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Right Whales closer to the brink
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Right Whales closer to the brink

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Twelve highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whales have been killed in the past month in the Gulf of St Lawrence and U.S. eastern seaboard by ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement. Unfortunately, the global population of these whales is only 500. Nature Canada applauds the decision by the Government of Canada to slow ships to ten knots (19 km/hour) in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence where the whales have been frequenting this summer. Clearly this decision will not be enough to reverse the decline of this species. First, the decision applies only to a small part of the range of Right Whales, and not to other important habitat such as the Bay of Fundy. Second, other threats to Right Whales such as oil spills from tankers, oil and gas drilling, seismic blasts and ocean pollution such as toxics and plastics garbage remain unaddressed. Nature Canada has been an active intervener in the Northern Gateway, Trans Mountain, and Energy East primarily to ensure that the impacts of these proposed oil pipeline and tanker projects on marine birds and mammals are well-understood before decisions are made. Nature Canada has joined the conversation and you can too-visit the Government of Canada’s Let’s Talk Whales to learn more. https://www.letstalkwhales.ca/  

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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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A Serious Plan to Prevent and Clean up Marine Oil Spills  
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A Serious Plan to Prevent and Clean up Marine Oil Spills  

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] The $1.5 billion National Ocean Protection Plan announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday is a serious attempt to prevent and clean up marine oil spills along Canada’s Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic coasts. The Plan promises:

  • Increased marine safety information for mariners and improving hydrography, charting and e-navigation products;
  • Investments in oil spill cleanup research and methods;
  • Funding for research on impacts of increased shipping on marine ecosystems and protection of marine mammals (such as the endangered Northern Right Whale);
  • Investment in research to support oceanographic oil spill trajectory models;
  • Adequate industry-funded compensation for those affected by oil spills through changes to the Canadian Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund; and
  • Tougher requirements on industry to respond quickly to spills from ships.
However, Nature Canada questions whether the federal plan - or even a bigger plan that spends many more billions of dollars - could ever hope to clean up a major spill from a tanker carrying Kinder-Morgan bitumen through the Salish Sea let alone a tanker carrying Energy East bitumen through the Bay of Fundy with its 14 metre tides and powerful currents. We are not sure that more tugboats, booms and better spill-trajectory models would ever be adequate to clean up any major spill. That is why Nature Canada will be continuing our intervention in the National Energy Board’s Energy East hearings presenting independent scientific evidence and questioning TransCanada’s consultants. You learn more and support our efforts here.
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MP Duncan introduces private member’s bill to get the job done on oil-rail safety
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MP Duncan introduces private member’s bill to get the job done on oil-rail safety

[caption id="attachment_28942" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Adam Bond Adam Bond, Articling Student[/caption] On September 27, Linda Duncan, MP for Edmonton Strathcona, introduced Bill C-304, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods by Rail Act (TDGRA), into the House of Commons. This Bill aims to narrow the regulatory gap between the shipment of oil by pipeline and rail by creating additional requirements for railway operating certificates issued to shippers of dangerous goods. Nature Canada and Canadians generally have serious concerns about the legitimacy and fairness of National Energy Board reviews of proposed oil pipelines; even so, oil pipeline regulation is light years ahead of regulation of transportation of oil by rail. The use of rail to transport oil (mainly from the oil sands and western shales) has increased significantly in since 2009 with a decline in 2016. With suppressed production due to low oil prices and the Fort McMurray fire, pipeline capacity has been freed up and dependence on rail assuaged. With the cost of shipping a barrel of oil by pipeline at about half to one-third the cost of transporting by rail, shippers are inclined to choose pipelines over rail. TDGRA is not a sanctioning of oil pipelines or an argument in support of building new pipelines. After all, none of the proposed pipelines have offered any guarantees that transportation of oil by pipeliImage of wetlandsne will correspond to a reduction in transportation by rail. While pipelines may be the less-expensive means of moving oil, when the bitumen oil projects in Alberta begin to hit capacity again pipelines and railways may run oil across the country as “partners in crime”. Regardless of the relative risk of oil spills by pipeline or rail, the reality is that oil is transported in Canada today by both means, with significantly divergent standards of environmental review and oversight. TEDGRA is a legislative measure that could easily elevate the standard of review and oversight of the transportation of oil by rail to something resembling the standard of review and oversight applied to pipelines. Linda Duncan’s Bill is not about whether pipeline or rail is the safer method of oil transport; this Bill is about a country where rivers, wetlands, grasslands, cities, towns, and communities are exposed to the risk of a Lac-Mégantic-like derailment every day. The government has a responsibility to do what it can to protect its citizens from these risks, and so far it has done little. TDGRA is a simple and effective measure to get the job done.

