Running out of time to save British Columbia Salmon run’s

by loganmericer on November 25, 2016 - 10:39pm

The article “Pacific NorthWest LNG assessment underestimated risks to salmon, study claims”, focuses on a scientific study that challenges the approval of the Pacific Northwest liquefied natural gas (henceforth LNG) project. The LNG project consists of a proposed natural gas liquefaction and export facility on Lelu Island in British Columbia, and was approved in September 2016. This has caused considerable controversy, resulting in Indigenous and environmental groups suing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for failing to fulfill their duty to assess the potential harms of the LNG project during the environmental assessments on the salmon and their habitat. Environmental assessments (EA) are a process that determine and manage potential impacts of proposed human activities on the environment. EA’s are a procedural tool as they have an effect on how decisions are made in regards to a resource management decision. In Canada, the Canadian Environment Assessment Act (CEAA) is followed by the government to achieve sustainable developments that conserve environmental resources by including environmental factors into planning and decision making processes. The original CEAA (1992) was re-written in 2012 (Bill C-38), and was designed to streamline the approval process of projects, particularly benefiting projects in the oil and gas industry.

With shorter timelines for EA’s there is less time for public participation in the decision making process. There is also less public participation as there is now discretion as to who is considered to be an interested party, and this excludes distant environmental organizations. The government states that the EA’s included material from scientists and input from Indigenous groups, the public, and federal agencies. I am however skeptical as to how much consideration the government truly took when making their decision.

The export terminal for the LNG project is planned to be built near the Skeena River estuary. This estuary however has been deemed crucial for the success of juvenile salmon. Salmon spend days up to several weeks (depending on salmon type) in the estuary. This estuary is more than just a migration route for the salmon to head out to the sea, it is also a nursey. Alterations to this critical habitat imposes greater impacts on the salmon populations than what was assumed in the EA’s. This article fails to explore how recent changes to EA’s may be partly to blame for the underestimation the LNG project may have on juvenile salmon in the estuary. It was surprising that the article did not mention any other species that could be negatively impacted as a result of the LNG project. Salmon are a keystone species, meaning that an impact on their life is greater than what would be expect in relation to their biomass, and therefore negative impacts on their populations will have a larger effect on the rest of the ecosystem. I believe this is a key piece of information that the article failed to address. If this fact was more well-known there may be more reaction generated from the public and potentially more public backlash on the project moving forward may result.

The study in the article states important findings in regards to the importance of the estuary for salmon. However, the scientists fail to propose a new location for the export terminal. If a new location was proposed the government may realize the importance of the estuary for salmon and re-evaluate the logistics of the project and could consider the proposed location for the export terminal to either minimize or completely remove all negative impacts on salmon populations. 

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