Petronas “will not proceed” with Prince Rupert LNG project

Petronas Tuesday issued the following news release:

PETRONAS AND PARTNERS WILL NOT PROCEED WITH PACIFIC NORTHWEST LNG PROJECT

Malaysia’s energy company remains committed to developing its gas assets in Canada

KUALA LUMPUR, 26 July 2017 – PETRONAS and its partners have decided not to proceed with the Pacific NorthWest LNG project at Port Edward in British Columbia, Canada.

The decision was made after a careful and total review of the project amid changes in market conditions.

PETRONAS’ Executive Vice President & Chief Executive Officer Upstream, Anuar Taib said, “We are disappointed that the extremely challenging environment brought about by the prolonged depressed prices and shifts in the energy industry have led us to this decision.”

“We, along with our North Montney Joint Venture partners, remain committed to developing our significant natural gas assets in Canada and will continue to explore all options as part of our long-term investment strategy moving forward,” added Anuar.

PETRONAS’ commitment in Canada continues through Progress Energy Canada Ltd and its world-class inventory of natural gas resources where the subsidiary plays a key role in supporting PETRONAS’ growth strategy in North America.

PETRONAS and the project’s partners are thankful for the support received from everyone involved, especially the area First Nations, the District of Port Edward, the City of Prince Rupert and their communities for their invaluable involvement and efforts in the project.

 

Genes that protected coastal First Nations from ancient pathogens brought “catastrophic” vulnerability to European diseases

The immune system genes that protected north coast First Nations from possibly dangerous local pathogens thousands of years ago likely increased their vulnerability to European diseases in the nineteenth century, resulting in the disastrous population crash, a new genetic study has discovered.

The study which included members of the Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla First Nations at Prince Rupert “opens a new window on the catastrophic consequences of European colonization for indigenous peoples in that part of the world,” the study authors said in a news release.

The study, published today in Nature Communications, looked at the genomes of 25 individuals who lived 1,000 to 6,000 years ago in what the study calls PRH—the Prince Rupert Harbour region– and 25 of their descendants who still live in the region today.

The study is a follow up to one published in 2013 that used DNA to prove that the remains of a woman from 5,500 years ago was tied directly through the maternal line to members of today’s Metlakatla Nation.

“This is the first genome-wide study – where we have population-level data, not just a few individuals – that spans 6,000 years,” said University of Illinois anthropology professor Ripan Malhi, who co-led the new research with former graduate student John Lindo (now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago) and Pennsylvania State University biology professor Michael DeGiorgio. Both studies were carried out with the consent and cooperation of the Coastal Tsimshian people.

The new study analyzes the “exome,” the entire collection of genes that contribute to a person’s traits.

The ruins of a Haida longhouse at Tanu. Smallpox and other diseases brought a catastrophic population crash among coastal First Nations in the nineteenth century. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
The ruins of a Haida longhouse at Tanu. Smallpox and other diseases brought a catastrophic population crash among coastal First Nations in the nineteenth century. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“Oral traditions and archaeological evidence to date have shown that there has been continuous aboriginal occupation of this region for more than 9,000 years. This study adds another layer of scientific data linking the actual ancestral human remains to their modern descendants through their DNA over a span of 6,000 years,” said Barbara Petzelt, a co-author of the study and a liaison to the Metlakatla community. “It’s exciting to see how this tool of DNA science adds to the larger picture of Coast Tsimshian pre- and post-contact history – without the taint of historic European observer bias.”

In the new study, the team found that variants of an immune-related gene that were beneficial to many of those living in the region before European contact proved disadvantageous once the Europeans arrived.

The genes, the human leukocyte antigen gene family, known as HLA, helps the body recognize and respond to pathogens, or disease causing bacteria and viruses.

The authors say the “the immunological history of the indigenous people of the Americas is undoubtedly complex.”

As people came to the American continents about 15,000 to 20,000 years ago “indigenous people adapted to local pathogens.”

Statistical analyses revealed that the ancient genes were under “positive selection” before European contact. Natural selection meant that those ancient people with genetic resistance to those local diseases had an advantage that resulted in the genes becoming part of the population.

But the study indicates “those adaptations would have proven useful in ancient times but not necessarily after European colonialists altered the environment with their pathogens, some of which may have been novel. Existing genetic variation as a result of adaptation before European contact could thus have contributed to the indigenous population decline after European contact.”