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Retiring Old Rail Tanker Cars is Good But  . . .
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Retiring Old Rail Tanker Cars is Good But . . .

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Nature Canada congratulates Transport Minister Marc Garneau on the government’s decision on July 25th to retire the older DOT-111 rail tanker cars early. These cars were involved in the deadly Lac-Megantic tragedy, as well as the Lake Wabamun bunker oil spill and the Cheakamus River caustic soda spill. But the transport of oil and other dangerous goods by rail will still be too hazardous to protect public safety and nature even with the retirement of the DOT-111 cars on November 1; there are over 100 incidents involving dangerous goods every year in Canada. Nature Canada’s view is that rail transport of dangerous needs to be regulated by an independent regulatory body, not a government department that is too often subject to political and bureaucratic pressures. A first start would be to require federal environmental assessments for all new rail infrastructure projects for transporting oil and gas. (Yes, you are perhaps surprised that this is not the case already!)

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Oil Company Grouses Erroneously
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Oil Company Grouses Erroneously

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Ranchers and oil and gas companies are critical to the conservation of prairie grassland species at risk such as the Greater Sage Grouse, and Nature Canada is committed to supporting a sustainable economy in the region as well as nature conservation. “However, LGX Oil and Gas claimed yesterday that the emergency order to protect the endangered Greater Sage Grouse in southern Alberta caused it to go bankrupt. LGX has been on notice for three decades that drilling in Sage Grouse habitat is highly problematic” said Stephen Hazell, Director of Conservation at Nature  Canada. “The Sage Grouse was federally listed as threatened in 1997, and as endangered in 1998. Seismic operations near leks  (the mating areas for Sage Grouse) were banned by the Alberta government in the early 1980s. So we at Nature Canada find it difficult to accept that the Sage Grouse has suddenly made oil and gas operations uneconomic.” “Dialogue among stakeholders and governments is the way forward to conserve species at risk such as the Greater Sage Grouse , ensure resilient local communities, and build a sustainable economy.” Read for the full article here.

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Too many questions unanswered at National Energy Board Hearings on Trans Mountain Project
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Too many questions unanswered at National Energy Board Hearings on Trans Mountain Project

[caption id="attachment_16447" align="alignleft" width="150"]Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] The National Energy Board’s review of the Trans Mountain Pipeline/Tanker Project has left too many questions unanswered. The $5.5 billion project would drastically increase the flow of bitumen through pipelines from Edmonton to Burnaby and increase tanker traffic in Vancouver’s harbour and the Salish Sea nearly seven-fold. Without adequate evidence of possible environmental effects, the National Energy Board (NEB) simply can’t properly complete the environmental assessment that the National Energy Board Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 demand. On behalf of Nature Canada and BC Nature, the Environmental Law Centre (ELC) legal team challenged Trans Mountain’s evidence regarding the proposed project’s environmental effects in final oral submissions to the NEB in late January. Our lawyers pointed out several deficiencies in the evidence Trans Mountain submitted to the NEB such as: serious inadequacies in baseline data related to birds that could be impacted by an oil spill; limitations in the temporal and spatial extent of possible oil spills; and inadequate assessments of the cumulative effects of small but frequent discharges of oil over long time periods (“chronic oiling”). Image of an Oil TankerTrans Mountain has dismissed the importance of baseline environmental data and cumulative environmental effects in assessing pipeline/tanker projects. Its failures to seriously examine key environmental risks associated with the proposed project (such as a potentially catastrophic marine oil spill) deprived the NEB of the information it requires to complete a proper environmental assessment. Throughout the hearing process, NEB refused to allow Nature Canada/BC Nature the opportunity to cross-examine Trans Mountain on its evidence. In our final submissions, we pointed out that the NEB erred in denying cross examination and, as a result, they have not properly gathered the information they are required to in order to complete a lawful environmental assessment. The NEB has the authority to reopen the assessment process to cross examination. Given the government’s recent announcement that the interim principles for environmental assessments of pipelines will require evidence-based, scientific decision making, there appears to be no good reason for the NEB not to allow the evidence to be tested through cross examination. The Trans Mountain Pipeline/Tanker Projects poses risks to ecosystems from the Prairies to the Salish Sea. We need to know what those risks really are. For more information on the need for cross examination in the NEB hearings, visit here. For more information on the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project, visit here. For more information on Nature Canada submissions to the NEB, click here. Email Signup

New Pipeline Environmental Assessment Principles welcomed–with reservations  
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New Pipeline Environmental Assessment Principles welcomed–with reservations  

