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Congratulations on Oil Tanker Ban on B.C.’s Northern Coast
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Congratulations on Oil Tanker Ban on B.C.’s Northern Coast

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and Legal Counsel[/caption] Congratulations to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who last week directed Marc Garneau, his Minister of Transport to implement a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic through B.C.’s northern coast. Crude oil tankers will be prevented from transiting the waters between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and Alaska. The moratorium means that Enbridge will be prohibited from taking massive oil tankers into and out of Kitimat. And this means that the Northern Gateway pipeline, which has intended to bring oil from Alberta’s oil sands to the Pacific Ocean, will not be built. Represented by the Environmental Law Centre (ELC) at University of Victoria, Nature Canada and BC Nature played a major role at the project hearings, introducing expert evidence on the project’s potential impacts on threatened woodland caribou and on terrestrial and marine birds. Our lawyers cross-examined Northern Gateway experts at four witness panels for a total of 25 hours. The big issue will be whether the government proposes to implement the ban through legislation or other means.  To be effective, a legislated moratorium would seem to be the best way to proceed. Email Signup

What are the odds of another disaster like the Mount Polley’s tailings pond breach?
Map of British Columbia with site of tailings pond disaster indicated
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What are the odds of another disaster like the Mount Polley’s tailings pond breach?

[pullquote align="right"]"A breach of the tailings pond on Mount Polley Mine sent five million cubic metres (5,000,000,000 litres) of toxic waste into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake, with fears it could spread far and wide in the coming days." -Global News[/pullquote] Nature Canada has posted on social media about the disastrous events at Mount Polley Mine near Likely, BC yesterday. As the scope of the disaster spreads, it's worth asking: What are the risks that one of the hundreds of dams holding back highly toxic oil sands tailings will breach similar to Mount Polley, possibly eliminating aquatic nature in the Athabasca River from Fort MacMurray to Fort Chipewyan? Actually we don't know because the Alberta Energy Regulator and recent review panels for the Jackpine Expansion, Joslyn North and Kearl oil sands mines didn't bother to examine the risks seriously. Globally, the annual risk of a major tailings dam failure is roughly one in 700. But oil sands regulators have concluded based on information not available to the public that the such risks of a breach are remote, and therefore that the potential environmental damage caused by a breach did not need to be assessed. Mount Polley is a catastrophe. A similar breach of an oil sands tailings dam would be an unimaginable catastrophe for the Athabasca River. Stay tuned for more information from Nature Canada.


This blog post is by Nature Canada's Interim Executive Director, Stephen Hazel. Mr. Hazel is an environmental lawyer who has spent his career fighting on behalf of nature. He is the former Executive Director of the Sierra Club and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). He has held senior management positions in four national environmental organizations, a federal government agency, a leading Ottawa-based consulting firm, and as the founder of Ecovision Law.

Stop Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline
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Stop Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline

Image on an Otter
You can't protect something once it’s gone.Imagine it: Pollution from tanker traffic. Devastating oil spills. Destruction of pristine habitat for sea otters, killer whales, seabirds, caribou and even iconic spirit bears.That’s what’s awaiting British Columbia’s northern coast and hundreds of species of birds, animals and other wildlife that thrive in this region if we don’t take action right now. The controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline project proposes to carry tar sands oil from Alberta across the Rockies to the northern B.C. port of Kitimat. Giant tankers -- some nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall -- loaded with crude oil headed for Asia would navigate through the pristine and rugged northern B.C. coast at the unbelievable rate of about one every second day. If given a go-ahead, the pipeline project would: •    Fragment the boreal forest, home to birds and other wildlife, including Woodland Caribou and Grizzly Bears. •    Expose the Great Bear Rainforest, home to wolves and the iconic Spirit Bear, and 30 internationally recognized Important Bird Areas teeming with marine birds, fish and other animals to potential oil spills and pollution from increased tanker traffic. •    Risk irreversible harm to the livelihoods of many coastal and aboriginal communities. Image of a map of oil spill damageNature Canada and BC Nature have officially registered to participate as interveners in the environmental assessment of the Northern Gateway Pipeline project. As interveners, we are providing expert testimony about the impact that the pipeline and increased tanker traffic will have on marine birds, Important Bird Areas, and other wildlife like the woodland caribou. But we need you too. Raise your voice! Send your letter and be part of our efforts to protect B.C.’s fragile coast from tanker traffic and oil spills. We’ll take your message directly to the panel when we take part in the public hearings. It's simple: when you move oil, you spill oil. It's not a question of if a spill will occur -- it's a question of when. Our country’s wildlife is depending on us to speak up on their behalf and put a stop to the Northern Gateway Pipeline project before it’s too late. Add your voice and send your letter today!

