Site C’s green light stimulates business opportunities for B.C. engineering firms

Power project potential upbeat, mining sector uncertain in 2015 

Duane Gingrich, president of mining and metals, Amec Foster Wheeler: “there are some opportunities [in the mining sector], but there’s certainly not the volume we’ve enjoyed the last number of years” | Photo: Chung Chow

It’s a relatively short gap of time between when Klohn Crippen Berger (KCB) was founded in B.C. in 1951 and when the engineering firm began work on the Site C dam.

“I mean, some of our guys, that was the first job they ever did, and they’ve been with the company 40 years,” KCB president Len Murray told Business in Vancouver.

“But this latest phase … it’s kind of been two to three years building up a head of steam.”

The $8.8-billion hydro project was given the green light in December, and some of B.C.’s biggest engineering firms are expected to benefit significantly from ongoing work with BC Hydro and other energy-related projects.

Along with SNC-Lavalin (TSX:SNC) and BC Hydro, KCB is part of the lead design team behind the Site C dam.

While Murray expects business related to mining and oilsands projects to remain flat in 2015, he said the company is banking on “a bit of an uptick” in hydro-related work from the Site C project approval.

KCB was one of the companies that helped conduct a third-party review of Mount Polley in the wake of the mine’s disastrous tailings pond breach last August, and Murray said other jurisdictions have since inquired about those services.

“That review work is interesting work, but it’s not a big money-earner for us,” he said.

Michael Kennedy, Stantec’s vice-president for B.C., said in addition to Site C, engineers are expected to be busy with massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects.

“Hundreds of millions, billions of dollars of infrastructure upgrades [are] needed to support the LNG projects. These are pipelines and power upgrades, development of communities during construction.”

Kennedy added that Stantec (TSX:STN) has been establishing offices in northern B.C. to assist with environmental assessments for these projects.

“It’s really important for us to have people on the ground who really understand the local community. It’s the way we brand ourselves as a company with a fundamental understanding of how each local community views projects and issues.”

Employing more than 400 registered professional engineers locally, Amec Foster Wheeler (NYSE:AMFW) is the largest firm in B.C. based on number of staff.

Although the LNG sector has been on shaky ground since the sharp decline in global oil prices, 2014 still proved to be a fruitful year for Amec engineers who worked on the Woodfibre LNG and Pacific Northwest LNG projects.

Duane Gingrich, president of mining and metals at Amec’s Vancouver office, said the company is also very energized about its hydro-related projects, including a steam turbine being developed in Powell River.

“We’ve had quite a good-sized team working on that for a couple years now, and we’ll continue with a new contract from [BC Hydro], so that’s quite exciting business for us,” he said.

Like Murray, he expects mining to take more of a backseat in 2015.

“There are large economic forces taking place on the mining side,” Gingrich said. “There are some opportunities, but there’s certainly not the volume we’ve enjoyed the last number of years.”

He added that mining executives want to be more effective when spending money, which means more opportunities for engineers to work on existing mines to increase their productivity.

Meanwhile, Gingrich said a weaker Canadian dollar and a stronger U.S. housing market have increased activity in the company’s pulp and paper group.