Environmental Degradation and Non-compliance by EnCana at Suffield NWA
The Suffield National Wildlife Area (NWA) NWA is a 458 km2 protected area located inside the 2,690 km2 Canadian Forces Base near Medicine Hat, Alberta. It is an internationally significant grassland encompassing fragile sand dunes and sand plains. The Suffield NWA provides secure habitat for more than 1,100 native prairie species, including 18 federal Species at Risk and 78 provincially listed “at risk” species.
EnCana is seeking a permit from the federal government to drill 1,275 shallow gas wells and construct over 220 km of pipelines inside Suffield NWA. The environmental assessment of EnCana’s proposal concluded with the Joint Review Panel’s recommendations released on January 28, 2009. The Suffield Coalition believes that there is a strong biological and legal case to deny approval of the project. EnCana’s past record is part of this case.
The prosecution against EnCana on charges of violating Canada’s Wildlife Act in March 2005 that the Crown recently stayed is but one event in a long story of environmental degradation and non-compliance by EnCana and other energy companies. EnCana was scheduled to be tried on March 19, 2010, almost five years after EnCana installed a section of pipeline in the CFB Suffield National Wildlife Area without a permit. However, internal government documents, many obtained by the Suffield Coalition through the Access to Information Act, show “significant shortcomings” in the energy industry’s environmental record.
The documents revealed that an audit of a so-called “minimal disturbance” shallow gas infill drilling program in Koomati, an area of the Suffield military base on the east side of the South Saskatchewan River, found significant impacts on native grassland, including: multiple access routes to wells, significant disturbance at lease sites, disregard for species at risk, improper waste management and lack of promised monitoring. The spring 2005 audit, which included work by a qualified biologist from the Base, concluded that Koomati has suffered significant environmental impact from the winter drilling of 104 shallow gas wells. The documents acknowledge that Koomati is experiencing environmental decline due to increased industrial activity.
A 2005 environmental incident report sent by the Base to industry operating in CFB Suffield spoke of “significant shortcomings” that “run counter to industry guidelines and standard practices” and had a strong rebuke of the industry for the shortcomings.
The documents also show that EnCana resisted the environmental assessment process for it proposed expansion within the NWA. EnCana did not want their project to go to a panel review and it pressured Ottawa to streamline the approval process so drilling could occur before the end of 2005 without completing a proper environmental review. The company then applied to drill three new wells in the NWA after their original proposal to drill 1,275 wells had already begun a federal EIA.
The documents also showed:
The Government of Canada, particularly Environment Canada and the Department of Defence, presented solid evidence at the JRP hearings and discussed some of these and other existing issues related to EnCana’s operations within the NWA. The JRP found the project at this time would "interfere with the conservation of wildlife" and so a permit under s.4 of the Wildlife Areas Regulations simply cannot be issued at this time for the project as proposed. Nor could it be determined that negative impacts are 'justified in the circumstances' under CEAA s.37 (1.1) for DND, with cabinet approval, to allow the project to go ahead.