Mackenzie Gas Project Threatens Federally Protected Sanctuary, Other Critical Bird Habitat

Mackenzie Gas Project Threatens Federally Protected Sanctuary, Other Critical Bird Habitat
Ecological Footprint ‘Too High’ According to Expert Testimony at Hearings

Sarah Wren, Nature Canada’s conservation biologist, testified at the Joint Panel Review investigating the Mackenzie Gas Project on Nov. 15, 2006. 
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Ottawa (Nov. 15, 2006) – The Mackenzie Gas Project will trigger a rush of oil and gas development throughout the Mackenzie Valley, where habitat loss will have lasting effects on many of Canada’s bird species, according to testimony given today by Nature Canada conservation biologist Sarah Wren before the Joint Review Panel.

Wren also warned that the region’s sole federally protected area, the Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, could be flooded as a result of natural gas extraction inside the sanctuary.

“The full impact of the project on the lands, water and wildlife of this unique environment will leave an unacceptable footprint,” said Wren. “Important bird habitat like the Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary would be permanently damaged by such massive industrialization.”

“More needs to be done to strengthen – not weaken – Canada’s network of protected areas,” said Wren.

In testimony made on behalf of Nature Canada, Wren and environmental consultant Dr. Brent Gurd argued that protected areas like the Kendall Island sanctuary help to limit the cumulative effects of development upon the natural landscape, and that more land needs to be set aside before the Mackenzie Gas Project moves forward.

“We can’t predict all the implications of a project this massive in an area so poorly studied, which is why protected areas are so important,” said Gurd. “Protected areas provide insurance that some of this wilderness landscape will escape the worst effects of development, and they are essential yardsticks for measuring how unprotected areas are changed by development. If we can’t measure the effects of current development, we will never be able to predict them, or learn to reduce them, in the future.”

Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary is currently the only federally protected area in the Mackenzie Delta, so its role as an ecological baseline is even more crucial.

The sanctuary, located in the Mackenzie River Delta in the Northwest Territories, is part of a globally significant breeding and staging ground for a variety of waterfowl and shorebirds. Over 60,000 shorebirds such as Red-necked Phalaropes, Whimbrels, and Lesser Golden Plovers nest in the outer delta of the Mackenzie River, which includes Kendall Island.

Ten confirmed natural gas fields lie under the Kendall Island MBS, and the Mackenzie Gas Project would bring natural gas from two of these fields to southern developments and markets. However, Environment Canada has said that the Mackenzie Gas Project can have no more than a one per cent footprint on the sanctuary. The project’s backers, including energy giant Imperial Oil, argue that the project will remain within this threshold, but their calculations underestimate several important factors.

Perhaps the biggest threat is that of land subsidence – the sinking of land as gas is drawn from below it. Extracting natural gas from beneath the Kendall Island sanctuary could transform it from being a low-lying terrestrial home for birds to a marine habitat.

“We believe the very real threat of land subsidence and flooding caused by natural gas extraction is being glossed over,” said Wren. “On the one hand, global warming is causing arctic water levels to rise; on the other, there is the risk of lower land levels inside the sanctuary. The result could be disastrous.”

The proponents also do not account for the full effects of human disturbance on bird populations, in particular noise from construction and ongoing operations.

“Noise from trucks, airplanes, and barges, or from the compression stations and other buildings will scare or confuse wildlife,” said Wren. “High noise levels mask the acoustic signals birds use to communicate, making it next to impossible for animals to defend territory, find mates, make or respond to distress calls. This can have a clear effect on population levels.”

“It’s more than mere annoyance; if birds can’t communicate or are too scared to breed, it becomes a matter of life and death.”

As well, vegetation clearing, particularly during construction, will result in direct habitat loss for wildlife. This loss will be long-term, as arctic ecosystems are especially slow to recover from such disturbance.

“The proponents say the impacts won’t be permanent, that nature can reclaim the land once the life of the project is over thirty years or more from now,” said Wren. “Well, it’ll be far too late by then for the snow goose, or the caribou, or the bear to regain their home, particularly if it’s flooded. We’re talking about several generations for these birds, for example.”

Nature Canada is one of several conservation organizations participating in the hearings of the National Energy Board and the Joint Review Panel.

“We want to make sure the Joint Review Panel is aware of the impact such massive industrialization will have on the region’s bird populations,” said Julie Gelfand, President of Nature Canada. “Once we tame Canada’s last great wild river, there will be no turning back.”

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For more information contact:

Sarah Wren
Conservation Biologist
Nature Canada
613-562-3447 ext. 300

Chris Sutton
Communications Manager
Nature Canada
613-562-3447 ext. 248

About Nature Canada

Nature Canada is a member-based non-profit nature conservation organization dedicated to protecting nature, its diversity, and the processes that sustain it. With strategies based on sound science and passion for nature, Nature Canada effects change on issues of national significance, including bird conservation, wilderness protection, species at risk and national parks.