New pipe­line re­view not go­ing far enough out to sea, say crit­ics

Times Colonist - - Business - MIA RAB­SON

The back-to-the-draw­ing board en­vi­ron­men­tal re­view of the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion project will as­sess the im­pact of in­creased oil tanker traf­fic out to about 12 nau­ti­cal miles from the B.C. coast­line.

The Na­tional En­ergy Board re­leased the de­ci­sion Fri­day as it laid out the sched­ule for re­con­sid­er­ing its ap­proval of the project by the Feb. 22 fed­eral gov­ern­ment dead­line.

Dr. Robert Steed­man, chief en­vi­ron­ment of­fi­cer of the NEB, said the de­ci­sion to limit the area of the as­sess­ment to 12 nau­ti­cal miles, known as the ter­ri­to­rial sea limit, was based on the com­ments re­ceived from in­ter­ested par­ties. The pre­cise rea­sons for the de­ci­sion won’t be made pub­lic by the board un­til next week.

How­ever, one of the en­vi­ron­ment groups that sued Ot­tawa over its orig­i­nal en­vi­ron­men­tal re­view of the project, says the dis­tance does not cut it.

“From the get go it looks like a po­lit­i­cal ex­er­cise, not an en­vi­ron­men­tal one,” said Misty MacDuf­fee, a con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­o­gist at the Rain­coast Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion in Bri­tish Columbia.

Rain­coast was one of the groups be­hind the suc­cess­ful law­suit chal­leng­ing fed­eral ap­proval of the ex­panded pipe­line. It ar­gued, and the court agreed, that cab­i­net and the Na­tional En­ergy Board erred in not con­sid­er­ing the neg­a­tive im­pacts of ad­di­tional oil tankers on marine life, par­tic­u­larly on the highly en­dan­gered south­ern res­i­dent killer whales.

The court also found that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment had failed in its duty to con­sult with af­fected In­dige­nous groups.

The NEB had looked at some of those things in its 2015 re­view and even said it ex­pected the in­creased tanker traf­fic would have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the or­cas. How­ever, it also de­cided that marine ship­ping was out­side its purview, so it didn’t take that into ac­count in de­cid­ing to give the project the green light.

Af­ter the Fed­eral Court of Ap­peal struck down the ap­proval in late Au­gust, Nat­u­ral Re­sources Min­is­ter Amar­jeet Sohi or­dered the NEB to go back and do a new re­view of the marine tankers.

Rain­coast had wanted the new re­view to cover the area known as the ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone, which ex­tends 200 nau­ti­cal miles from shore. MacDuf­fee said the 12-mile dis­tance could leave out a num­ber of en­dan­gered or at-risk whales, such as blue whales, finn whales and sei whales.

MacDuf­fee said the NEB’s de­ci­sion is very dis­ap­point­ing and might sim­ply be set­ting the project on an­other col­li­sion course with the courts for fail­ing to do a broad enough as­sess­ment.

Steed­man said or­ga­ni­za­tions can still sub­mit com­ments to the board about the im­pact on other whales if they wish.

It’s es­ti­mated the project to triple the ca­pac­ity of the ex­ist­ing pipe­line would re­sult in an ad­di­tional 30 oil tankers travers­ing Bur­rard In­let each month.

The re­view will look at the en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects those ex­tra ships will have on species at risk, the po­ten­tial for oil spills and any mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures that are fea­si­ble to pre­vent neg­a­tive im­pacts from in­creased tanker traf­fic.

The board is im­pos­ing fil­ing dead­lines for in­ter­ven­ers this month, and will hear oral ev­i­dence by In­dige­nous groups in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber and oral sum­mary ar­gu­ments in Jan­uary.

The Burn­aby oil re­fin­ery near the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ter­mi­nal. Cana­dian oil pro­duc­ers say low pipe­line ca­pac­ity is forc­ing them to dis­count crude by as much as two-thirds.

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