Environmental groups slam Pacific NorthWest LNG report on fish habitat

The federal government has released its draft environmental assessment report on the proposed Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas terminal, but First Nations and conservation groups in Northern B.C. say their input wasn’t taken into account.

The 257-page report states the multi-billion dollar project on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert would have “significant” adverse environmental effects on harbour porpoises and in the production of greenhouse gases in Northeast B.C., but not on fish habitat.

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Sensitive salmon habitat near the project, which would export natural gas drilled in the North Peace, has been the major bone of contention.

“If your goal was to do the most possible damage to wild salmon, when it came to where you want to site this terminal, this was it,” said Shannon McPhail, executive director of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition.

“There is no place that would have more impact than where they sited this.”

McPhail’s organization, among others, was funded by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) to study the possible effects of salmon at Lelu Island.

But McPhail argues input from First Nations and conservation groups was “completely omitted, they weren’t even included in the recommendation letters that CEAA put out, and it’s a glaring omission.”

McPhail added, “Every single study about salmon that went in warned of significant adverse impacts to salmon, save one, and that was the study that (project proponent) Petronas did. That was the only study that said the impacts could be mitigated.”

 The project is located near Flora Bank, an eelgrass bed in the Skeena River estuary.

“The entire Skeena river salmon run, and our way of life, is under threat from Petronas LNG,” said Donnie Wesley, a Lax Kw’alaams hereditary chief who represents the Gitwilgyoots tribe.

“A process that says it’s OK to build a massive shipping port on top of our most sensitive wild salmon sanctuary is, unquestionably, a
broken process.”

The Gitwilgyoots tribe is one of nine “allied” tribes that has been occupying Lelu Island since August 2015.

They fear the LNG plant, and more specifically, a suspension bridge that would carry a pipeline to Lelu Island, would damage the sensitive eelgrass bed habitat they say is crucial for spawning salmon. Other First Nations in the area, however, are less critical of the project. 

Pacific NorthWest LNG says it will build the facility in an environmentally safe manner.

“Pacific NorthWest LNG would like to thank the Government of Canada, First Nations and community members for their constructive and rigorous approach with respect to the federal environment assessment,” Stacie Dley, spokesperson for Petronas upstream subsidiary Progress Energy, wrote in an email.

“We are currently reviewing the comprehensive draft report and conditions issued by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. PNW LNG is committed to building and operating a world-class LNG facility in an environmentally sustainable manner that First Nations and residents in the region can be proud of.”

The project would process natural gas from Progress Energy holdings in the North Peace. The government has opened public comment period on the report, available on the CEAA’s website. The agency will accept comments until March 11.

The provincial government approved an environmental certificate for the project in November 2014.

The CEAA noted the project would contribute to an 8.5 per cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the lion’s share during upstream production. Several producers hope to reduce those emissions by connecting to the BC Hydro grid.

 —with files from  Business in Vancouver


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