[caption id="attachment_16447" align="alignleft" width="150"]Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Nature Canada welcomes with reservations the interim principles for pipeline hearings announced by Nature Resources Minister Jim Carr and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna on January 27, 2016. These principles include undertaking deeper consultations with indigenous peoples, assessing upstream greenhouse gas emissions, engaging communities through a Ministerial representative, and extending the time frames for government decisions on the Trans Mountain and Energy East Pipeline/Tanker projects being reviewed by the National Energy Board. During the January 27, 2016 media conference, Ministers Carr and McKenna repeatedly emphasized the importance of evidence-based decision making in the pipeline review process. Unfortunately, the Ministers are not requiring the National Energy Board to reinstate the rights of intervenors such as Nature Canada to cross-examine witnesses during hearings. This right was denied to Nature Canada and BC Nature in the NEB’s Trans Mountain hearings. In Nature Canada’s view, cross-examination is a critical tool to test evidence in hearings to get at the truth of issues such as risks of oil tanker spills. Image of an oil tankerSection 36(5) of the NEB’s Rules of Practice and Procedure provide for the cross-examination of evidence filed by parties to a proceeding. The NEB has the power to dispense with its Rules when in the public interest; however the heavy weight of public concern and the significant environmental and socio-economic risks associated with the Trans Mountain and Energy East projects demand a high standard of procedural justice regarding the testing of evidence. Nature Canada calls on Ministers Carr and McKenna to ensure that cross examination remains a key feature of all future NEB hearings including Energy East. Ministers Carr and McKenna provided repeated assurances that no project currently under review would be required to “return to square one”. It is possible, however, to apply the principle of evidence-based, scientific decision-making to NEB hearings without returning to square one. Section 52(7) of the National Energy Board Act provides Minister Carr and the Governor in Council with the authority to extend the time limit for the NEB to submit its report. A small extension would be sufficient for interveners to test Trans Mountain’s evidence through cross examination and, in so doing, apply the principle of evidence-based decision making. Nature Canada is concerned in particular that risks and potential effects of a catastrophic spill from an oil tanker in the Salish Sea or Vancouver Harbour have not been properly assessed by the National Energy Board.  Hearings on pipeline/tanker projects must rigorously examine the risks and environmental effects of potential oil spills if the Government of Canada expects to regain the confidence of Canadians in the environmental assessment process. [callout title="To Learn More" button="Read the article here" link="http://www.desmog.ca/2016/01/28/trans-mountain-oil-pipeline-review-vexed-outset" buttoncolor="alternative-1" target="_blank or _self"]Read why our lawyer Chris Tollefson feels the lack of cross-examination has vexed the process.[/callout] Email Signup

Grabbing headlines: Nature Canada speaks up on Northern Gateway
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Grabbing headlines: Nature Canada speaks up on Northern Gateway

As one of only two organizations physically present during the hearings on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker project, Nature Canada was high on the media's list of organizations to contact for comment when the devastating decision by the federal government to approve the project came through on June 17, 2014. Paul Jorgenson, Nature Canada's Senior Communications Manager, was on hand to answer pressing questions from various media sources keen to hear what Nature Canada had to say about the disappointing decision to give Northern Gateway the greenlight despite piles of evidence forecasting a one in four chance of an oil spill within the pipeline's lifetime. [separator headline="h2" title="Nature Canada speaks to Global BC"] [video type="youtube" id="BpNL4GZ2yzg?list=UUR0YvwuHcoRZ3VH621rIJNg"]   [separator headline="h2" title="Nature Canada speaks to Radio Canada"] [video type="youtube" id="j_-A4988ZnM"]   [separator headline="h2" title="Nature Canada speaks to CHED 630"] [video type="youtube" id="mKMokfzzVjk"]

BC Nature to challenge Cabinet decision to approve Northern Gateway
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BC Nature to challenge Cabinet decision to approve Northern Gateway

BC Nature, Nature Canada's affiliate organization in British Columbia, has announced its intention to file a lawsuit challenging the federal Cabinet's decision to approve the Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker proposal. A key argument in BC Nature’s new lawsuit will be that the Joint Review Panel's report was so lacking in detail and analysis that it deprived Cabinet of the factual and legal basis for making an informed decision on the project. This is BC Nature's second lawsuit regarding the approval of the Northern Gateway proposal. In January 2014 it launched a legal challenge of the Joint Review Panel's decision to approve the pipeline and tanker proposal. Last month, BC Nature and Nature Canada expressed their profound disappointment at the federal government’s decision to conditionally approve Northern Gateway. The University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre represented BC Nature and Nature Canada at the hearings and brought several important procedural motions and secured the late admission into evidence of key material on threats to endangered caribou populations. Nature Canada and BC Nature were one of only two environmental coalitions that participated throughout the hearings. Nature Canada has chosen instead to focus our finite resources on being a voice for nature in the TransMountain pipeline proposal rather than join BC Nature in its Northern Gateway legal actions.

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