The Northern Gateway Joint Review panel has allowed the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Natural Resources Canada to delay a report on historic tsunamis and a possible fault line on Douglas Channel until November 16, 2012.
The report was scheduled for release on October 31.
In a ruling released by the JRP on November 1, the panel noted:
In Ruling no. 105 dated 24 September 2012, the Panel stated that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) could provide “modelling of the potential wave heights and speeds that may have resulted from two previously unrecognized submarine slope failures in the Douglas Channel” (Modelling) and that it should do so by 31 October 2012. The letter from Justice Canada seeks an extension to 16 November 2012 as DFO “requires additional time to complete the peer review and approval processes related to this additional written evidence.”
The Panel believes the Modelling to be relevant, as noted in Ruling no. 105. The Panel is also ofthe view that there is unlikely to be any undue prejudice to any party by permitting its filing to be delayed to 16 November 2012.
Accordingly, the Federal Government Participants’ motion is granted and DFO is permitted to file the Modelling on or before 16 November 2012
The Department of Justice filed the request with the JRP on Monday Oct. 30, 2012, less than 48 hours after a major earthquake of magnitude 7.7 struck off Haida Gwaii just after 8 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, on Saturday Oct. 27, shaking much of northern BC. There have been numerous aftershocks since the main quake.
Updates with statement from Natural Resources Canada, new filings by Enbridge Northern Gateway and the Attorney General of Canada (in box below)
The Geological Survey of Canada has identified a tsunami hazard and a possible seismic fault in Douglas Channel near Kitimat. A scientific paper by the Geological Survey and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says there were once two giant landslides on Douglas Channel that triggered major tsunamis and that the landslides were possibly caused by an earthquake on the fault line.
Kitimat is the proposed site of the Enbridge Northern Gateway project and at least three liquified natural gas projects.
If the projects go ahead, hundreds of supertankers with either bitumen or LNG will be sailing in the channel for years to come.
A filing by the Attorney General of Canada with the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel is asking the JRP for leave to file late written evidence long after the original deadline of December 2011. The Attorney General’s motion was filed on August 17, but went unnoticed until the Kitimat environmental group Douglas Channel Watch brought the matter up with District of Kitimat Council tonight (Sept. 17).
Appended to the Attorney General’s motion is a copy of a scientific paper from the Geological Survey “Submarine slope failures and tsunami hazards in coast British Columbia: Douglas Channel and Kitimat Arm” by Kim W Conway, J.V. Barrie of the Geological Survey and Richard E. Thomson of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The report says the scientists discovered “evidence of large submarine slope failures in southern Douglas Channel.”
It goes on to say: “The failures comprise blocks of bedrock and related materials that appear to have been detached directly from the near shore off Hawkesbury Island.” Hawkesbury Island and many of the other islands in Douglas Channel are built up with material left over from the ice age glaciers and thus are vulnerable to displacement and landslides.
The research identified two slides, one estimated at 32 million cubic metres and a second of 31 million cubic metres. The report goes on to say that the discovery of an “apparently active fault presents the possibility that they may have been triggered by ground motion or surface rupture of the fault during past earthquake events.”
The slope failure landslides are covered with thick layers of mud, and that, the scientists say, could mean that the failures could be ancient, possibly occurring 5.000 to 10,000 years ago. Further research is needed to confirm the date of the giant slides.
What is worrying about the discovery is that fact that there were two recent submarine slope failures on the Kitimat Arm of Douglas Channel. both creating tsunamis. The first slope failure occurred on October 17, 1974, triggering a 2.4 metre tsunami at low tide. Then on April 27, 1975 there was a second slope failure near low tide on the northeast slope of the Kitimat Arm that generated an 8.2 metre tsunami. The 1975 tsunami destroyed the Northland Navigation dock near Kitimat and damaged the Haisla First Nation docks at Kitamaat Village.
The paper says that “Additional geological research is required to better delineate the age of the submarine failures, their triggers, and their mechanisms of emplacement.”
Urgent new research is underway and the filing by the Attorney General says when the Department of Justice requested leave to file late evidence says it anticipates that the further research by DFO is expected to be completed by November 1. The Natural Resources Canada Earth Sciences Sector began a national assessment of submarine slope failures in Canada in late 2011 and completion of the Pacific portion of this assessment is targeted for December of 2012.
The Attorney General’s filing says that DFO is now modelling “potential wave heights and speeds that may have resulted from the two previously unrecognized submarine slope failures in the Douglas Channel.” The model will use high resolution scans of the Douglas Channel seafloor to create the models.
The survey of Douglas Channel in 2010 suggests the possible existence of a fault immediately to the south of the second ancient slide on Hawkesbury Island.
The GSC paper says that evidence for a continuous fault was observed by aligned stream beds and fractures on the south end of Hawkesbury Island, about four kilometers from the site of the second ancient slide. The possible fault then appears to terminate far to the south near Aristazabal Island on the Inside Passage. The Geological Survey says that eleven small earthquakes, all less than magnitude three, have appeared with 20 kilometres of the suspected fault over the past 25 years.
