural gas industry.

To meet industry needs, British Columbia has promised to build an army of workers, but competition from rival projects, an aging workforce, and tight timelines could mean conditions are ripe for the same sharp cost overruns that cut short a similar energy boom in Australia.

Provincial workforce projections reviewed by Reuters show that the province could face a shortage of nearly 12,000 skilled workers to staff the most in-demand trade jobs at peak LNG construction. The province plans to address the gap by sharply boosting training, more than quadrupling intakes for certain trades. But it likely will still face a shortfall in some key roles.

Foreign workers could ease some of that strain, but Canada clamped down on its controversial temporary foreign worker program after a spate of recent abuses, raising the risks projects might not fill jobs quickly and easily.

Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron Corp and Malaysia's Petronas are all contemplating projects in British Columbia, but none have made final decisions on developments worth C$175 billion ($161.2 billion).

"I want to move a project forward as quickly as I reasonably can," Marvin Odum, President of Shell's U.S. subsidiary and a member of the Anglo-Dutch company's executive committee, told reporters at a Vancouver LNG conference last month.

"But until there's some clarity on workforce issues and labor availability, you can't make that decision."   Continued...