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project Threatens B.C.’s Fragile Ecosystems and Coastal Communities
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Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project Threatens B.C.’s Fragile Ecosystems and Coastal Communities

northern gateway tanker traffic_450W
More than two decades ago, the Exxon Valdez ran aground, spilling 40 million litres of crude oil into Prince William Sound and causing irreversible damage. Now, Enbridge Inc. wants to bring the same risk to B.C.'s pristine coastal waters and rainforest with its Northern Gateway Project. Today, Enbridge Inc. is awaiting approval of a proposed pipeline that would carry oil from the tar sands to a port at Kitimat, British Columbia. After travelling nearly 1,170km through pristine wilderness and First Nations homelands, tar sands oil would be loaded on tankers bound for Pacific markets. To get there, they must first navigate the perilous northern B.C. coast, travelling the same waters where the Queen of the North ferry sank in 2006. An oil spill in this area would: •    Cause irreversible harm to the livelihoods of many coastal and aboriginal communities •    Fragment the Great Bear rainforest and the boreal forest, home to birds and other wildlife, including Caribou and Grizzly Bears •    Expose 28 Important Bird Areas teeming with marine birds, fish and other animals to oil pollution from increased tanker traffic and an impossible-to-rule-out oil spill. Nature Canada, and many stakeholders from First Nations to Members of Parliament, oppose the project on the grounds that it poses unacceptable risks to the ecosystems and coastal communities of British Columbia’s northern coast. In collaboration with BC Nature, we are preparing for the upcoming hearings on the Northern Gateway Project that will determine whether the pipeline is built. Our primary interest is the potential impacts of the project on wildlife (including birds) and their habitats. As joint interveners in the Joint Review Panel process we will be focusing on potential impacts on terrestrial wildlife and habitat along the pipeline route, with special attention to Woodland Caribou, and on terrestrial and marine birds and their habitat along the pipeline route and in the coastal waters through which the oil would be shipped (including Important Bird Areas). We have hired three experts with in-depth knowledge and experience on these different aspects who are helping us review Enbridge’s application in order to verify whether it has accurately assessed the potential impacts of its proposed project. Our experts have so far identified many areas where the application is inconsistent, vague or has errors and omissions. This past August, we submitted our questions to Enbridge as part of the information request step of the process. Enbridge will respond to these requests by October 6, and following a second round of information requests, we will file our written submission with the Joint Review Panel by December 23. In that submission, we will provide our own evidence regarding the project’s potential impact on Woodland Caribou, birds and Important Bird Areas, ensuring the Panel has the information it needs to understand the potential impact of the project on the ecosystems it proposes to alter so significantly. Further down the line, our evidence will be reviewed by the Panel and our experts may need to defend our evidence when we reach final hearings in the summer of 2012. We will keep you up to date on our progress – so stay tuned! In the mean time, you can participate in the hearings by sending a letter to the Joint Review Panel by March 13, 2012, or making an oral statement at the community hearings (registration ends October 6). Want to learn more about the Northern Gateway Project? Visit our website!

Court victory for caribou in Alberta!
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Court victory for caribou in Alberta!

Boreal Woodland Caribou are listed as Threatened under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). A recovery strategy, including the identification of critical habitat, was due in 2004. The herds in Alberta are particularly endangered as their habitat continues to disappear and degrade due to tar sands development. Fortunately, a court last week ordered the Minister of Environment to protect Woodland Caribou. The court concluded the minister's decision to deny emergency protection under the SARA had no basis and set a Sept 1st, 2011 deadline for Minister Kent to release a draft recovery strategy for the species.

This court decision was the result of lawsuits brought by Ecojustice on behalf of the Alberta Wilderness Association and the Pembina Institute, and by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation and the Enoch Cree Nation. Read more about the case here .
This is one more in a series of court decisions ordering the government to implement the Species at Risk Act. Let's hope no more court cases are needed; we need urgent action to protect caribou and other species at risk.