The “positive selection” genes found in the remains of ancient members of the Coast Tsimshian people, has been replaced by another gene among the modern descendants that “has been associated with a variety of colonization-era infectious diseases, including measles and tuberculosis, and with the adaptive immune response to the vaccinia virus, which is an attenuated form of smallpox,” the authors wrote.

One of the genes is “64 percent less common today among the Coast Tsimshian people than it was before original European contact, which is a dramatic decline,” Lindo said.

The modern Coast Tsimshian show a “reduction in ‘effective population size’ of 57 per cent,” the researchers reported.

“’Effective population size’ is a population genetic concept that is different from what we normally think of with census population size,” Malhi said in an e-mail to Northwest Coast Energy News. “It basically means that there was a large drop in genetic diversity after European contact that could have been due to disease, warfare or other things that would result in this large population decline.”

The dramatic die-off occurred roughly 175 years ago, about the time that European diseases were sweeping through the First Nations of British Columbia.

While some members of the Coast Tsimshian community have intermarried with people of European descent over the past 175 years, the genetic changes cannot be solely attributed to what geneticists call “admixture.” The timing coincides with the documented smallpox epidemics of the 19th Century and historical reports of large-scale population declines. A majority of the “European admixture in the population likely occurred after the epidemics,” the study says.

To guard against what the study called “false positives” the genomes were also compared to individuals in the 1,000 Genome Project including 25 Han Chinese from Beijing as well as other indigenous peoples in the Americas including the Maya, the Suruí do Pará people of Brazil and a sample of Anzick DNA from the 12,000 year old remains of a child found buried in Montana.

“First Nations history mainly consists of oral stories passed from generation to generation. Our oral history tells of the deaths of a large percentage of our population by diseases from the European settlers.
“Smallpox, for our area, was particularly catastrophic,” said Jocelynn Mitchell, a Metlakatla co-author on the study. “We are pleased to have scientific evidence that corroborates our oral history. As technology continues to advance, we expect that science will continue to agree with the stories of our ancestors.”

The same vulnerability for smallpox, measles and tuberculous likely also contributed to the vulnerability to influenza, Malhi told Northwest Coast Energy News “It is important to note that any of these infectious diseases (measles, tuberculosis, smallpox, flu) could have resulted in the patterns that we are seeing. We just provided a few possibilities but not all possibilities.”

The study says the project was made possible through the active collaboration of the Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams First Nations.
The first collaborative DNA study began in 2007 and 2008. The scientists visited the communities each year “to report the most recent DNA results and obtain feedback on the results.”

“The two communities agreed to allow DNA analysis of ancestral individuals recovered from archaeological sites in the region and currently housed at the Canadian Museum of History. During and after community visits and extensive consultation, a research protocol and informed consent documents—agreed on by the indigenous communities and researchers—was approved by the University of Illinois Institutional Review Board. All individuals signed an informed consent document.”

These results were reported to the community and the scientists continue to visit the First Nations to report on this and related studies.

The study is titled “A time transect of exomes from a Native American population before and after European contact” and appeared in the Nov. 15, 2016, edition of Nature Communications.

BC Environment Appeal Board upholds Rio Tinto sulphur dioxide emissions in Kitimat airshed

The British Columbia Environmental Appeal Board has upheld Rio Tinto’s plans for sulphur dioxide emissions in the Kitimat airshed and dismissed the appeal from residents Emily Toews and Elisabeth Stannus.

The 113 page decision was released by the EAB late on December 23. It contains a series of recommendations for further studies and monitoring of the health of Kitimat residents. In effect, the EAB is asking the province (which is all it can do) to spend money and create a new bureaucracy at a time when Kitimat’s medical community is already short staffed and under stress.

By December 31, 2016…. engage with Ministry executive to secure their support for, and action to encourage, a provincially-led Kitimat region health study, based on the development of a feasibility assessment for such a study.

On December 24, Gaby Poirier, General manager – BC Operations
Rio Tinto, Aluminium Products Group released a statement saying:

Based on the evidence and submissions made by each of the parties, the EAB confirmed our permit amendment.
Although it is welcome news for Rio Tinto that the MOE Director’s decision was upheld, and the rigor and cautious approach of the science were confirmed by the EAB, we also recognize that there is more work to do to address community concerns regarding air quality in the Kitimat Valley.
In providing their confirmation, the EAB included a series of recommendations. Over the coming months, we will be working to fully assess them and we will continue to involve the local community including residents, stakeholders and our employees as we do so, noting that some of the recommendations have already started to be implemented.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the residents of Kitimat, our valued stakeholders and our employees for their support during this process. At Rio Tinto, we are committed to protecting the health and well-being of our employees, the community, and the environment as we modernize our BC Operations.