The paper says that the scientists conclude that the slides appear to have left very steep slopes at or near the shoreline that could be susceptible to future failure events.
A large potential slope failure has been identified near one of the ancient slides….
in the absence of additional evidence, the fault must be considered a potential trigger for the submarine failure events….the triggers for the failures have not been defined; however, their proximity to a potentially active fault represents one potential source. The failures probably generated tsunamis during emplacement and conditions exist for similar failures and associated tsunamis to occur along this segment of Douglas Channel in the future.
The scientists say that detailed tsunami modelling is underway to
provide an improved understanding of the generation, propagation, attenuation, and likely coastal inundation of tsunami waves that would have been created by slides… or that could be generated from similar future events. Only through the development and application of this type of tsunami modelling will it be possible to gauge the level of hazard posed by the identified submarine slope failures to shore installations and infrastructure, or to devise ways to effectively mitigate the impacts of future such events.
The filing by the Attorney General offers to bring the scientists to the Joint Review Panel to appear as witnesses sometime during the final hearings.
The filing notes that the current evidence tendered to the JRP by Enbridge, and other parties does demonstrate the potential for marine geohazards and associated tsunami events. Enbridge’s design of the proposed Northern Gateway marine terminal and its operational plans took into consideration the current state of knowledge of geohazards including earthquakes and tsunamis at the time of filing. Enbridge has said it would undertake further geological survey during the detailed design phase for the terminal.
At the time Natural Resources Canada noted that the information provided for the Environmental Review was sufficient at that time, now the Attorney General says:
the geographic scope for potential landslide induced tsunami hazards is now better understood to extend beyond the Kitimat Arm. NRCan and DFO seek by this motion to ensure that this Panel, and the Parties before the Panel, have the most up to date information on geohazards in the Douglas Channel.
Updates: DFO report in October will clarify the tsunamis in Douglas Channel.
Statement from Natural Resources Canada
Natural Resources Canada sent this statement to Northwest Coast Energy News on September 20, 2012.
In reference to the opening paragraph of your September 18th editorial entitled Geological Survey of Canada identifies tsunami hazard: Possible fault line on Douglas Channel, we would like to clarify the following. Although the ancient large submarine slope failures which our scientists have identified may have caused tsunamis, this is not a certainty. It is important to note that Fisheries and Oceans Canada is currently studying this information to model potential wave heights and speeds.
As our report states, only through the development and application of this type of tsunami modelling will it be possible to gauge the level of hazard posed by the identified submarine slope failures to shore installations and infrastructure, or to devise ways to effectively mitigate the impacts of future such events.
Northern Gateway response filed on August 31, 2012
Enbridge Northern Gateway filed this response to the Attorney General’s motion on August 31.
This motion of the Federal Government Participants requests permission to file late evidence consisting of a report entitled “Submarine Slope Failures and
Tsunami Hazard in Coastal British Columbia: Douglas Channel and Kitimat Arm” regarding tsunami hazard and additional modelling work based on that report.
Northern Gateway does not object to the filing of this late intervenor evidence.
It may be relevant and Northern Gateway accepts that theevidence could not be filed earlier. However, Northern Gateway would like the opportunity to conductits own additional modelling work which it would be prepared to provide to DFO for comment prior to the filing of any modelling work by DFO in this proceeding.
Attorney General response to Enbridge on September 10, 2012.
The Attorney General of Canada responded to Enbridge by saying:
Attorney General responds DFo is prepared to await filing its subseqent modelling work in these proceedings until such time as it has received, reviewed and commented upon additional modelling work as proposed by NGP Inc.
DFO nots howeverand wishes to alert the JRP that the NGP INc proposed may occasion a delay in the filing of the DFO moedling work which is now proposed for filing on or about October 31, 2012. Delivery of DFO comments as requested will depend on when DFO received the NGP Inc modelling work, the time and resources required by DFO to study and provide comments on the NGP modelling work and unforeseen factors which may have an impact upon completion the commentary. As such,
DFO is prepared to file its modeling work on or about October 31, 2012, but subject to any further direction or request by the panel.
Enbridge Northern Gateway has filed thousands of pages of “reply evidence” to the Northern Gateway Joint Review panel, responding to questions from the panel, from government participants like DFO, and intervenors.
In the introduction to the summary of the evidence the JRP asks
Should the fact that Northern Gateway does not respond to all points in a particular intervenor’s evidence or to all intervenor evidence be taken as acceptance by
Northern Gateway of any of the positions of intervenors?
To which Enbridge replies:
No. Northern Gateway does not accept any of the intervenor positions that are contrary tothe Application or additional material filed by Northern Gateway. Some of those positions will be dealt with by Northern Gateway in cross examination and argument rather than reply evidence, and others will simply be left to the JRP to determine on the basis of the filed evidence alone.
Recovery of Biophysical and Human Environment from Oil Spills
Corrosion, Inspection and Maintenance of Oil Tankers
Design and Construction of Oil Tankers
In response to numerous questions about the Marshall, Michigan, oil spill, Enbridge repeats what it said in an e-mail to “community leaders” earlier this week and in this morning’s news release, saying: “Enbridge has made a number of improvements since the Marshall incident.”