Review of Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Begins
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Review of Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Begins

Photo: Tom Middleton
On July 12, 2011, Nature Canada and BC Nature officially registered to participate as interveners in the environmental assessment review of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project. As interveners, Nature Canada and BC Nature will provide information on the impacts that the project could have on birds, bird habitat and terrestrial wildlife to a panel that will ultimately decide whether the project is in the public interest. As we've said here before, this tar sands shipping project poses unacceptable risks to the ecosystems and biodiversity of the Northern B.C. Coast. There are 28 Important Bird Areas in the Northern B.C. coast and the whole Queen Charlotte Straight is an extremely globally important area for marine birds, other marine animals and fish. This rich ecosystem would be exposed to oil pollution from increased tanker traffic and an impossible-to-rule-out oil spill. The pipeline will also fragment the pristine habitat of boreal birds and other wildlife, including Caribou and Grizzly Bears. Over the next year or so (assuming no delays) a Joint Review Panel (JRP) will examine the application submitted by Enbridge, as well as evidence and comments from First Nations, individuals, environmental organizations, and other interested persons regarding the project and its environmental impacts. There JRP will hold hearings starting in January 2012 to decide whether the project is in the public interest. The deadline to register as an intervener today, Thursday, July 14, but there are other ways you can  participate and comment. We hope that the Panel will not allow the project to proceed after considering the impact on wildlife and many other objections to the project, particularly from First Nations. But we're at least a year away from that decision with much work ahead. We will keep you posted!

House Passes Motion to Ban Tankers in the northern BC coast
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House Passes Motion to Ban Tankers in the northern BC coast

On Tuesday, the House of Commons passed a motion to ban tanker traffic off the B.C. coast. The motion was introduced by Nathan Cullen of the NDP and was supported by the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois. It calls on the Harper government to come up with legislation banning oil-tanker traffic in B.C.'s north coast - namely, Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound. A ban would clarify the questions around the exiting moratorium on tanker traffic, which the government claims is voluntary. And more importantly, a ban on tanker traffic would protect the ecosystems and coastal communities of northern BC from a potential oil spill.
Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline Project proposes to build pipelines from Alberta to B.C.'s Kitimat port to ship oil from the tar sands to markets in Asia. This would 1) contribute to the projected increase in tanker traffic on the B.C. coast (about 225 per year to begin with), 2) increase the likelihood of another Exxon Valdez disaster, and 3) give the Canadiantar sands (the largest carbon emitting industry in Canada) more reason to exist.
A ban on tanker traffic would stop this dangerous and unsustainable proposal.
On the same day the motion passed, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Scott Vaughan, unveiled his alarming conclusions on Canada's readiness to respond to offshore oil spills, including that:- The government lacks the readiness needed to respond to a major oil spill; - Both Transport Canada (the regulatory agency responsible for preparing spill responses) and the Canadian Coast Guard (the federal body that would manage the spill on-site) have incomplete or outdated knowledge on the risks of spills;- The Canadian Coast Guard hasn't evaluated its capacity to respond to spills since 2000, and doesn't have a system in place to track spills!Have you ever wondered how many oil spills take place in Canadian waters? Well, apparently between 2007-2009 there were 4, 160. Vessels, such as oil tanker and fishing boats, were involved in 2, 000 of them.
Now that the motion has passed, what happens next?
What should happen, is that a bill is introduced and new legislation is put in place to ban oil-tanker traffic. But there isn't much reason to hope the government will act on a motion they didn't support, even if it is the will of Parliament. After all, they continue to ignore a motion they did support.
What am I talking about?
In May this year, following the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the House unanimously passed NDP MP Linda Duncan's motion to take hard look at Canada's preparedness and fix any weaknesses. The motion read:
"That this House notes the horror with which Canadians observe the ecological disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico and their call for action to prevent such an event in Canada, and therefore calls on the government immediately to conduct a thorough review and revision of all relevant federal laws, regulations and policies regarding the development of unconventional sources of oil and gas, including oil sands, deepwater oil and gas recovery, and shale gas, through a transparent process and the broadest possible consultation with all interested stakeholders to ensure Canada has the strongest environmental and safety rules in the world, and to report to the House for appropriate action". In the long-term interests of coastal wildlife and the communities that exist along Canada's west coast, the government should take the opportunity to implement BOTH motions and move us closer to preventing a major oil spill in Canada.

What’s at stake if Enbridge Builds its Northern Gateway Pipeline Project?
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What’s at stake if Enbridge Builds its Northern Gateway Pipeline Project?

We've reported here on several occasions about our concerns regarding Enbridge's plans to build a pipeline to transport tar sands oil to tankers in the Port of Kitimat, BC.
It is hard to imagine what is at stake if this project is built and oil tankers are allowed to flood the Northern BC coast to the Great Bear Rainforest.
 