EAB decision 2013ema007g_010g

Rio Tinto BC Operations statement 20151224 – SO2 appeal decision

BC issues new radio protocols for northwest forest service roads

British Columbia says it is implementing new radio protocols for forest service roads in the Kitimat region that will take effect on November 2.

The news release from Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations says:

New mobile radio communication protocols are being
implemented throughout B.C. to improve safety for resource road
users. The changes include new standardized road signs, radio call
protocols and a bank of standardized mobile radio channels.

The Coast Mountain Natural Resource District will be implementing new
resource road radio channels beginning Nov. 2, 2015. The district
covers over 80,000 square kilometres and includes the major centres
of Terrace, Kitimat, Prince Rupert, New Aiyansh and Stewart.

The new protocols will impact forest service roads and other road
permit roads in the area. All affected road users must have the new
channels programmed into their mobile radios before the transition
dates. Mobile radio users are advised to retain current radio
channels and frequencies until they are no longer required.

It is recommended that mobile radio users have the full bank of
standardized resource road radio channels programmed into their
radios by certified radio technicians.

New signs posted on local resource roads will advise which radio
channels to use and provide the communication protocols, including
the road name and required calling intervals. Vehicle operators using
mobile radios to communicate their location and direction of travel
must use the posted radio channels and call protocols.

All resource road users in the affected areas should exercise
additional caution during the transition period. Drivers are reminded
that forest service roads are radio-assisted, not radio-controlled,
and to drive safely according to road and weather conditions.

Local resource road safety committees have worked with the Ministry
of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Industry Canada
to implement these changes.

Learn more about resource road radio communications protocols and
view maps online at:
www.for.gov.bc.ca/hth/engineering/Road_Radio_Project.htm

Kitimat portion of FSR radio protocal map.(Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations)
Kitimat portion of FSR radio protocal map.(Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations)

Canadian, US Coast Guards to exercise with Alaska emergency ship towing system

The United States Coast Guard says the US and Canadian Coast Guards will “conduct a towing evolution using a State of Alaska Emergency Towing System” on Friday afternoon off Juneau, Alaska.

The participating vessels are the Canadian Coast Guard  Marine Service Vessel and  Ice Strengthened Medium Navaids Tender CCGS Bartlett and the US Coast Guard cutter USGC Maple.  Like the Barlett, the Maple is also a buoy tender.

CCGS Barlett (Canadian Coast Guard)
CCGS Barlett (Canadian Coast Guard)

In 2014, when the Russian vessel Simushir was adrift off Haida Gwaii, the towing system on the Canadian Coast Guard’s Gordon Reid was inadequate and the line snapped.  A commercial tug was hired to take the Simushir into port at Prince Rupert.   As Northwest Coast Energy News reported in October, 2014, the US Coast Guard deployed the Alaska Towing System to Haida Gwaii but it wasn’t used at that time despite a record of success by the US Coast Guard in towing vessels off Alaska waters.

Related:

When the Simushir was adrift,  Alaska was ready, BC and Canada were not

On the Simushir, Oceans Minister Shea takes ministerial responsibility to a new low, the bottom of the sea

 

 

 

 

Petronas and partners announce conditional Final Investment Decision for Lelu Island subject to environmental assessment

In a news release this afternoon, Pacific Northwest LNG announced that the company has given a positive, but conditional, Final Investment Decision, to build an LNG facility on the environmentally sensitive Lelu Island at Port Edward. BC.

pacificnorthwestlogo100Pacific NorthWest LNG (PNW LNG) announced today that the required technical and commercial components of the project have been satisfied. Consequently, PNW LNG has resolved to move forward with a positive Final Investment Decision, subject to two conditions.

The Final Investment Decision will be confirmed by the partners of PNW LNG once two outstanding foundational conditions have been resolved. The first condition is approval of the Project Development Agreement by the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, and the second is a positive regulatory decision on Pacific NorthWest LNG’s environmental assessment by the Government of Canada.

“In parallel with work to support the Final Investment Decision, Pacific NorthWest LNG will continue constructive engagement with area First Nations, local communities, stakeholders and regulators,” said Michael Culbert, President of Pacific NorthWest LNG. “The integrated project is poised to create thousands of construction and operational careers in the midst of the current energy sector slowdown.”