As part of the filing Enbridge has also filed an update on its aboriginal engagement program.
There are also detailed and updated reports on the company’s plans for the Kitimat valley region.
The Northern Gateway Joint Review process has been “utterly destroyed” by the Conservative government, Skeena Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen told reporters Friday, April 20, adding a warning those who were waiting for the JRP to complete its hearings before making up their minds, “all those people like the premier and others who said there’s a good process in place, that excuse has been ripped away.”
Earlier that week, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced that the government that would introduce legislation to “streamline” the review process for major resource developments that would include such provisions as limiting the time and the number of participants and allowing the cabinet to overrule any decision or recommendation from the National Energy Board.
Cullen, who was just named Opposition House Leader, was holding his regular conference call with northwest BC reporters.
He called the changes proposed by the Conservative government for environmental assessment, ”brutal,” adding, “the already weakened rules have become fundamentally more weak.” He said it seems that the government is going to further weaken the role of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in checking environmental impacts.
The bill, which has yet to be tabled in the Commons, will download federal responsibility for the environment to the provinces, which Cullen said could be subject to a constitutional challenge.
On the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway project, which would see twin bitumen and condensate pipelines from Alberta to Kitimat, Cullen said, while the government’s Northern Gateway policy was not mentioned in the news conference or briefing documents, it was buried deep on the website and that indicated “it will not be up to the NEB anymore, they will retroactively apply these new rules it will now become a purely political decision. The prime minister, with all his wisdom, is going to make the final decision on the pipeline, totally undermining the process we are in now across the region.”
(The key bureaucratic phrase actually reads: “Establish clearer accountability for decisions on major pipeline projects in the national interest by giving government authority to make the “go/no go” decisions, based on the recommendations of the National Energy Board.” )
Cullen said he is already hearing that people in the northwest are frustrated and angry by the announcement. “They feel that they’ve been duped and the credibility of the panel has been destroyed by this government. And so all those people like the premier, who said the process was what they were waiting for, that process has now been utterly, utterly, destroyed.”
Cullen was inferring any decision to support or oppose the pipeline is now back in the courts of BC Premier Christy Clark and groups like District of Kitimat Council and Terrace Chamber of Commerce who have, up until now, remained neutral, waiting for the final report from the Joint Review Panel.
We want the objective panel of experts to assess the concerns of affected parties and contrast them with procedures and equipment being positioned to mitigate any and all perceived risks. It is important that all voices are heard and all questions are asked and answered.
“The process was always threatened, a lot of people suspected that Stephen Harper would not accept a ‘no’ when it comes to this pipeline and now that’s been made explicit. And all those people like the premier and others who said there’s a good process in place that excuse has been ripped away,” Cullen said.
Cullen said he believes that people should still participate in the hearings but the panel now has to justify its existence.
“At the same time.“ Cullen said, “the government has shut down the oil response group in Vancouver and moved it 5,000 kilometres to Quebec, they’ve cut funding on our ability to protect the coast, even after the auditor general has pointed out that the current ability to protect our waters is lacking, so it looks that they are going to do everything and anything to approve this pipeline and put at risk so much of what we care about. It’s a shame but I don’t think it will lessen the resolve of people.”
Cullen called Joe Oliver’s statement that there would be more money for enforcement of environmental regulations a “shell game.”
“They cut they cut $80 million and put back $13 million and tried to pretend that’s an increase.
There is less protection for our ocean environment. At the same time, they’re pushing two major pipelines to the west coast and increasing the risk dramatically. Shutting down the operations in Vancouver, while trying to put a pipeline right into Vancouver, smacks of some sort of hypocrisy or arrogance. I mean they’re claiming budget cuts, but the prime minister is spending more on is own office, and they’re not making a single dollar cut to the F-35, which are in the billions. It’s peanuts they’re pretending to save here and it’s putting very important things at risk in our oceans.”
He expects the bill changing the rules for resource development to be introduced next week. But, Cullen added, that it is clear that government has been planning this for sometime, a fact that further undermines the credibility of the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel. “What the government has just said is, ‘We simply don’t care. We’ve already made up our minds before hearing any testimony.’ I think they’ve made up their minds in advance of this but now it’s obvious that it was always true. You don’t put legislation like this together in a week. The bill that they are going to introduce and the press conference they had last weekend were months in the making. I know how Ottawa works. This has been around for a long time and they knew this for a long time. It’s entirely cynical.”
He expects the government will try and ram the legislation through the House and one of his jobs as NDP and Opposition House leader will be to slow it down.
“I think the very cynical anti-democratic move by the government is only going to increase the number of Canadians that will be opposed to this. So getting the message out specifically, getting people rallied around this cause and letting the government know they’re not going to steamroll us…. Continuing to try to bully us into submission is about the dumbest tactic imaginable, but I guess that’s the only one available to them. If the only tool you have the toolbox is a hammer, I guess every problem is a nail.
