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TransMountain approved, Northern Gateway rejected
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TransMountain approved, Northern Gateway rejected

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Prime Minister Trudeau is trying to have it both ways  in approving the TransMountain project even as his government rejected the Northern Gateway pipeline/tanker project in northern BC. Rejecting Northern Gateway and continuing the federal moratorium on oil tanker traffic along BC’s north coast is eminently sensible given that these coastal waters are ecologically priceless with abundant birds, whales, fish and marine mammals. They are also dangerous waters for ships: stormy seas in the Hecate Strait can reach 26 metres in height. A clean up of a major oil tanker spill in anything like these circumstances—even with the additional federal measures proposed a few weeks ago--is a fantasy. But the Salish Sea near Vancouver and Victoria is also ecologically priceless with abundant birds, whales, fish and marine mammals. Boundary Bay near the tanker shipping lanes is a critical Important Bird Area.  Increasing oil tanker traffic with TransMountain bitumen in the Salish Sea, with its powerful winter storms and narrow curving channels, will increase the risk of a catastrophic Exxon Valdez-size spill. How likely is it that governments and the shipowner could clean up a major spill before the oil does its deadly (for wildlife), polluting work? Skepticism is justified given the evidence of the small April 2015 oil spill in Vancouver harbour and the gigantic 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Both spills occurred in benign weather, on calm seas, and close to oil spill emergency responders.  Neither clean-up operation went well—to put it mildly. Canadians deserve serious answers to these questions.

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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.

BC Nature and Nature Canada Make Final Oral Argument Before Joint Review Panel
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BC Nature and Nature Canada Make Final Oral Argument Before Joint Review Panel

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="320"]Young Grizzly Bear Young Grizzly Bear by Tom Middleton[/caption] BC Nature and Nature Canada made their final oral argument last week on June 17 before the Joint Review Panel, which is considering the future of the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. These nature conservation groups are urging the Panel to conclude that the Northern Gateway application is incomplete, and therefore must be rejected. Under the National Energy Board Act, the Panel can only make a recommendation to the federal cabinet if it concludes that the pipeline application is complete. Even if the Panel recommends against the project, cabinet can reject the Panel's recommendation. However, if the Panel concludes that the application is incomplete, there is no recommendation to cabinet, and cabinet cannot approve the project. BC Nature and Nature Canada have been joint intervenors in the Northern Gateway review process for two years. During that time, they have led evidence on the project's potential impacts on the SARA listed woodland caribou and on terrestrial and marine birds, and have cross-examined Northern Gateway experts at four witness panels for a total of 25 hours. The nature conservation groups contend that Northern Gateway's environmental assessment is deficient and incomplete for a variety of reasons. These include its failure:

  • to properly assess impacts on SARA listed woodland caribou,
  • to provide a detailed baseline inventory of wildlife species impacted by the project,
  • to analyze consequences of oil spills on marine bird populations, and
  • to properly estimate the likelihood of an oil spill from tankers along the BC coast.
"The Exxon Valdez oil spill has shown us the catastrophic impact a spill can have on the marine bird species in the Pacific coast, some of which have yet to show signs of recovery after more than two decades," says Rosemary Fox, BC Nature's Conservation Chair. "Northern Gateway's claim that marine ecosystems recover within an average of five years after an oil spill shows that they have not learned anything from the Exxon Valdez experience." In its recent written final argument to the Panel, the Province of British Columbia recommends against approval of the project. This argument is based mainly on the inadequacy of information Northern Gateway has put forward regarding oil spill response, prevention, recovery, and mitigation. "We support the BC government's stance against this project. Northern Gateway's spill response plans are woefully inadequate," says Ian Davidson, Executive Director of Nature Canada. "However, Northern Gateway's application is also deficient in many other areas, such as baseline inventories of globally and continentally significant marine bird populations and Important Bird Areas impacted by this project," Davidson says. "In our opinion, the only reasonable conclusion that the Panel can draw is that the application is incomplete, and therefore must be rejected."

