Final decision on natural gas-to-gasoline refinery pushed to 2016

Credit: Alaska Highway News

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A final investment decision on Blue Fuel Energy’s natural gas-to-gasoline refinery between Dawson Creek and Chetwynd, which had been expected by the end of 2015, is now listed as “achievable in 2016” on the company’s website.

The project’s completion date has been pushed back slightly, from late 2018 to early 2019.

The estimated cost to reach that final investment decision is $50 million.

Blue Fuel Energy CEO Juergen Puetter said he hopes to announce “very soon” where the refinery will source its natural gas, saying he cannot elaborate on a more specific timeline because discussions are “quite confidential.”

“We expect to be settling something very soon,” he said. “Very hard to give a specific time there.”

The company has said that this does not pose a significant hurdle for the project due to the abundance of natural gas producers in the region.

The company has also lowered its projected number of construction jobs for the project by 500.

Originally estimating 1,500 to 2,000 construction jobs, Puetter now says it is likely the project will instead need between 1,000 and 1,500 people to piece together pre-built modules that will make up the plant.

Final construction job numbers will not be known until the detailed engineering is completed, and quotes from potential construction firms come in.

“Two thousand was always on the high end. We think it’s around 1,000 to 1,500 [construction jobs],” said Puetter, “ and of course that will ultimately be determined by when we get all the final quotes. We can’t be very specific, but we know it’s not going to be 3,000 and it’s not going to be 500.”

Factors like a shortened construction season and a shortage of labour in the Peace Region hinder the company’s ability to build the plant from scratch on site.

Puetter said the company has not yet made a final decision on where the modules that will make up the plant will be constructed, but it is exploring options in Alberta.

“The preferred place would be Alberta because it has manufacturing capacity and it’s relatively easier to get from there to here because you have flat terrain,” Puetter explained. “Of course it’s a lot longer if you go Prince Rupert, Kitimat or Vancouver — in all cases it’s roughly thousands of kilometres to come to the Peace [and] it’s not flat.”

The project does not require an Environmental Assessment certificate from the provincial government, which came as a surprise to Puetter and his team.

“We looked at the regulations to see where it triggers [an EA]. The thing that happened was we couldn’t see anything that triggered it,” he said. “When we got that we said ‘that’s surprising, did we over look something?’”

Blue Fuel submitted their analysis to the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office (BCEAO) to have them double check their findings.

“They reviewed and they said … [our] interpretation is correct. I tell you we were surprised.”

The detailed report which Blue Fuel submitted to the BCEAO will be available in the near future on its website, Puetter confirmed.

The permitting for the project will be done through the Oil and Gas Commission, which for Blue Fuel is a plus as it will be “much, much faster,” according to Puetter.

Permitting is expected to take a year.

Public updated

About 100 people crammed into the Chetwynd and District Recreation Centre’s Cottonwood Hall on Feb. 19 to get an update on the project.

During the presentation, Michael Macdonald, newly minted president of Blue Fuel Energy, noted that if the project is successful, there is room for more than one plant on the site.

The natural gas-to-gasoline plant would employ 150 people full-time once operational, and the number of full-time jobs could increase to about 250 to 300 once the methanol plant comes online.

The first phase of the Sundance Fuels project will cost approximately $2.5 billion, and will consist of a plant that will use natural gas, wind, and hydropower to produce reduced-carbon gasoline.

The second phase will be lead by Canadian Methanol Corporation, and will consist of a second plant on the site, using the same natural gas to produce methanol, which will be sold overseas for use in developing plastics, lubricants and gels.

All told, the capital cost of the Sundance Fuels facilities is projected to be in the range of $3 billion to $4 billion.

The two companies are independent but will share infrastructure at Sundance.

The company has a Memorandum of Understanding in place with the West Moberly First Nation, which allows “both parties to explore additional opportunities and commercial benefits arising form the prospective production of renewable hydrogen and gas-derived liquid fuels on West Moberly First Nation’s traditional territory.”

The project has also been given what the company terms “broad-based” support among other Treaty 8 First Nations in the region.

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