“Fundamentally this is a question of trust, do we trust that this government will protect the environment when it comes to oil and gas projects? And I can’t imagine an oil pipeline that Steven Harper doesn’t love. Maybe if the project went right through his living room, he may have some questions about it, but outside of that, there isn’t been a single thing that the oil industry has wanted from this government that they haven’t got, not one thing. So do you trust them to protect fisheries, do you expect them to protect us from oil spills? The answer has got to be no.”
The Conservative government is taking aim at environmental reviews of major resource projects and will impose time limits on those reviews from 12 to 24 months.
In a briefing in the Ottawa budget lockup, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said, “The new timelines will apply to the Northern Gateway Pipeline.”
Currently, major resource projects can take as long six years to approve. Under the new rules the whole process will take no more than 24 months. Rosemary Barton of CBC said on air that the Gateway project will be now limited to 18 months, but there were no details when the 18 month limit actually starts.
Skeena Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen called the new limits “a rubber stamp that is not good for business or the environment,” noting that one major oil spill would wipe out any savings for government and industry for decades.
Cullen said limiting the Northern Gateway Joint Review proceedings “changes the rules of the game and opens it up to court proceedings. I’ve never heard of a government changing everything half way through. They’re rigging the entire process and they’re not ashamed of it.”
The changes to environmental assessment are, at the moment, expected to be part of the budget omnibus bill. Cullen said the Opposition will try to “hive it off” in the committee stage into a stand alone bill. He was not optimistic and noted that using budget riders to get unpopular measures into law was a common Republican tactic in the United States.
“The cost of approving bad projects is going to cost us multiple times more,” Cullen said. “For example, we used to approve projects with hardly any review at all and we are still paying about 170 million dollars in Yukon for bad mines that were approved without anybody doing any science. The idea that you can short cut this things and it won’t cost in the end, is insanity.”
Cullen pointed to $80 million in cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, will cut the already under resourced DFO monitoring of the fisheries, at the time that the Harper government is accelerating the Northern Gateway project. While the Canadian Coast Guard will get $5.2 billion over 11 years, Cullen noted that this money will go for new ships and there are unlikely to be any increases in the operational budget.
There appear to be no changes in the budget to the habitat provisions of the Fisheries Act, unless it is buried in the fine print. In his interview with the CBC, Flaherty called some provisions of the Fisheries Act aimed at preserving habitat as “ridiculous,” repeating the story about a flooded farmer’s field in Saskatchewan.
Flaherty said “It’s anticipated there will be $500 billion investment in mining and oil, minerals in the next ten years. That’s an incredible opportunity. We can blow it, but that would be ridiculous. one study, one project, one review. ”
[T]he plan to improve Canada’s regulatory process for natural resource projects will generate more jobs and a stronger Canadian economy while ensuring continued environmental performance, Canada’s upstream oil and natural gas producers said today.
“Broad-based regulatory reform is fundamental to attracting investment that creates Canadian jobs, prosperity and economic growth,” said Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers President Dave Collyer. “The government’s plan will improve the timeliness and efficiency of the decision-making process while the regulatory scrutiny that Canadians expect remains intact…”
The upstream petroleum industry is the largest single private sector investor in Canada – investing over $50 billion each year and employing more than 500,000 Canadians. Regulatory bottlenecks in the current system have often led to project delays or outright cancellations due to missed market opportunities, with a resultant reduction in economic benefits that would flow from these delayed or foregone investments.
“The changes broadly outlined in the federal budget will improve our business climate and competitiveness without compromising our commitment to responsible, sustainable development,” Collyer said.
Corporations and polluters could reap the rewards of today’s federal Budget and the follow-up legislation, which will weaken the environmental assessment process.
The Budget includes major cuts to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and eliminates the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
The changes to the environmental assessment process explicitly aim to help speed up approval of tar sands pipelines like the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. This will put the Canadian people at increased risk of oil spills, polluted rivers and fish kills, as well as lost wildlife.
“Energy giant Kinder Morgan had said they would formally submit their application to the National Energy Board to twin their tar sands pipeline by the end of this month, but now they’ve delayed,” said Ben West, the Wilderness Committee’s Healthy Communities Campaigner. “It seems to me that Kinder Morgan could be waiting to take advantage of a weakened review process,” said West.
Today’s budget announcements make it clear that long-standing legal protections for the environment, including environmental reviews of major industrial projects like mines and oil pipelines will soon be rolled back or eliminated.
For decades, Canadians have depended on the federal government to safeguard our families and nature from pollution, toxic contamination and other environmental problems through a safety net of environmental laws. Today?s budget would cut up this environmental safety net to serve the interests of a few big companies.
Canadians want strong environmental laws to protect our communities, ecosystems, health, and economy. Recklessly rushing approvals for major industrial projects like pipelines is not the same as building a sustainable economy. A robust, sustainable economy depends on a healthy environment. The multi-billion dollar clean up costs from the Exxon Valdez and the Gulf oil spill remind us that it is citizens who pay the price when things go wrong.
“Environmental assessments need to be thorough, consultative and science-based. Creating hard-time limits and rushing the process compromises all these things.”
The changes will result in weaker environmental assessments and projects being approved without a full understanding of the social, economic and environmental impacts they will have.
