Buried deep in the LNG Canada environmental assessment application, a reader will find a key difference in attitude with at least one of the group of companies planning liquified natural gas development in the northwest and Enbridge Northern Gateway.
It’s an earthshaking difference, since it’s all about earthquakes.
The documents filed by LNG Canada with the BC Environmental Assessment Office and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency acknowledge that there is a possibility of an earthquake (a one in 2,475 year event) at the LNG terminal site.
Northwestern British Columbia was shaken by two major earthquakes in the months before the Joint Review Panel concluded its hearings in Terrace. Both were far from Kitimat, but felt across the District. On October 27, 2012, there was a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the Queen Charlotte Fault off Haida Gwaii. That quake triggered a tsunami warning, although the actual tsunami was generally limited to the coast of Haida Gwaii. Both landline and mobile phone service in Kitimat was briefly disrupted by both the quake and overloads on the system. Kitimat was also shaken by the 7.5 magnitude earthquake centered at Craig, Alaska a few weeks later on January 9, 2013.
With the exception of one vague reference in its final argument documents presented to the Joint Review Panel, Enbridge has stubbornly refused to consider any seismic risk to the region.
That was the company’s policy long before the October. 27, 2012 Haida Gwaii earthquake and was Enbridge policy after October 27, 2012.
In a public meeting in Kitimat on September 20, 2011, more than a year before the Haida Gwaii earthquake, John Carruthers, Northern Gateway president, insisted to skeptical questioners at a community forum at Mount Elizabeth Theatre that there was no earthquake danger to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and bitumen terminal in Kitimat. One of the questioners, Danny Nunes, of Kitimat, asked could the pipes withstand an earthquake? Carruthers repeated that Kitimat was not in an earthquake zone, that the fault was off Haida Gwaii and so would not affect Kitimat.
After the September, 2011 meeting, I asked Carruthers if Enbridge knew about the March 27,1964 “Good Friday” magnitude 9.2 Alaska earthquake that, because of its high magnitude, had caused major shaking in Kitimat. That earthquake destroyed much of Anchorage and triggered tsunamis that caused damage and death across Alaska and in parts of British Columbia, Oregon and California.
Carruthers promised to get back to me and never did.
On June 17, 2013, six months after the Craig, Alaska earthquake, in his opening summation before the Joint Review Panel, Richard Neufeld, lead lawyer for Northern Gateway, stayed on message track, telling the JRP, referring to pipelines: “The route is not seismically unstable. The seismic risk along the pipeline right-of-way is low, with only a few locations of moderate risk encountered, none of which are within the Haisla territory.”
That brought a gasp from spectators in the room, or at least those who had felt the October and January earthquakes.
The following day, June 18, Murray Minchin of Douglas Channel Watch found an anomaly in the Enbridge documentation, arguing in the group’s summation:
“The Proponent’s written final argument gets on shaky ground regarding design and construction of the storage tanks on a ridge beside Douglas Channel in paragraph 249 where they say:
“‘It also involves the safe construction and operation of the Kitimat terminal in Kitimat Arm in an area subject to seismic activity which encompasses both terrestrial and marine components.’
“Now, that’s interesting because isn’t that the first time — the first admission by the Proponent in a little over 10,000 pages of documents that the area they intend to build their project is in a seismically-active area?
“Haven’t they been telling us all along to this point that the only seismic concerns would be from the distant Queen Charlotte fault off of Haida Gwaii?
“Now, this completely contradicts Mr. Neufeld’s statement yesterday where he described the Project area as not “seismically unstable”. So what is it? This is their final argument and they’re contradicting themselves.”
Minchin went on to quote from the Enbridge argument: “’Seismic conditions in the project area have also been addressed.’
“Well, really? Is that a truthful statement, considering Natural Resources Canada has only submitted a preliminary report concerning a 50-kilometre fault line and massive submarine landslides they accidentally discovered last year in Douglas Channel while doing a modern survey of the Channel for navigation hazards.
“How can the Proponent claim to have adequately addressed seismic forces in their design of this Project when they don’t know what those forces are or for what duration they may be subjected to those forces.
