Author: David P. Ball
Media Outlet: Vancouver Metro
A Smithers, B.C. scientist who dealt Malaysia’s state oil company Petronas a major blow in court just five days before it killed its $36-billion Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant has no regrets now that the project’s dead.
Mike Sawyer, 60, spent roughly 23 years in Alberta’s oil and gas industry — much of it conducting pipeline environmental impact assessments.
So when he saw what he believed was a missed step in the Pacific Northwest LNG’s approval process, he went to court with financial help from West Coast Environmental Law and SkeenaWild — and won a July 20 ruling forcing the plant’s gas pipeline to get a National Energy Board review.
On July 25, Petronas abandoned the project, into which its CEO said it had already sunk roughly $400 million, citing global market conditions. It had earlier postponed a 2016 final investment decision.
“As much as I’d like to say I have credit for that, the reality was that it was the economics of the project that killed it,” Sawyer told Metro in a phone interview.
“Some seem to think I had a role in killing it, but being completely honest with myself, it was maybe just a factor.
“Notwithstanding my win and First Nations who have some issues with project — the science behind which was flawed — the people at Petronas and their advisors are quite smart and they look at all factors of risk.”
With his Master’s in environmental science and industry acumen, Sawyer said facing a massive corporation felt like “David and Goliath,” but ordinary citizens shouldn’t have to spend their days in court fighting governments.
“When the government breaks the law it falls on citizens to hold their feet to the fire and make sure they do comply with the law,” he said. “That’s all I did.
“I shouldn’t have had to waste two years of my life to force the government to follow the rules. … Citizens should stand on their hind legs and insist the government obeys the law. I’d do it again — I must have the troublemaker gene.”
Pacific NorthWest’s chair Anuar Taib said on July 25 that, “There’s not a single type of thing that was a straw that broke the camel’s back. For us it’s all about the environment that we’re in.”
Sawyer said his industry experience suggested Petronas’ rationale likely considered many factors.
“They look at economic risk, engineering risk, environmental risk, regulatory and political risk,” Sawyer said. “But at the end of the day, the fact was the project was just not economic.
“And they very likely made their decision well before the election, and well before my court decision came out.”