“We have environmental assessment laws to prevent repeating the mistakes of the past. It is far better to identify problems and then improve a design than to breathe polluted air or clean up dead fish,” said Mr. Bennett.
On Friday, March 16, Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield released a brief statement denying that the government had made a decision to take habitat protection for fish out of the Fisheries Act (Earlier in the week reports had leaked saying that government intended to take protections for fish habitat out of the act, as way of clearing the way for industry.)
Ashfield’s statement, which came at 4:40 p.m. Eastern Time appeared to be the classic buried government news release issued late on a Friday. The release actually did not deny facts of the leak, making it also a classic non-denial denial.
Ottawa (Ontario) – The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans today issued the following statement:
“The government is reviewing fish and fish habitat protection policies to ensure they do not go beyond their intended conservation goals. Recent speculation about the current review is inaccurate. No decision has been made.
“The government has been clear that the existing policies do not reflect the priorities of Canadians.
“We want to focus our activities on protecting natural waterways that are home to the fish Canadians value most instead of on flooded fields and ditches.”
It is clear that Conservative policy, such as proposed changes to the Environmental Assessment Act and budget cuts at Environment Canada, is to eliminate as many environmental protections as possible, and so the sentence that policies “do not go beyond their intended conservation goals” must be interpreted in light of the environmental record of the Conservative government.
Otto Langer, an aquatic ecologist who worked for the federal government for 32 years, obtained the documents and made them available to the media.
He said the documents show that the government intends to remove the requirement in the Canada Fisheries Act to protect fish habitats for any fish that is not of “economic, cultural or ecological value.”
Langer told The Globe and Mail: “Probably the main reason why the oil industry, especially in the Prairie provinces, wants it out of the act is its use triggers [a review under] the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. If you are going to do harm to habitat, you have to do an environmental review and that takes time and money.”
Speaking to The Vancouver Sun Langer asked how the government could define
“what is a fish of economic, cultural or ecological value?”
Documents obtained by PostMedia news, as reported in The Vancouver Sun story, say that energy and other industries consider the Fisheries Act a irritant that holds up projects. One of the documents say:
“Some of the largest and most complex natural resource and industrial development projects across the country are affected by Fisheries Act requirements, which are consistently identified as one of the top federal regulatory irritants by stakeholders across the country,”
In his bi-weekly conference call with northwestern reporters, earlier Friday, before Ashfield issued his statement, Skeena Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen said he has heard the “the government is planning to take the word ‘habitat’ of Section 35 of the Fisheries Act and then ram that potential change into a budget bill.
“This is what the fisheries act is for, to protect habitat,” Cullen said. “Protecting habitat is one of the most crucial factors in protecting fish stocks. If you can’t protect habitat, then how do you protect fish?
If they do this,” Cullen said, “They’ll rip the very heart out of the Fisheries Act. The heart and soul of the act is that if you want to protect fish, you must consider habitat. You don’t have to be a genius or a fish biologist to know that if the fish don’t have anywhere to spawn, you’ll kill the fishery.”
Cullen said if the government does go ahead with the changes, “it will further compound all the problems and stresses we’ve been putting on the fishery. Essentially the government is saying that wild fish populations will not matter, that oil and gas is going to trump them every single time.
He went to say, “They did this with the Navigable Waters Act a few years ago They killed off a one hundred year old act that was designed to protect waterways in Canada. You know who it upset, and this is something the government is going to have to be paying attention to is the BC Wildlife Federation, the anglers and hunters associations, any of those groups that likes the go out into nature and actually see some nature. All of those groups got upset last time and now its going to be that times ten.“
Ashfield’s statement about flooding referred to a couple of incidents where the Department of Fisheries and Oceans would not allow draining of flooded areas. He told the House of Commons “Last year in Saskatchewan, a long-running country jamboree was nearly cancelled after newly flooded fields were deemed fish habitat by fisheries officials. In Richelieu, the application of rules blocked a farmer from draining his flooded field.”
In response, The Globe and Mail quoted Adam Matichuk, fisheries project co-ordinator for the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, said that, during high-water events, many fish species move into flooded areas to feed and reproduce.
“The Craven area is basically a flood plain,” he said. “It doesn’t flood every year, but, when it does, fish take advantage of it. There were hundreds of thousands of young fish, mostly pike and walleye, in there when they turned on those pumps,” he said.
A report from TERMPOL for the the Joint Review Panel on Enbridge’s proposed marine operations for the Northern Gateway pipeline project, finds
While there will always be residual risk in any project, after reviewing the proponent’s studies and taking into account the proponent’s commitments, no regulatory concerns have been identified for the vessels, vessel operations, the proposed routes, navigability, other waterway users and the marine terminal operations associated with vessels supporting the Northern Gateway Project. Commitments by the proponent will help ensure safety is maintained at a level beyond the regulatory requirements.
Even though Enbridge has promised that tankers would have escort tugs, the report goes to so far as to suggest that super tankers could come and go along Douglas Channel “unassisted.”
TERMPOL has taken all the assurances from Enbridge at face value, including the use of escort tankers, and takes into consideration the company’s proposed “environmental limits (weather and sea conditions) on oil tanker navigation,” and “commitment to use industry best practices and standards.”
