Environment Minister Mary Polak and Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman have issued an environmental assessment certificate to NOVA Gas Transmission Ltd. for the Towerbirch Expansion Project, an 87-km-long interprovincial natural gas pipeline between British Columbia and Alberta. Approximately 69 kilometres would be in the Peace River Regional District in northeast British Columbia.
The ministers acknowledged that the National Energy Board has the primary responsibility for ensuring the project is developed, constructed and operated in a manner that is safe and secure, and protects people, property and the environment. The environmental assessment certificate's 17 conditions are in addition to and designed to supplement the 24 conditions recommended by the National Energy Board.
These additional conditions respond to concerns that have been raised by the public and Aboriginal groups during consultation undertaken for the project, and address key areas of provincial jurisdiction and interest such as vegetation and Aboriginal traditional use.
The provincial decision was made after considering the environmental assessment undertaken by the National Energy Board and its conditions, as well as the joint federal-provincial consultation and accommodation report for the Towerbirch Expansion Project, the Environmental Assessment Office's summary assessment report, submissions from Aboriginal groups, supplemental information submitted by NOVA Gas, and the recommendations of the Environmental Assessment Office's executive director.
A record of the factors that the ministers considered in making their decision can be found in the Reasons for Ministers' Decision at: https://projects.eao.gov.bc.ca/p/towerbirch-expansion/docs?folder=13
Key additional provincial conditions for the project would require NOVA Gas to:
• Prepare a vegetation management plan in consultation with Aboriginal groups, private landowners, and government agencies that provides details of vegetation management for the project, incorporates traditional-use information and traditional knowledge, and provides for additional considerations in ecologically sensitive areas;
• Participate in regional initiatives related to the monitoring, assessment, or management of cumulative effects at the request of government agencies; and
• Prepare a heritage values management plan, with input from Aboriginal groups and government agencies, to further minimize impacts to cultural, archeological, paleontological, and heritage values.
The federal government must consider the recommendations of the National Energy Board and make a decision on this project on or before April 6, 2017. Should they also approve the project, the Environmental Assessment Office will co-ordinate compliance management efforts with the National Energy Board and other government agencies to ensure the office is satisfied that certificate conditions are met throughout the life of the project.
Ministers were required to render a decision on the project in keeping with a January 2016 BC Supreme Court decision that found that although the Province could rely on the National Energy Board process and assessment report through its agreement with the National Energy Board, a decision under the British Columbia's Environmental Assessment Act is also required.