As Northern Gateway Review Enters Final Stages, We Receive a Timely Call
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As Northern Gateway Review Enters Final Stages, We Receive a Timely Call

Sometimes, when you're fighting a big oil company, and you're a small member-supported nature conservation group, it can feel a bit like a David and Goliath story. You can guess who David is, and which one is the scary giant. Our opposition to Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline project, which would carry oil through pristine wilderness and First Nations homelands to a port at Kitimat, British Columbia, has often felt like a case of the little guy up against Big Oil. It hasn't helped that our Government has spent so much time demonizing Canadian environmental charities who dare speak out against this project, while publicly cheer-leading the pipeline before a joint review panel has even done its work. That's why Nature Canada, and joint intervenor BC Nature, were so pleased to receive an email a few weeks ago from a man named Chris Tollefson. Chris is the executive director of the Environmental Law Centre, a non-profit society run in partnership with the University of Victoria Faculty of Law. The centre operates Canada’s first public interest environmental law clinic program -- which means they provide pro bono legal representation to conservation groups like us. Suddenly, little David had a friend. So BC Nature and Nature Canada have enlisted the help of the Environmental Law Centre to ensure the interests of birds and wildlife are well represented in the final stage of hearings this Fall. From the beginning we have argued the Northern Gateway Pipeline project poses unacceptable risks to B.C.’s wildlife, and that a spill would cause irreversible harm to the livelihoods of many coastal and aboriginal communities and the area's unique marine ecosystems. We need to continue to press our case, so the Environmental Law Centre’s offer to help comes at a critical time. The northern BC coast, islands and offshore waters comprise a globally important area for marine animals, including orcas, humpback whales, sea otters and Stellar’s sea lions, all federally listed as species-at-risk.   In addition, 30 Important Bird Areas would be at risk from oil spills, as would the salmon of the Skeena, the salmon and critically endangered sturgeon of the upper Fraser watershed, and, in eastern B.C., mountain caribou – a critically endangered ecotype of caribou.  This is to mention only some of BC’s better known iconic species – just the visible tip of the iceberg of ecosystems threatened by the Northern Gateway Project. According to Chris Tollefson, what happens this Fall will very much resemble a courtroom situation, where lawyers question opposing witnesses to try to get straight answers to hard questions about this project.  Getting ready for this stage of the hearings, especially for groups unfamiliar with the litigation process, will take considerable preparation. Final hearings into the proposed 1,177 kilometre pipeline begin September 4 in Edmonton. With the Centre's help, BC Nature and Nature Canada will be questioning Enbridge on the evidence the company has submitted on the impacts of the project on birds, bird habitat and endangered species. Enbridge will also have a chance to cross examine the witnesses we retained to analyze and raise questions about the proposal. (You can read their evidence here and here.) All of this will take place at hearings in Prince George and Prince Rupert, set to run from October 1 through to December 18, 2012.

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 Fails to Make its Case on Northern Gateway Pipeline
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Enbridge Fails to Make its Case on Northern Gateway Pipeline

As you surely have heard, hearings for the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project (NGP) begin today in northern BC. Enbridge is proposing to build a 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 and sent through treacherous waters to Pacific markets.
Nature Canada and BC Nature are jointly participating in the review of the NGP due to our deep concern about the project's potential impact on wildlife, including birds, and their habitats. With the limited funding we received from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency we have concentrated our review on the potential impacts of the project on marine and terrestrial birds and their habitat, including Important Bird Areas (IBAs), and terrestrial wildlife and habitat along the proposed pipeline route, with a focus on Woodland Caribou and birds at risk.
Over the many months of hearings starting today, the Joint Review Panel will hear oral evidence from other interveners and from thousands of interested persons -- apparently all 'radicals' or foreign-backed stooges -- who have registered to share their views about the project.
Our written submission was prepared by our three experts, specializing in marine bird ecology, demography and behaviour; marine and terrestrial bird species at risk; terrestrial and marine bird distribution, abundance and ecology, Important Bird Areas; wildlife habitat and management, and applied biology on the industry-wildlife interface.
Enbridge has failed to adequately assess the potential effects of the project on marine birds, birds listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), IBAs and Woodland Caribou. Without additional assessment, the Panel will not have an accurate understanding of the potential impacts of the project and of a project-related oil spill on marine birds.
In short, what's wrong with Enbridge's proposal?
  • Enbridge ignores important potential impacts of the project on marine birds, like artificial light induced mortality, collisions, chronic oiling and others.
  • Enbridge has failed to consider the effects of a potential oil spill on several Important Bird Areas that protect huge seabird colinies.
  • Enbridge has also failed to consider the potential impact of oil spills on open ocean wanderers such as albatrosses and shearwaters.
  • Along the pipeline route, Enbridge has failed to assess the potential effects of the proposed pipeline on freshwater wetland IBAs and on several bird species at risk.
  • As for caribou, it is clear that the project is a significant cumulative increment of risk for the Little Smokey, Narraway, Hart and Telkwa Caribou herds, whose habitat the proposed pipeline corridor bisects and which are listed under the Species at Risk Act as Threatened.
  • Enbridge acknowledges there will be impacts on caribou, but they incorrectly identified caribou mortality in winter as the determining factor for population viability, despite recent literature that clearly documents that summer mortality is prevalent. Based on this error, they then find that there will be insignificant impacts on caribou from the project.
  • Our written evidence shows, however, that the Northern Gateway Pipeline project will exacerbate the current decline in the Little Smokey, Narraway, Hart and Telkwa Caribou herds through cumulative effects and increased mortality. The pipeline will likely contribute to the extinction of two or more of these Woodland Caribou herds.
Stay tuned for more details on our findings in the coming months, including spotlights on some of the amazing birds and seabird colonies that are threatened by the Northern Gateway project. And if you want to participate, even if you didn’t register for the hearings, you can still share your views with the Panel by submitting a letter of comment before March 13, 2012.