The report says:
The overall increase in marine traffic levels is not considered to be an issue for the shared safe use of the project’s preferred shipping routes. The proponent has also committed to including safe speeds for oil tankers and tugs in its terminal rules and requirements. It will also include safety limits for environmental and marine conditions for both vessels and terminal operations.
With the increase in shipping activity, there may be an increased threat to the well-being of marine mammal populations along the shipping route. To address this risk, the proponent has proposed measures to avoid contact with mammals. The proponent is encouraged to develop appropriate procedures to help minimize harmful effects on marine mammals.
In a news release, Enbridge welcomed the findings, quoting Janet Holder, Enbridge’s Executive Vice-President of Western Access and the senior executive with responsibility for Northern Gateway, as saying: “It is important for the public, particularly BC residents, to know that we’ve done our homework and that our marine plan has been thoroughly reviewed. I think the TERMPOL review underlines that what we are proposing is well planned and safe – and indeed would enhance safety for all shipping on BC’s north coast.”
The release says “Northern Gateway is encouraged by the positive conclusions of this technical review of the marine components of the project – including the safe operation of the Kitimat terminal and safe passage of tankers to and from the facility through Canadian waters.”
TERMPOL is an intergovernmental agency made up of officials from Transport Canada, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Coast Guard and the Pacific Pilotage Authority. It can make recommendations and compliance with the recommendations is “voluntary.” So far companies contemplating tanker operations along the northwest coast have agreed to follow the TERMPOL recommendations.
All of the conclusions depend on Enbridge’s commitment to implement and monitor practices for safer shipping for the Northern Gateway Project. “Tankers and shipping operations, like any other vessel operations, will have to comply fully with national and international regulatory frameworks. Through the proponent’s oil tanker vetting and acceptance process, ship operators will have to follow the proponent’s additional safety enhancements, which are designed to reduce the risks during operations.”
Termpol did note that with up “to 250 additional tankers per year arriving in Kitimat, there will be an impact on Transport Canada’s compliance monitoring programs.” This comes at a time the government of Stephen Harper is already drastically cutting the resources for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard on the west coast and is making across the board cutbacks at Environment Canada.
The simulations show that the largest proposed oil tankers are capable of safely navigating the entire proposed shipping route, unassisted. The route includes an S-curve where the channel widths are between 3,500 and 5,000 metres. Navigation simulations carried out by the proponent have demonstrated that a typical 320,000 tonne crude oil tanker loaded, or in ballast, can safely negotiate this area. TERMPOL report
Based on reviews by the Canadian Coast Guard and computer simulations of bridge operations, the teports says the waterways comply with all Canadian and international regulations and says:
The proposed routes provide the required clearances for good vessel manoeuvrability and allowances for very large crude oil tankers to safely navigate…
The simulations showed that tankers of the largest design are capable of navigating the entire route un-assisted. This is also consistent with opinions of Pacific Pilotage Authority Canada and the British Columbia Coast Pilots. The British Columbia Coast Pilots identified some narrow sections of the waterways as warranting caution for two-way traffic. The Canadian Coast Guard identified that the Lewis Passage-Wright Sound area warrants caution as a result of multi-directional traffic. In practice, the British Columbia Coast Pilots, supported by information from Marine Communications and Traffic Services, would adjust a vessel’s speed to avoid meeting other vessels in these areas. Transit speeds may also have to be adjusted to take into account traffic in the Wright Sound area.
TERMPOL says the “proposed shipping routes are appropriate for the oil tankers that will be used at the proposed terminal,” largely because Douglas Channel is so deep.
The next sentence says “there are no charted obstructions that would pose a safety hazard to fully loaded oil tankers,” which was pretty well known by people who sail Douglas Channel.
Testimony at the Joint Review hearings in Kitimat, presentations to District of Kitimat council and the history of the region, as related by both aboriginal and non-aboriginal sailors, show that there are concerns about dangerous storms, general heavy weather, tricky winds off the mountains and currents from the rivers meeting the ocean.
The report also says the Canadian Hydrographic Service is in the process of updating several charts of the area to ensure the most accurate information is available for safe navigation.
The report does acknowledge that there could be a tanker collision in certain areas of the British Columbia coast, saying: “The narrower passages along the North and South routes, each with charted depths of 36 m (20 fathoms) or more are all wide enough for two-way navigation by the largest design vessel,” but adds that while “the proposed channels meet the specified requirements for two-way marine traffic, the BC pilots “may choose to ensure that passing and overtaking situations do not occur in the narrowest sections, by good traffic management.”
It says that in certain areas “that the meeting of two large ships …. should, in general, be avoided, particularly during severe (wind 30 knots or above) weather conditions. The reason for this restriction is that the margins for safe navigation are limited in case of an emergency situation where the engine is lost or the rudder is locked at an angle different from ‘mid ship’.”
According to the pilots, the meeting of ships at these locations can easily be avoided through oroper planning and pilot to pilot communication and available navigation and ship tracking data.
It adds, as Enbridge has proposed, “In order to mitigate risk, all laden tankers will have a tethered escort tug throughout the Confined Channel sections (from Browning Entrance or Caamaño Sound to the Kitimat Terminal).
