Nature Canada

Mackenzie Pipeline Project Receives Approval – With Conditions

The future of the mighty Mackenzie River – and the “basin-opening” pipeline megaproject that threatens to forever change it – has become clearer, with the release of a long-anticipated environmental assessment report.

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 Wednesday, 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. But the panel’s recommendations make clear that huge efforts would be required to mitigate the impacts of this project on wildlife and the environment.

Some of those recommendations include:

  • Establishing project targets for greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Creating wildlife protection plans in the region.
  • Ensuring government protection against development, at least on an interim basis, for lands identified for protected status.

The Project is estimated to cost at least CDN $16 billion before any of the Panel’s recommendations are implemented, and implementing the recommendations will surely increase the costs.

The project involves 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. Other pipelines would be built connecting other gas fields to the main pipelines. It’s a positive sign that the panel recognizes the need for a network of protected areas and measures to protect migratory birds and other wildlife and its habitat, but we at Nature Canada remain greatly concerned with the project because there is no guarantee that the conditions the panel recommends would actually be fully implemented if the project is approved.

For example, the panel has recommended stringent measures to protect birds and bird habitat in Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, including regulations and offset areas free of additional industrial development — which is good. But once the project’s proponents (led by Imperial Oil and including Conoco Phillips Canada, Exxon Mobil Canada and Shell Canada) break ground, we all know anything can happen.

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.
  • Accelerate the effects of climate change in the Mackenzie Valley.The report includes detailed recommendations on these issues. The National Energy Board expects to hear final arguments for and against the project in April 2010 before making its decision in September on whether to grant a permit.

News stories on the Panel’s report here and here.

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