ProgressenergyProgress Energy Canada and the North Montney Joint Venture partners will continue to invest in its North Montney natural gas resources. The investment to date has proved and probable natural gas reserves of over 20 trillion cubic feet (tcf) with $2 billion-plus invested annually, representing approximately 4,000 sustainable jobs in northeast British Columbia.

“A Final Investment Decision is a crucial step to ensure that the project stays on track to service contracted LNG customers,” Culbert continued. “Pacific NorthWest LNG is poised to make a substantial investment that will benefit Canada for generations to come.”

Lelu Island, the flat area in the left of the image, across from the harbour at Port Edward is the potential site of the Petronas  Pacific Northwest LNG project.  (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Lelu Island, the flat area in the left of the image, across from the harbour at Port Edward is the potential site of the Petronas Pacific Northwest LNG project. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Although Pacific Northwest LNG is first off the mark with a positive, if conditional, Final Investment Decision, putting a shovel in the ground is not guaranteed. Of all the proposed liquified natural gas projects for northwestern BC, the location on Lelu Island, right at the mouth of the Skeena River, is probably the most environmentally sensitive. Even if the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency does give its approval, probably with a long list of conditions, it is highly likely the decision will be challenged in court by First Nations and environmental groups.

The environmental process was put on hold in early June after the agency asked Pacific Northwest to provide more information about building the terminal. The island sits near Flora Bank, where young salmon shelter in eel grass after coming down the Skeena, taking time to grow before venturing out into the Pacific. Flora Bank has been called the “nursery” for one of the world’s most important salmon runs.

The fact that Pacific Northwest LNG has to supply more studies means that any final environmental assessment decision will come after October’s federal election.

After initial proposals to dredge the area where met with loud and sustained opposition, Pacific Northwest proposed a suspension bridge and trestle which means the LNG tankers would tie up well off the island in Chatham Sound.

Lelu Island is on the traditional territory of the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation. Members of the First Nation recently voted overwhelmingly against accepting a billion dollars over the life of the project from Pacific Northwest.

Pacific NorthWest LNG filed a report, prepared by engineering and environmental company Stantec Inc., that said there would little or no environmental impact impact from building the $11.4-billion LNG terminal. Stantec’s report, however, is unlikely to reassure many people in the northwest because of Stantec’s close to ties to the energy industry.  Stantec did major studies for the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway project, studies that were challenged by other environmental studies opposing that pipeline project.

Petronas_LogoPetronas holds  62-per-cent of Pacific NorthWest LNG.

Partners are China’s Sinopec, which holds 10 per cent, Indian Oil Corp. Ltd. which holds 10 per cent, Japan Petroleum Exploration, 10 per cent, China Huadian Corp., 5 per cent and Petroleum Brunei, 3 per cent.

As well some First Nations and environmental groups in the northwest of British Columbia, in the northeast, Blueberry River First Nations who live in the North Montey natural gas region have said they are worried about increased drilling in their traditional territory are concerned about increased drilling by Progress Energy for natural gas within their traditional territory.

The Blueberry River group says it plans request judicial review of the B.C. Natural Gas Development Ministry’s decision to sign the 23-year royalty agreement for the region.

 

Another LNG shake up: Shell reported to be in talks to acquire BG Group

Shell logoNumerous media sources are saying that Royal Dutch Shell is in talks to acquire the BG Group.

Shell is developing the LNG Canada project in Kitimat,  while BG had been developing an LNG proposal for Prince Rupert.  BG announced last fall it was delaying further development of the Prince Rupert project due to uncertainty in the liquified natural gas market.

An initial report came from Bloomberg, which said:

Buying BG would be Shell’s largest acquisition since the $60.3-billion (U.S.) merger of its Dutch and U.K. parent companies in 2005, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It would unite the U.K.’s first- and third-largest natural gas producers….BG posted a record $5-billion loss in the fourth quarter, mainly due to writing down the value of its Australian assets as commodity prices fell.

BBC News quotes the Wall Street Journal as matching the report.

A Shell spokesman told the BBC: “We’re not making any comment.”
No-one from BG Group was immediately available to confirm or deny the WSJ’s report.

Last fall, when BG put the Prince Rupert project on hold, with a financial investment decision postponed until 2019, the Financial Post, quoted BG executive chairman Andrew Gould as saying, “We’re not abandoning Prince Rupert, we’re pausing on Prince Rupert to see how the market evolves particularly in function of total supply that will come out of the U.S.”