The report adds:
It is important to keep in mind that the emergency situations described rarely occur, but that it is necessary for the Pilots and Tug Masters to rehearse these situations on a regular basis in order to be prepared in case an incident actually occurs.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has increased the recreational halibut quota to 15 per cent.
A release issued this afternoon by Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield says, “the Minister has instructed the Department to make an immediate correction in the allocation formula for the Pacific halibut fishery. Under the new formula, 85 per cent of the resource will be allocated to the commercial sector and 15 per cent to the recreational sector.”
However, this may not be good news for the recreational halibut industry. A news release from the Sports Fishing of Institute British Columbia, issued late Friday, says that regulations not mentioned in Ashfields’s Friday afternoon news release from DFO, says the recreational season will end August 15. DFO officials were not available for confirmation late Friday.
So if there is a shorter season, the quota increase may not mean that much to the recreational sector.
The 2012 Pacific halibut recreational fishing season will open March 1st. Recreational anglers with a tidal water licence will be able to catch one halibut per day with two in possession. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will continue to work with recreational community representatives to identify monitoring and management measures that will provide greatest flexibility and season length while staying within their allocation.
Today’s changes to the recreational halibut fishery, will ensure that in 2012, recreational anglers will experience the shortest halibut fishing season in memory, said Sport Fishing Institute of BC President Robert Alcock. “Minister Ashfield closed the recreational halibut fishing on September 5th last year and caused extensive economic damage to the sport fishing industry”, said Alcock. “Today he served notice that recreational halibut fishing will end in the first week of August, which will wreak havoc in the sport fishing industry and which will not conserve a single fish.”
Ashfield announced that he will not accept the unanimous recommendation of Canada’s 300,000 recreational anglers and create a “fixed number’ fishery that would allow recreational anglers to enjoy a predictable fishery during periods of low halibut abundance. Instead, Ashfield simply tinkered with the flawed allocation system established in 2003 which will ensure that Canada’s 436 commercial halibut quota holders can continue to harvest 85% of Canada’s sustainable Total Allowable Catch (TAC). The TAC is established annually by the International Pacific Halibut Commission and the amount of halibut that Canada and the US can harvest without endangering the long-term stability of halibut stocks.
Ashfield said in his news release that the decision will provide greater long-term certainty to the Pacific halibut fishery.
“Our government is making good on a commitment to provide greater long-term certainty in the Pacific halibut fishery for First Nations, commercial and recreational harvesters, and, most importantly encouraging jobs and economic growth in British Columbia.”
While the recreational halibut fishery has lobbied for years to increase the quota from the old system of 12 per cent for the recreational sector and 88 per cent for the commercial sector, today’s decision comes after the IPHC lowered the overall quota for the Pacific Coast by 18 per cent. BC’s quota for 2012 is eight per cent lower, at 7.038 million pounds of halibut, a decrease from the 2011 quota of 7.650 million pounds.
At the IPHC meetings in Anchorage, Alaska, last month, scientists expressed long term fears about the health of the halibut biomass, due to the large number of undersized females. At the same meeting scientists and fishers also said that the bycatch, especially from the pollock trawl fishery in the Gulf of Alaska was devastating the halibut “nursery.”
Before the news of the early closure of the season broke, Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan, recreating to the news of the quota increase said. “Hopefully some of the hard lobbying by the Kitimat group did paid off. I believe it did. Good going guys. Keep it up, still things to do.”
In the Institute’s news release Alcock went on to say:
During the 2011 election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Island residents that “Our government recognizes the importance of the halibut fishery in BC. The jobs and regional economic impact of the commercial, recreational and related tourism in BC are substantial. We remain committed to finding a solution to BC’s halibut allocation issue in advance of the 2012 season that strikes a fair balance between all sectors.”
“Recreational halibut fishers took the Prime Minister at his word,” said Alcock. “Sadly, today we have learned the hard way that the Prime Minister’s word is of little value, particularly to the hundreds of businesses, thousands of sport fishing industry employees and the hundred thousand Canadians who enjoy recreational halibut fishing.”
According to a recent study conducted for the BC Seafood Alliance (the commercial sector’s industry association), the recreational fishery in BC produces $642 million in annual sales, pays $150 million in wages and benefits, creates more than 7,800 jobs and 3,950 person-years of employment and contributes $240 million to the province’s Gross Domestic Product.
Editor’s Note: Journalists are always wary of a government news release issued late on Friday afternoon. On the surface, the increase in the recreational quota was good news, something the guides and fishers had been fighting for years. Still, I was wondering why it came out on a Friday afternoon. It took the Sports Fishing Institute of BC, who was able to find the regulations that they say indicate the season ends on August 15, that shows why the release came out late on Friday.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission has recommended a Canadian harvest quota for the 2012 season of 7.038 million pounds of halibut, a decrease of eight per cent from the 2011 quota of 7.650 million pounds.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has yet to confirm the quota but it routinely follows the IPHC recommendation.
The reduction was not as bad as first feared. The commission staff were recommending a B.C coast quota of 6.633 million pounds, a decrease of 16 per cent.
