Our Canada includes the Great Bear Sea
Just after the federal government announced its plans to impose shorter timelines on environmental reviews of major projects in last week’s budget, the finance minister caused an uproar with his comment that these proposed new time limits will apply to all projects including Enbridge Northern Gateway.
If the government proceeds with this retroactive change to the law, the Joint Review Panel now underway for the Enbridge Northern Gateway twin pipeline and tanker project will be cut short. Imposing retroactive time limits on an environmental review is unprecedented. And shutting down the process prematurely isn’t fair. The potential impact of this massive project on a unique ecosystem that is protected by a historic community based land management agreement are immense. Sending hundreds of oil supertankers —some as long as the Empire State building is tall — back and forth in some of Canada’s most dangerous seas and narrow ocean channels threatens the very health of the Great Bear Sea. This project deserves close scrutiny.
More than 4,300 Canadians want to speak at the pipeline hearings. And putting a tight time limit on the Joint Review Panel will silence opponents, including many from the First Nations communities that will feel the impact first hand. The panel was supposed to continue today in one such community, Bella Bella, but a one line message from the regulatory agencies cancelled the hearings.
It takes time to examine how a twin pipeline of more than 1,100 kilometres, a new tanker terminal and the introduction of hundreds of crude oil tankers to a pristine sea will affect the environment. There are thousands of documents already on record. Numerous experts have looked at the impact in some detail. Even so, some issues have been given short shrift. Here’s one example: ocean noise.
There’s mounting evidence that the effects of increasing and chronic underwater noise (such as that caused by large ships), affect the behavior of whales, dolphins and other marine life, disrupting their feeding and socialization and even undermining their health. Yet Enbridge concludes in its proposal before the Joint Review Panel that the cumulative effects of underwater noise from its proposed project are unlikely to be significant.
We need to account for all the development proposals slated to make use of Douglas Channel and the port of Kitimat. And when we do, it’s clear the amount of shipping is set to increase from fewer than 200 transits to over 1,100 (and of mostly larger, noisier ships) per year. There’s good reason to ask whether this is sustainable. Experts on ocean acoustics and noise – including those who work with WWF – should be able to properly evaluate and challenge Enbridge’s statement. The big question today is, Will there be time if the review closes its doors early?
Agencies like Environment Canada and Transport Canada have been rapped on the knuckles for not having thorough safety procedures in place, and not accounting forcumulative effects of their projects on the environment. There’s no doubt that when a project will transform one of Canada’s most spectacular marine and terrestrial ecosystems, it’s critical that we get the review right. It may take time – and it will take science.
Let’s not shut down this Review too soon. Our Canada includes salmon, whales, and dolphins. Our Canada includes the Great Bear Sea.