At the time, analysts noted that unlike Shell, Chevron and Petronas, BG had no gas extraction assets in Canada. BG is a privatized spinoff of the once nationalized British Gas company in the UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BC orders Prince Rupert air shed study with wider scope than the Kitimat report

The province of British Columbia has posted a request for bids for an extensive air shed study for Prince Rupert, a study that has much wider scope that the controversial Kitimat air shed study. The maximum cost for the study is set at $500,000.

The BC Bid site is asking for 

a study of potential impacts to the environment and human health of air emissions from a range of existing and proposed industrial facilities in the Prince Rupert airshed, further referred to as Prince Rupert Airshed Study (PRAS) in North West British Columbia.

The “effects assessment” should include the “prediction of effects of existing and proposed air emissions of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and fine particulate matter (at PM2.5, called dangerous by Wikipedia ) from “an existing BC Hydro gas fired turbine, a proposed oil refinery, and seven proposed LNG export terminals (Pacific Northwest LNG, Prince Rupert LNG, Aurora LNG, Woodside LNG, West Coast Canada LNG, Orca LNG, and Watson Island LNG).”

In addition to “stationary sources” of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter, “the impact assessment will also include rail and marine transportation sources of these contaminants in the study area.”

Area of the proposed Prince Rupert air shed study. (Environment BC)
Area of the proposed Prince Rupert air shed study. (Environment BC)

The request for proposal goes on to say:

The identified sources will be used for air dispersion modelling to determine how the contaminants in various aggregations (scenarios) will interact with the environment, including surface water, soils, vegetation and humans. Interactions of interest will include:

– water impact mechanisms related to acidification and eutrophication;
– soil impact mechanisms related to acidification and eutrophication; and
– vegetation and human health impact mechanisms related to direct exposure.

Water and soil impact predictions will be based on modelled estimates of critical loads for both media, given existing and predicted conditions in the airshed. Vegetation and human health impact predictions will be based on known thresholds of effects, given modelled existing and predicted conditions (contaminant concentrations) in the airshed.

Although the documents say that the Prince Rupert study will be based on the same parameters at the Kitimat air shed study, the Kitimat study only looked at sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, and did not include particulate matter.

Environmental groups also criticized the Kitimat air shed study for not including green house gases. The proposed Prince Rupert study also does not include green house gases.

A draft report is due by March 15, for review by the province and affected First Nations and subject to peer review. The District of Kitimat was not asked for comment on the study  on that air shed study, even though scholars as far away as Finland were asked to review it. It appears that Prince Rupert itself is also excluded from a chance to review the study. The final report is due on May 15.

The province has issued a permit to Rio Tinto Alcan to increase sulphur dioxide emissions from the Kitimat Modernization Project. The Environmental Appeal Board  will hold hearings in January 2015.  Elisabeth Stannus and Emily Toews, from Kitimat,  have appealed against  decision to allow RTA to increase sulphur dioxide emissions.

 

Phil Germuth, Enbridge’s “What the….” moment and what it means for British Columbia

Phil Germuth
Councillor Phil Germuth questions Northern Gateway officials about their plans for leak detection, Feb. 17, 2014 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Enbridge Northern Gateway officials are loath (to put it mildly) to speak to the media but sometimes they let things slip. Earlier this summer, at a social event, I heard an Enbridge official (probably inadvertently) reveal that when the company’s engineers came before District of Kitimat Council earlier this year they were surprised and somewhat unprepared to fully answer the detailed technical questions from Councillor Phil Germuth on pipeline leak detection.

In January, 2015, Phil Germuth will take the centre chair as mayor at the Kitimat Council Chambers.

The results of the municipal election in Kitimat, and elsewhere across BC show one clear message; voters do want industrial development in their communities, but not at any price. Communities are no longer prepared to be drive by casualties for giant corporations on their road to shareholder value.

The federal Conservatives and the BC provincial Liberals have, up until now, successfully used the “all or nothing thinking” argument. That argument is: You either accept everything a project proponent wants, whether in the mining or energy sectors,  or you are against all development. Psychologists will tell you that “all or nothing thinking” only leads to personal defeat and depression. In politics, especially in an age of attack ads and polarization, the all or nothing thinking strategy often works. Saturday’s results, however, show that at least at the municipal level,  the all or nothing argument is a political loser. Where “all politics is local” the majority of people are aware of the details of the issues and reject black and white thinking.