The overall harvest quota decrease for the Pacific coast is 18.3 per cent, due to continuing concerns about the state of the halibut biomass.
The 2012 halibut season is much narrower, opening on March 17 and closing on November 7. The commission says the March 17 opening day was chosen because it is a Saturday and will help the marketing by both commercial and recreational fishers. The earlier November date will allow better assessment of the halibut stock after the 2012 season, according to an IPHC news release. (In Canada, DFO closed the recreational season much earlier than the date recommended by the IPHC, in September, while allowing the commercial harvest to continue.)
In the release following the annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, last week, the IPHC said
The Commission has expressed concern over continued declining catch rates in several areas and has taken aggressive action to reduce harvests. In addition, the staff has noted a continuing problem of reductions in previous estimates of biomass as additional data are obtained, which has the effect of increasing the realized historical harvest rates on the stock. Commission scientists will be conducting additional research on this matter in 2012….
The Commission faced very difficult decisions on the appropriate harvest from the stock and recognized the economic impact of the reduced catch limits recommended by its scientific staff. However, the Commission believes that conservation of the halibut resource is the most important management objective and will serve the best economic interests of the industry over the long term. Accordingly, catch limits adopted for 2012 were lower in all regions of the stock except Areas 2A (California, Oregon and Washington) and 2C (southeastern Alaska)
Pollock trawl bycatch crisis costs Canada $7 million a year
In the bureaucratic language of the IPHC, “The Commission expressed its continued concern about the yield and spawning biomass losses to the halibut stock from mortality of halibut in non-directed fisheries.”
The IPHC says that British Columbia has made “significant progress” in reducing bycatch mortality and that quotas for vessels for other fish are being monitored, in California, Oregon and Washington have also had some success in reducing bycatch mortality.
It says that “Reductions have also occurred in Alaska, and new measures aimed at improving bycatch estimation, scheduled to begin in 2013, will help to refine these estimates.”
That phrase apparently masks a major problem of bycatch in the halibut nurseries off Alaska.
Canada has protested that something needs to be done about the trawl industry [mostly for pollock] killing and dumping 10 million pounds of halibut off Alaska’s coast, but the International Pacific Halibut Commission proved powerless to do anything about it.
Meeting [last] week in Anchorage, the commission recognized the trawl catch as a potential problem, but then placed the burden of conservation squarely on the shoulders of commercial longliners along the Pacific Coast from Alaska south to California. The Commission again endorsed staff recommendations to shrink the catches of those fishermen in an effort to avoid an ever-shrinking population of adult halibut.
(This wasn’t reported in the Canadian media despite the importance of halibut both commercial and recreational to the economy of British Columbia. No Canadian media covered the IPHC conference in Alaska, despite the fact that halibut was a major issue in BC in the last federal election)
Medred’s report in the Alaska Dispatch goes on to say that the scientists say the Pacific Ocean is full of juvenile halibut, but that the juveniles seem to be disappearing before they reach spawning age (when the halibut reaches about the 32 inch catch minimum). “How much of this is due to immature fish being caught, killed and wasted by the billion-dollar pollock trawl fishery — which is in essence strip mining the Gulf of Alaska — is unknown.”
Medred says, “Scientists, commercial halibut fishermen and anglers all believe the catch is under-reported. Advisers to the commission — a U.S.-Canada treaty organization — indicated they are beyond frustrated with the bycatch issue.”
The official IPHC Bluebook report to the annual meeting said: “Not all fisheries are observed, therefore bycatch rates and discard mortality rates from similar fisheries are used to calculate bycatch mortality in unobserved fisheries.”
The official report to the IPHC gives one reason that the bycatch in Canadian waters is not as big a problem, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans ongoing monitoring of almost all commercial fisheries for bycatch.
But Canada is not satisfied with that and has submitted a formal proposal to the Commission to designate the Gulf of Alaska, “‘an area of special concern.” because the halibut that spawn in the Gulf of Alaska migrate to coastal British Columbia.
The Alaska Dispatch report says that the Canadian delegation told the IPHC: “Canada should not and must not be penalized for uncontrolled bycatch in other regulatory (areas), which IPHC staff have indicated could be costing (Canada) approximately 1 million pounds of lost yield in each year based on current, and what Canada believes may be questionable, estimates of bycatch.”
Medred says that one million pounds of halibut equals a loss of $7 million to Canadian fishermen alone.
While this decision will have a substantial impact on the economies of
hundreds of businesses and dozens of coastal communities that depend on
the recreational halibut fishery for economic activity, it might be
understandable if commercial quota holders were actually required to
utilize their licences and quota shares.
Even before the closure, DFO stopped a lot of people from booking trips this year by announcing their intent and creating massive uncertainty. DFO created this allocation system. They had no idea how it would work. They didn’t allow for growth, and they didn’t even have accurate information to begin with. They’ve created a situation where a publicly-owned resource is being bought and sold by private interests. None of it made any sense to begin with – as just one example, when the sport fishery didn’t catch their allocation the commercial fishery was allowed to fish it, but the reverse was not allowed.