Cairn Energy Oil Spill Response Plans Now Public
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Cairn Energy Oil Spill Response Plans Now Public

Responding to pressure from environmental groups around the world, Greenland has finally released Cairn Energy's oil spill response plans for public review. Last month, Nature Canada joined 53 other international organizations – including Greenpeace, the David Suzuki Foundation, and Council of Canadians – in sending a letter to Greenland’s Prime Minister, Kuupik Kleist, expressing serious concern over the lack of transparency regarding Cairn’s operations in this unique and fragile region. Bizarrely, the Greenland government argued it had been necessary to keep Cairn's contingency plans confidential until now because of the "unlawful actions aimed at the safety measures at oil exploration". Greenpeace has launched a number of protests at Arctic drilling operations over the past year. Cairn's drilling operations -- which so far haven't yielded commercial amounts of oil and gas -- are a real gamble for the pristine wilderness of the Arctic. Walrus, seal, bowhead whale and polar bear habitats could be disrupted and entire remote communities wiped out if a toxic spill eliminates their means of subsistence living. A spill in this region could be devastating to arctic seabird colonies feeding on the ice floes at Important Bird Areas along Nunavut’s northern coast, Baffin Island or as far south as Labrador. Ivory Gulls, Northern Fulmars, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Thick-billed Murres and many other seabird or water bird species would be at risk. Cairn's oil spill response plans are being made public even as Shell has admitted that more than 200 tonnes of oil have entered the North Sea after a leak in a flow line leading to the Gannet Alpha oil platform 180 km off Aberdeen, Scotland. In a wearily familiar refrain, the company had at first vastly underreported the scale of the leak, and as for plans to stop the flow? Apparently, the leak is in an "awkward" place, and there are hundreds of tonnes of additional oil in the pipeline, yet to pollute a world-famous colony of bottlenose dolphins in nearby waters. Canada should heed these events and think long and hard before allowing any new offshore drilling, especially in the Arctic, and enact a plan to end our reliance on dirty, polluting fossil fuels in favour of responsible development of clean, renewable energy. With each new spill, and each inadequate clean-up response, it becomes clearer that even with preventive measures in place, accidents are certain to occur, so it is important to identify places of great ecological significance and permanently protect them. Establishing a comprehensive system of marine and coastal protected areas is essential before development begins, so that irreplaceable natural habitats aren't lost forever to disastrous industrial accidents. Important Bird Areas and existing Migratory Bird Sanctuaries are good starting points to better protect habitats for birds that, in many cases, Canada shares with the rest of the hemisphere.

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!

Double-hulled Tankers Won’t Protect Northern BC Coast From Oil Spills
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Double-hulled Tankers Won’t Protect Northern BC Coast From Oil Spills

Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline Project proposes to take tar sands oil from Alberta to the northern BC port of Kitimat for export to Pacific markets. Enbridge believes petroleum products can be moved safely through the northern BC coast, in part thanks to "modern and double-hulled" tankers.

In a report released last week, Living Oceans Society takes a close look at the limitations of double-hulled tankers and concludes they're not the panacea they're touted to be.
The risk of an oil spill in the northern BC coast is one of the main objections to this project. A spill could cause irreversible harm to the livelihoods of many coastal and aboriginal communities, the area's unique marine ecosystems, the Great Bear Rainforest and 28 Important Bird Areas.
A Joint Review Panel has been established to review the environmental assessment of the project, but a date for the hearings is yet to be announced. Nature Canada plans to participate in the review, together with BC Nature. However, opposition to the project is building and a proposed legislated ban on tankers in the area could put an end to this threat. Watch spOIL for a glimpse of the wilderness at risk.

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.

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