By Roy L Hales
Though Justin Trudeau promised to fix Canada’s broken environmental assessment process during the last election, yesterday his government gave another signal this may not happen. Catherine McKenna, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, announced “that the proposed Woodfibre LNG Project, located near Squamish, British Columbia, is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.” Critics point to flaws in the analysis of impacts to herring stocks and the province’s rising emissions, suggesting McKenna Made The Wrong Call On Woodfibre LNG
During The Previous Regime
Though Catherine McKenna devoted a considerable portion of her decision statement to the need to protect fish,[1. Section 3, Decision Statement for the Woodfibre LNG Project] it appears to have a serious omission.
“The cooling intake system for the LNG is located just fifty meters from herring stock have been found. It will take in 17,000 cubic meters of water, about as much as 7 Olympic size swimming pools, and then pump out chlorinated water at a higher temperature. The herring roe cannot escape the intake system. They’ll just get sucked up right in to it,” said Peter McCartney, of the Wilderness Committee.
“Department of Fisheries guidelines say these things have to be two kilometres away. This is not even close, but that was ignored in the environmental assessment because there was not a ‘properly conducted’ proof of herring spawn.”
However, I took a screenshot of the herring spawn (top of page) from the Interim Summary Report of Herring Spawn Surveys on the project description site.
“This project will have a huge impact on herring, it is unfortunate it wasn’t taken into account. They’re a species that supports the whole marine ecosystem of Howe Sound,” said McCartney.
After a century of decline, the Herring population has been on the rise since the local pulp and paper mill closed down. McCartney said this will benefit salmon stocks, dolphins and a pod of six orcas were recently spotted close to the proposed Woodfibre site.
Another emission is calculations of the proposed project’s emissions. In her decision statement, McKenna wrote:
“5.1 The Proponent shall utilize electric drives during operation for the compression of natural gas or utilize other technology that would result in equivalent or reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
“5.2 The Proponent shall implement a leak detection and repair system to control fugitive emissions at the site of the Designated Project during operation.
“6.1 The Proponent shall implement noise and air emission reduction measures during all phases of the Designated Project to avoid or reduce adverse environmental effects on human health
This Project represents 7% Of BC’s 2050 Emissions Target
This is not a determination of the project’s impact and Joshua MacNab, B.C. director at the Pembina Institute, was quick to respond to the omission :
“Approval of this project moves us in the wrong direction in terms of lowering B.C.’s and Canada’s carbon pollution. Carbon pollution from this project would represent 7% of B.C.’s legislated 2050 emissions target, making the target more challenging to reach.
“If built, the overall impact of the project will be larger than necessary because of untapped opportunities to reduce emissions from the associated upstream gas. For these opportunities to be fully tapped, gaps in the policy framework need to be closed and existing policies need to be strengthened. This approval represents a missed opportunity to address these shortcomings in B.C.’s climate policy.
“Furthermore, the production and export of LNG from B.C. has not been demonstrated to help reduce global emissions. Stronger climate policies — not increased fossil fuel production — are what we need to position the Canadian economy to thrive in a low-carbon future.”
Canada May Be Back, But Which Canada?
The government’s Woodfibre LNG decision follows on the heels of other indications Trudeau may not give Canadians what he promised.
During the election, Trudeau said the National Energy Board (NEB) would not approve the Kinder Morgan project in January “because we’re going to change the government … the process needs to be redone.”
The first indication this might not occur came days before the election, when Trudeau’s national campaign co-chair stepped down after revelations that he advised TransCanada how and when to lobby a future Liberal government.
In January, the NEB hearing went forward as scheduled. The public were not allowed in to the “public hearings.”
During the election, Trudeau promised to “respect the rights of those most affected,” adding that “only communities can grant permission” for energy projects.
Those words must sound particularly grating to the mayor and residents of Squamish, seven kilometres from Woodfibre LNG, who have repeatedly voiced their opposition this project.
A few days ago Catherine McKenna told E&E TV, “The federal government has not really been at the (environmental) table for the past decade, so we are back.”
The federal government may be intending to make a sort of trade off, giving Woodfibre LNG a green light just before they turn down the even more controversial Pacific Northwest LNG proposal for Lelu Island.
Alternately, they may let everything that the previous regime approved go forward and make the promised changes to our environmental protections sometime in the future.
The pubic face of Canada’s government has definitely changed, but has this made any difference to our environmental protections?
Canada may be back, but which Canada?
Top Photo Credit: Herring spawn observed on rockweed growing on rip rap northeast of dock (February 20, 2015) – Interim Summary Report of Herring Spawn Surveys