Ray Philpenko
Northern Gateway’s Ray Philpenko gives a presentation on pipeline leak detection to Kitimat Council, Feb. 17. 2014. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The Enbridge official went on to say that for their company observers, Germuth’s questions were a “what the…..” moment.  As in “what the …..” is this small town councillor doing challenging our expertise?

But then Enbridge (and the other pipeline companies) have always tended to under estimate the intelligence of people who live along the route of proposed projects whether in British Columbia or elsewhere in North America, preferring to either ignore or demonize opponents and to lump skeptics into the opponent camp. The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel also lost credibility when it accepted most of Northern Gateway’s arguments at face value while saying “what the ……” do these amateurs living along the pipeline route know?

Pro Development

“I am pro-development,” Germuth proclaimed to reporters in Kitimat on Saturday night after his landslide victory in his campaign for mayor.

On the issue of leak detection, over a period of two years, Germuth did his homework, checked his facts and looked for the best technology on leak detection for pipelines. That’s a crucial issue here where pipelines cross hundreds of kilometres of wilderness and there just aren’t the people around to notice something is amiss (as the people of Marshall, Michigan wondered at the time of the Line 6B breach back in 2010). Enbridge should have been prepared; Germuth first raised public questions about leak detection at a public forum in August 2012. In February 2014, after another eighteen months of research, he was ready to cross-examine, as much as possible under council rules of procedure. Enbridge fumbled the answers.

So that’s the kind of politician that will be mayor of Kitimat for the next four years, technically astute, pro-development but skeptical of corporate promises and determined to protect the environment.

Across the province, despite obstacles to opposition set up by the federal and provincial governments, proponents are now in for a tougher time (something that some companies will actually welcome since it raises the standards for development).

We see similar results in key votes in British Columbia. In Vancouver, Gregor Roberston, despite some problems with policies in some neighborhoods, won re-election on his green and anti-tankers platform. In Burnaby, Derek Corrigan handily won re-election and has already repeated his determination to stop the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline through his town. In Prince Rupert, Lee Brain defeated incumbent Jack Musselman. Brain, who has on the ground experience working at an oil refinery in India, supports LNG development but has also been vocal in his opposition to Northern Gateway.

The new mayor in Terrace Carol Leclerc is an unknown factor, a former candidate for the BC Liberal party, who campaigned mainly on local issues. In the Terrace debate she refused to be pinned down on whether or not she supported Northern Gateway, saying,  “Do I see Enbridge going ahead? Not a hope,” but later adding, “I’d go with a pipeline before I’d go with a rail car.”

 

election signs
Kitimat election signs. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Plebiscite confirmed

Kitimat’s mayor and council elections also confirm that Northern Gateway plebiscite vote last April. Kitimat wants industrial development but not at the price of the community and the environment. The unofficial pro-development slate lost. A last minute attempt to smear Germuth on social media was quickly shot down by people from all sides of the Kitimat debate. Smears don’t usually work in small towns where everyone knows everyone.

Larry Walker, an environmentalist with a track record in municipal politics as an alderman in Spruce Grove, Alberta, won a seat. Together with Rob Goffinet and Germuth, that is three solid votes for the environment. The other new councillor is Claire Rattee who will be one to watch. Will the rookie be the swing vote as Corinne Scott was?

Mario Feldhoff who came to third to Goffinet in the overall vote (Edwin Empinado was second) is a solid councillor with a strong reputation for doing his homework and attention to detail and the unofficial leader of the side more inclined to support development. Feldhoff got votes from all sides in the community.

During the debates, Feldhoff repeated his position that he supports David Black’s Kitimat Clean refinery. But as an accountant, Feldhoff will have to realize that Black’s plan, which many commentators say was economically doubtful with oil at $110 a barrel, is impractical with oil at $78 a barrel for Brent Crude and expected to fall farther. Any idea of a refinery bringing jobs to Kitimat will have to be put on hold for now.

LNG projects are also dependent on the volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace. The companies involved keep postponing the all important Final Investment Decisions.

There are also Kitimat specific issues to deal with. What happens to the airshed, now and in the future? Access to the ocean remains a big issue. RTA’s gift of land on Minette Bay is a step in the right direction, but while estuary land is great for camping, canoeing and nature lovers, it is not a beach. There is still the need for a well-managed marina and boat launch that will be open and available to everyone in the valley.

