Yesterday, as all attention was focused on the budget, the Joint Review Panel issued a recommendation against EnCana’s application to drill 1,275 natural gas wells and construct associated infrastructure in the Suffield National Wildlife area.
While EnCana claimed the drilling project would have negligible, insignificant impacts on this protected area, conservation experts and the Government of Canada presented powerful evidence to the contrary during the October 2008 hearing.
In yesterday’s report, the Panel recognized the importance of the NWA and concluded that the project should not be approved at this time. It set out 3 requirements that would have to be met for the project to go forward without causing significant impact on the conservation of wildlife.
The requirements were, namely:
– that critical habitat for 3 plants, Ord’s Kangaroo Rat and Sprague’s Pipit be finalized;
– that no project activities take place within this critical habitat; and
– that SEAC, the Suffield Environmental Advisory Committee receive a clear mandate and sufficient resources to oversee drilling in the NWA.
The NWA was established in 2003 to protect endangered native prairie and the many species of animals and plants at risk in the area, including at least 15 federally listed species threatened with extinction. It is still much like it was when the bison roamed the Canadian prairies.
The Panel did a good job and presented thoughtful recommendations. The final decision on EnCana’s project now rests with the federal cabinet. DND, as the responsible authority for the NWA, will lead thedevelopment of a government response to the Panel’s report and seek approval of the response from the federal cabinet. It’s inconceivable that our national leaders would allow it to be irretrievably destroyed for a relatively small amount of natural gas. The federal government now needs to close the door on further development in Suffield NWA.