Nov 23, 2019
A matter of scale: For LNG Canada, achieving big things means paying attention to the smaller things
The $40-billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant currently under construction in Kitimat, B.C. by LNG Canada represents the single largest private sector construction project in Canadian history. Being built on a massive scale, the project covers 400 hectares and at the peak of construction will employ 7,500 workers.
“This mega-project is mammoth,” says Susannah Pierce, director corporate affairs with LNG Canada. “And so are our expectations for doing this right, from environmental compliance, to our safety record, to creating shared value for the community.”
An in-person tour of the site reveals that the scale of the project is remarkable not only for its immensity, but for its attention to the smallest detail. Each decision is underpinned by thousands of smaller actions, protections and considerations necessary to move the project forward — in the right way.
Vince Kenny, construction general manager for LNG Canada, is a veteran of building LNG gas plants around the world. This project is his sixth.
“Building each one of those plants means five years of doing the right thing every day,” he says.
Kenny is committed to making the project the safest one of its size. But he’s not just working to ensure the safety of a group. He wants to ensure that each individual completes his or her shift safely.
“We’re building a safety culture among the workers we have here now,” he says. “Unless you have a safety culture where everybody looks out for the safety of their sister and brother as individuals, the processes and procedures we put into place will be ineffective.”
To date, the plant site has been cleared, and the ground is being levelled through the placement of new fill. More than one million cubic metres of earth have been transported to the site, just a down payment on the 2.8 million cubic metres that will eventually be used.
Currently under construction on that site is the Cedar Valley Lodge, a self-contained village that will house as many as 4,500 workers at any one time during peak construction. The worker village will include kitchens, dining halls, a movie theatre, gymnasiums, a basketball court and a soccer pitch.
The worker complex will provide housing for thousands of workers, but the reasons for its construction are also rooted in micro-economics. If workers were provided with a housing allowance, their presence in Kitimat, a town of a little more than 8,000 people, would disrupt its social fabric and distort the rental housing market so that rents might become unaffordable for residents.
LNG Canada has also estimated the impact of a larger population of workers on the local hospital system. To avoid impacts on local services, medical services are being offered on site.
“For every decision we make, we think about how it would affect the environment, the economy or individuals living in the Kitimat area,” says Pierce. “How would it affect you as an individual? These are just some of the ways in which LNG Canada is doing things differently. That said, we won’t always get it right. But we are committed to ensuring we learn and improve and the community, First Nations and stakeholders continue to support our project.”
The massive steel modules containing much of the processing equipment for the two LNG trains that will comprise Phase One of the natural gas export project will stand 50 metres high, 70 metres long and 35 metres wide and weigh more than 9,500 tonnes each. Expected to arrive from July 2021, the modules will be finessed into place not by massive equipment, but by tiny self-propelled module transporters — a series of remote-controlled trailer axles linking as many as 3,000 wheels.
“One person with a tiny control box will control the entire trailering system,” says Kenny. “With that system, they can move the module to within two millimetres of its final location.”
Efforts have also been made to reduce the disruption of natural habitats to the bare minimum. As part of the LNG Canada project, both Beaver Creek and the Kitimat River side channel must be slightly diverted. Construction of a new shipping terminal for the neighbouring Rio Tinto aluminum smelter is currently underway, allowing LNG Canada to adapt the existing terminal to its needs. Dredging the channel is necessary to accommodate LNG carriers.
“Generally, when any habitat impacts are necessary, the general rule is that the project must compensate by a ratio of two to one,” says LNG Canada project site manager Trevor Feduniak, who is responsible for overseeing compensatory environmental projects. These have included the construction of a “fish ladder” designed to allow salmon to swim upstream at a non-LNG Canada site where bridge construction that predated the LNG Canada project had made their passage impossible, and the establishment of a new salt marsh habitat near the shipping terminal.
But the most memorable images involving environmental protection are those of members of the Haisla Triton Limited partnership working by hand to salvage amphibians and fish, down to the tiniest minnows, so they can be safely relocated before diverting Beaver Creek.
“It’s a mega project and very complex, with some of the toughest work scopes I’ve ever seen,” says Robert St. Jean, an environmental lead with LNG Canada. “From our leadership throughout the organization, everybody looks at this massive project with a different eye to detail. Eventually you have people who are working on this project on the most minute scale. They’re contractors working in the elements, on the ground, in the bush, in the field. They may not see the big picture or understand their part in a project that is so beneficial for the province, for the people of Kitimat, and for the people in Asian nations whose lives and environment will be improved as a result of this project. But they know it is their job to move that last minnow to another habitat or place that last shovelful of soil. They know that everything counts.”