Germuth will have to unite a sometimes contentious council to ensure Kitimat’s future prosperity without giving up the skepticism necessary when corporations sit on a table facing council on a Monday night, trying to sell their latest projects. That all means that Germuth has his job cut out for him over the next four years.

Editorial: On the Simushir, Oceans Minister Gail Shea takes ministerial responsibility to a new low—the bottom of the sea

On Monday, October 20, 2014, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, stood in the House of Commons during Question Period and proved she is not up for the job.

Answering questions from  Opposition MPs about the incident of the Russian container ship, Simushir, which drifted dangerously close to the coast of Haida Gwaii, Shea got up and read a prepared script, a script with answers which ignored centuries of the laws and custom of the sea, as well as Canada’s own laws and treaty obligations, answers probably written by what are now known as “the kids in short pants” in the Prime Minister’s Office.

There was a time in this country when some ministers of the Crown took their responsibilities seriously. That idea that has decayed over the years and now has been gutted by the adminstration of Stephen Harper. As Ottawa pundits have noted recently, only a small handful of cabinet ministers in the Harper government have any real responsibility and only those  are permitted to answer questions by themselves in the Commons. According to most Ottawa insiders, the less important ministers, like Shea, are basically told what to do by the prime minister’s office.

Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, visited the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Leonard J. Cowley on Friday, December 6,  2013, to examine the fast rescue craft launching mechanism for offshore fishery patrols with Regional Director, Fleet, Stephen Decker and Captain Kerry Evely, Commanding Officer. The Cowley conducts fisheries patrols and monitors fishing activities under Canada's commitment to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. (DFO)
Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, visited the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Leonard J. Cowley on Friday, December 6, 2013, to examine the fast rescue craft launching mechanism for offshore fishery patrols with Regional Director, Fleet, Stephen Decker and Captain Kerry Evely, Commanding Officer. The Cowley conducts fisheries patrols and monitors fishing activities under Canada’s commitment to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. (DFO)

If the House of Commons under Harper could fall any lower, Shea’s attitude (or more likely the PMO’s attitude)  on ship and coastal safety takes the Commons and ministerial responsibility to a new low—the bottom of the sea.

Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley, who represents Haida Gwaii first asked. “Mr. Speaker, on Friday, a Russian ship carrying more than 500 million litres of bunker fuel lost all power just off the coast of Haida Gwaii.The Canadian Coast Guard vessel, the Gordon Reid, was hundreds of kilometres away, and it took almost 20 hours for it to reach the drifting ship. Thankfully, favourable winds helped keep the ship from running aground, and a private American tugboat eventually towed it to shore. Is the minister comfortable with a marine safety plan that is based on a U.S. tugboat and blind luck in order to keep B.C.’s coast safe?”

Shea responded.

“Mr. Speaker, luck had nothing to do with the situation.  The Russian ship lost power outside Canadian waters in very rough weather. The private sector provides towing service to the marine industry. We are grateful that the Canadian Coast Guard was able to keep the situation under control in very difficult conditions until the tug arrived from Prince Rupert.”

Cullen tried again:

“Mr. Speaker, if the government really wanted to show its gratitude to the Canadian Coast Guard maybe it would not have cut $20 million and 300 personnel from its budget. Even after the Gordon Reid arrived, its tow cable snapped three times. The Russian ship was only about a third as big as the huge supertankers that northern gateway would bring to the very same waters off the west coast. How can Conservatives, especially B.C. Conservatives, back their government’s plan to put hundreds of oil supertankers off the B.C. coast when we do not even have the capacity to protect ourselves right now?”

Shea replied: “Mr. Speaker, this Russian ship lost power outside of Canadian waters. The Canadian Coast Guard responded and kept the situation under control, under very difficult conditions, until the tug arrived from Prince Rupert.

We as a government have committed $6.8 billion through the renewal of the Coast Guard fleet, which demonstrates our support for the safety and security of our marine industries and for our environment.”

Related Link: Canadian Coast Guard Mid-Shore Patrol Vessel program

Next to try was Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay from Cardigan.

“Mr. Speaker, the Russian container ship that drifted off the west coast raises serious concerns about the response capability of the Canadian Coast Guard. This serious situation was only under control when a U.S. tugboat arrived.”

Again Shea read her script: “This Russian ship lost power outside Canadian waters.  On the west coast, the private sector provides towing services to the marine industry.’

