Nature Canada

Mackenzie Gas Project Report- A huge "IF" for Sustainability

A Joint Review Panel, tasked by the government to report on the environmental, socio-economic and cultural effects of the Mackenzie Gas Project, released its findings December 30, 2009, over two years after the panel’s hearings ended in 2007.

The panel concluded that if all of its 176 recommendations were fully implemented, the project would likely be beneficial and have no significant adverse impacts.

Nature Canada has argued publicly that the National Energy Board should obtain firm, funded commitments from the federal and territorial governments to implement the recommendations of the Joint Review Panel of the Mackenzie Gas Project before approving it.

Ninety of the recommendations require action by the federal government, and fifty more require action by the Northwest Territories government. Nature Canada is skeptical that many will actually be funded and implemented without clear, enforceable direction from the National Energy Board. The costs to the federal government alone in implementing its recommendations could run to hundreds of millions of dollars.

It is regrettable that the Panel did not just state more clearly that the Mackenzie Gas Project is unsustainable unless governments and the proponents make a huge conservation effort. Now it is up to the National Energy Board to ensure that it gets solid commitments from governments that they will implement their Panel recommendations before the NEB approves construction.

Nature Canada is pleased that the Joint Review Panel used a test of sustainability to assess the environmental and other impacts of the Mackenzie Gas Project. Many of the specific recommendations in the report are also welcome.

The Panel put the six globally and one continentally significant Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the Mackenzie watershed on the map. Bird-lovers everywhere should be delighted by the fact that the Panel accepted Nature Canada’s recommendation that these IBA sites—which include key breeding and staging areas from Great Slave Lake to the Mackenzie Delta–should be protected under the Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy (NWTPAS).

Unfortunately, the Panel misunderstood the application of the NWTPAS to these Important Bird Areas and did not explicitly endorse Nature Canada’s recommendations that construction-related activity in and near IBAs be limited to the October 30 to May 1 period (when migratory birds are not present), and that the physical footprint of pipeline facilities in IBAs be minimized. Nature Canada will ask the National Energy Board to make our recommendations explicit conditions in any license it issues.

The Panel made other important recommendations that would protect birds and bird habitat if they are implemented by governments:

Protected Areas – The federal and NWT governments should complete the system of protected areas under the existing Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy. More specifically, the Panel first recommended that governments establish a firm timeline for implementing permanent protection for existing candidate protected areas in the Mackenzie Valley. The Panel also recommended land withdrawals of other areas at different stages of consideration for the protected areas network.

Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary – The federal Cabinet should bring forward regulations to protect the Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, where two of the three anchor fields to extract natural gas are to be located. Protection of the sanctuary was a Nature Canada priority during the Panel’s hearings. The Panel recommended that compensatory habitat be provided for lands within the sanctuary lost to subsidence (flooding) caused by extraction of natural gas. Nature Canada argued unsuccessfully that all sanctuary lands lost on account of Project activities be compensated for. However, the concept that habitat in bird sanctuaries lost or degraded by development should be compensated for with equivalent habitat outside these sanctuaries is an important step forward.

Mackenzie Delta – The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs should designate the Mackenzie Delta as a special management area—which should help to protect the Delta’s migratory bird populations when and if natural gas development induced by the Mackenzie Gas Project ramps up.

The Mackenzie Gas Project is expected to cost at least $16 billion, not including the costs of implementing the Panel’s recommendations. The Project includes three major natural gas production fields north of Inuvik and two underground natural gas pipelines (the longest is 1,220 km) to carry the gas south along the Mackenzie Valley to northern Alberta to fuel tar sands development and other uses.

At the Joint Review Panel’s hearings in 2007, Nature Canada argued that the full impact of the project on the lands, water and wildlife of this unique environment would leave an unacceptable footprint. If allowed to proceed, the project would:

  • Fragment habitat for bears, caribou and wolves
  • Harm fish and fish habitat by increasing sediment deposition into rivers and streams
  • Permanently damage important breeding or staging areas for millions of geese, tundra swans and other migratory birds
  • Cause forests to be clear cut and heavy machinery deployed to construct the infrastructure and the new underground pipelines
  • Impose development on First Nations lands before the Dehcho and Sahtu peoples complete their own land use plans and
  • Accelerate the effects of climate change in the Mackenzie Valley.

The National Energy Board has scheduled hearings in April 2010 to hear final arguments for and against the project before making decisions (possibly by September 2010) on whether to approve the Project, and if so under what conditions. However, the Deh Cho First Nation has filed a motion in January 2010 requesting that these hearings be delayed until the federal government files its response to the Panel’s recommendations.

Nature Canada will be providing comments on the Joint Review Panel’s Report to the National Energy Board in February.

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