Now there's a short documentary that captures it all...
Watch it here, and please spread the word!
Photos by Tom Middleton

Contaminants in the Athabasca River
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Contaminants in the Athabasca River

A study, carried out by Dr. David Schindler and several of his colleagues from the University of Alberta, found high levels of mercury, lead and arsenic in the Athabasca River. Their findings challenge data found in government reports and are an indication that the tar sands industry has had a significant impact on the Athabasca River. Local fishermen have realized that migratory species such as ducks no longer land where they used to and have even found fish that were deformed or had lumps on them. The report will become available in the scientific journal 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Science'. The team has recommended that monitoring must be improved in order to properly assess and control the industry’s impact on the environment. In a press conference on Monday the Edmonton Journal reported Dr. Schindler saying:

"There's no way industry can be belching out hundreds of kilograms of toxins every year and this not be detectable in the environment unless the monitoring program is totally incompetent." ... All of this is in clear violation of the Fisheries Act. The Fisheries Act is not based on amounts released or concentrations in the river; it just says flatly that there will be no deposition of any deleterious substance to a river or near enough to a river to get into it. Period. ... You have to ask where is Environment Canada on all of this? ... You have to wonder why do we have money for propaganda and not for proper science? Government has been putting money into their propaganda campaign to tell people everything is OK. I just think that's not the way democracy should work. If people can see what's really going on and they still choose to develop in the oilsands that's democracy. But making people think that everything's OK when it really isn't and therefore getting them to agree to this is not the way the government of this country or this province was set up to work.
Both the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP) and Alberta Environment are challenging Dr. Schindler's results. Alberta Environment would like to look at supplementary data before making comparisons and Fred Kuzmic from RAMP has said that such high levels are 'associated with naturally occurring compounds'. According to Dr. Schindler, RAMP, an industry led group overseeing the river's water quality, should be replaced with Environment Canada.  

Enbridge Insists on Pipeline Project to the BC Coast
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Enbridge Insists on Pipeline Project to the BC Coast

On April 20,the world awoke to news concerning BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Most of us, myself included, weren’t even aware that there was a oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, let alone that something had gone terribly wrong. Today, most of us have clued in on the rig and its resulting oil spill and are reminded of another tragedy, the Exxon Valdez, once considered the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters...until BP’s Deepwater Horizon. Five weeks following BP’s Deepwater Horizon, Enbridge filedaformal application to the National Energy Board (NEB) requesting permission to build a twin pipeline system running from Edmonton to Kitimat, British Colombia and a marine terminal in the latter one. John Carruthers, President of Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, wrote in a recent brochure advocating the pipeline project: “I certainly appreciate the importance that local residents place on the environment and I want to encourage all affected stakeholders and Aboriginal people to continue to provide feedback on our project.” He added “feel free to email me at john@northerngateway.ca with any questions you may have.”So feel free, many already have.   On March 23, more than 28 First Nations in British Columbia called for a halt to the project. The pipelines cross traditional lands and the increased tanker traffic (200-220 tankers a year) puts the future of the coastal waters on which they depend in potential jeopardy. Mr. Carruthers must have missed their emails as two months after the First Nations called for a halt to the project Enbridge formally filed, on May 27th, for construction of the pipelines.   Four days after the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines application, a solidarity rally was held in Kitamaat Village to protest the project. Even Amnesty International has 'piped' in, noting the project should not proceed without the free prior informed consent of the First Nations that would be affected by it. This standard was adopted in the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by 144 states. Four states voted against the declaration: Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and you guessed it...Canada.   To further spice up the mix, a rather unusual ally in the fight against the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines has emerged. Kinder Morgan Canada, owner of an existing oil pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast, stated in a news release that the Northern Gateway Project had not demonstrated adequate commercial support. Kinder Morgan believes that the better way is simply to increase the output of their own pipeline, rather than build another one. Kinder Morgan motives albeit not environmental, only add to the debate.   We at Nature Canada are opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project because of the risk of an oil spill in the coast and the damage it would cause to the ecosystem and to livelihoods. We believe Greenpeace said it best, “Accidents happen. If oil tankers are brought to the Great Bear Rainforest, it’s not a question of if a spill will occur; it is a question of when, where, and how large. . . When you move oil, you spill oil. No amount of technology or process can eliminate human or mechanical error.”Just look at the Gulf!   This blog post was contributed by Nature Canada volunteer Stefan Kohut. Thanks for the insight, Stefan!   Photo by Pat Moss

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