“Has there ever been a paleoseismological study in the Project area to establish past earthquake or tsunami history?
“Wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the Proponent, the Panel and Canadians to know the risks before 1.3 billion litres of liquid petroleum products are allowed to be stored on a low ridge right beside Douglas Channel?”
In his final rebuttal on June 24, Neufeld did not address the contradictions that Minchin had pointed out.
Compare Enbridge’s attitude to the view of LNG Canada, which at very least, appears willing to consider that major events could have adverse consequences on the terminal and liquifaction facilities.
- The first one is a bit puzzling to Kitimat residents “A 1 in 100 year 24 hour rain event,” after all the town often gets rain for 24 hours straight or more fairly often.
- The second, 1 in 200 year flood of the Kitimat River. Flooding has always been a concern and will be even more so, because as the pipelines come into town, whether natural gas or bitumen, those pipelines will be close to the river bank.
- The 1 in 2,475 year seismic event. That figure is probably correct for a local event given the geology of the Kitimat Valley—unless, of course, the fault line discovered by the Geological Survey of Canada on Hawksbury Island proves to be a potential danger.
- A tsunami.
- Change in flow of the Kitimat River.
- Even more interesting is that LNG Canada is willing to consider possible effects of climate change on the project, saying: “Predicted climate change effects during the project lifecycle on sea-level rise, precipitation and temperature. Where relevant and possible, the implications of such climate induced changes to the extreme weather events given above will also be addressed.”
Although the hydrocarbon industry as a whole is reluctant to acknowledge climate change, it appears that on a practical level, the LNG Canada partners, if they are about to invest billions of dollars in a natural gas liquifaction plant and marine terminal, will certainly take steps to protect that specific investment from the effects of climate change.
On the other hand, the National Energy Board, as matter of policy and the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, both still stubbornly refuse to even consider any effects of climate change, even possible effects locally on a specific project application.
The Joint Review Panel decision on the Northern Gateway is expected sometime in the next three weeks. While most reports seem to indicate that the decision will be released after Christmas before the Dec. 30 deadline, there has been recent media speculation that the decision could be released next week.
In the meantime, Enbridge has pulled out all stops in a public relations campaign to build support for the Northern Gateway. While a recent poll indicates that advertising campaign may be having some success in the Lower Mainland, the same poll showed that 65 per cent of northern BC residents oppose or strongly oppose the Northern Gateway.
The problem for Enbridge is that the new public relations campaign is repeating the blunders that began when they first proposed Northern Gateway in 2005. There have been meetings across the northwest, but those meetings have been invitation only affairs at chambers of commerce and community advisory boards, with possible opponents or skeptics and media perceived as critical of Enbridge not invited. So Enbridge still wants to control the message and will only talk to friendly gatherings.
Then there are the television spots featuring Janet Holder, the Enbridge vice president in charge of Northern Gateway, supposedly showing her commitment to wilderness. Those commercials would have had more credibility if the agency had produced the ads with actual video of Holder walking through the bush, rather than shooting the spots in front of a green screen in a studio, with pristine wilderness stock video in the background, and Holder acting as if she was a model for an adventure clothing company rather than vice president of a pipeline company.
Right-wing business columnists in Toronto and the countless Albertans fume at the so-called “hypocrisy” of British Columbians who support LNG and oppose bitumen.
Of course, those critics didn’t feel the earth move under their feet. The critics don’t see the difference between natural gas and bitumen, differences very clear to the people of British Columbia.
It’s more than the fact, that so far, the LNG projects have been relatively open and willing to talk to potential adversaries, as Chevron has done on the controversial Clio Bay project; more than the fact that if even a fraction of the LNG projects go ahead, the money coming into northwestern BC means that the handful of permanent jobs promised by Enbridge will be literally a drop in a bucket of warm bitumen.
Although there are many other environmental issues on the Northern Gateway project, the fact the potential for earthquakes in Kitimat is brushed off by Enbridge while LNG Canada is at least willing to consider the problem, sums it all up.
Updated with link to Sept. 2011 questions and answers