VANCOUVER – Executives for global natural gas companies say B.C. is well positioned to compete for Asia’s rising demand for new and cleaner energy supplies, although liquefied natural gas export projects are still at least five years from loading the first ships.

Industry and government representatives gathered in Vancouver’s new convention centre Monday for a two-day conference on LNG development, and heard about efforts to keep ahead of numerous competing countries.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced Canada’s largest LNG export permit so far, to a joint venture of Shell Canada, Korea Gas, Mitsubishi and PetroChina International. The licence goes to LNG Canada Ltd., a consortium with an agreement to build export facilities on Haisla Nation territory near Kitimat. The B.C. government now expects at least five such export facilities to be built in the coming years.

Oliver said attendance by global LNG producers and potential buyers is “a sign that B.C. is emerging as a major player in the global natural gas market,” with reserves equivalent to meeting Japan’s expected demand for the next 275 years.

The conference heard Monday from industry leaders about the threats as well as opportunities.

Betsy Spomer, vice-president of global business development for BG Group (formerly British Gas), said bringing pipelines across two mountain ranges from B.C.’s shale gas deposits in the northeast to the coast is a significant challenge.

New gas supplies from East Africa and the United States are also on the horizon, but BG Group still expects that B.C. is positioned as “the new Australia” in global LNG exports, Spomer said.

She added that colder weather in the Prince Rupert area gives B.C. an advantage over places like the Gulf of Mexico, because gas needs to be compressed and chilled to low temperatures for shipment.

Luo Weizhong, vice president of China National Overseas Oil Company, said China needs LNG for environmental reasons as well as to meet rising energy demand. Transport trucks in China are being converted from diesel to LNG, and the country is trying to replace coal power with cleaner alternatives to deal with huge air pollution problems.

Anders Ekvall, an executive with Shell Canada, told the conference that natural gas represents the best chance to cut global greenhouse gas emissions in the short term. Shell is planning investments in B.C. as one of the few producers likely to survive in the global LNG competition, he said.