The final attempt by Liberal Joyce Murray, from Vancouver Quadra, also led to a scripted answer. “ this was a private towing vessel that came to tow the vessel that was in trouble.”

Shea’s answers, especially her repeated reference to “territorial waters” set off a series of “What the…?” posts on Twitter from west coast mariners and sailors, wondering if Shea knew anything about maritime law.

The first question one must ask was Shea actually not telling the whole truth to the House of Commons (which is forbidden by House rules) when she said the Simushir was outside Canadian waters? The Haida Nation, in a news release, (pdf) says the Simushir was “drifting about 12 Nautical Miles North West of Gowgaia Bay located off Moresby Island off Haida Gwaii.”

International law defines territorial waters  as a belt of coastal waters extending at most 12 nautical miles (22.2 km; 13.8 mi) from the baseline (usually the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state.

As Shea’s own DFO website says Canada has exercised jurisdiction over the territorial sea on its east and west coasts out to 12 nautical miles since 1970, first under the Territorial Sea and Fishing Zones Act and now under the Oceans Act. The baselines for measuring the territorial sea were originally set in 1967. While the exact position can and should be confirmed by the ship’s navigation logs and GPS track, it is clear that the container vessel could have been at one point after it lost power within Canada’s territorial waters.

Even if the Simushir wasn’t exactly within territorial waters, the ship was in what again Shea’s own DFO website calls the “contiguous zone “an area of the sea adjacent to and beyond the territorial sea. Its outer limit measures 24 nautical miles from the normal baseline zone.” In any case, the Simushir was well within what Canada says is its “exclusive economic zone” which extends 200 nautical miles from the coastal baseline.

Law of the Sea

So here is the first question about Shea’s competence.

How could she not know that the Simushir was well within Canadian jurisdiction, as defined by her own department’s website? Even if the minister hadn’t read the departmental website, wasn’t she properly briefed by DFO officials?

The second point, is that whether or not the Simushir was in  actually in Canada’s territorial waters is irrelevant. Custom going back centuries, and now the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea  and even the Canada Shipping Act all require the master of a capable vessel to render assistance once that vessel receives a distress call or sees that another vessel is in distress.

The Safety of Life at Sea Convention

… the master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance, on receiving a signal from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so.

And the Canada Shipping Act requires

Every qualified person who is the master of a vessel in any waters, on receiving a signal from any source that a person, a vessel or an aircraft is in distress, shall proceed with all speed to render assistance and shall, if possible, inform the persons in distress or the sender of the signal.

The master of a vessel in Canadian waters and every qualified person who is the master of avessel in any waters shall render assistance to every person who is found at sea and in danger of being lost.

Note the phrase any waters. Not just in Canadian territorial waters as the Shea, the minister responsible for the ocean seemed to imply in her Commons answers.

That once again calls into question Shea’s fitness to be a minister of the Crown.

If she did not know about the UN conventions on the law of the sea, of which Canada is signatory, or the Canada Shipping Act, she is not up for the job as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

If, as the minister responsible for oceans, she knew the law and was told by the PMO to mislead the House of Commons, she is is irresponsible and MPs should ask the Speaker if she actually broke the rules of the House.

 UN training document on the Law of the Sea Convention, including rescue at sea.  (pdf)

Regulation Seven of the Annex on Search and Rescue Services states

 Each Contracting Government undertakes to ensure that necessary arrangements are made for distress communication and co-ordination in their area of responsibility and for the rescue of persons in distress at sea around its coasts. These arrangements shall include the establishment, operation and maintenance of such search and rescue facilities as are deemed practicable and necessary, having regard to the density of the seagoing traffic and the navigational dangers, and shall, so far as possible, provide adequate means of locating and rescuing such persons.

Note that the regulation does not say within territorial waters, but “around its coasts.”

Rendering assistance

Canada has always rendered assistance to distressed vessels not just up and down the coast but around the world. Take the case of HMCS Chartlottetown. On February 3, 2008, HMCS Chartlottetown on anti-piracy and anti-terrorist patrol in the North Arabian Sea, spotted a rusty barge with some men stranded on the deck. It turned out the men were from Pakistan and that the vessel towing the barge had sunk with all hands, leaving only the men on the barge alive. The North Arabian Sea is far out side Canadian territorial waters.

In February, 2008. the crew of HMS Charlottown rescued the crew of a Pakistani barge that was drifting in the North Arabian sea after the tug that was hauling the barge sank. (MCS CHARLOTTETOWN’s approach team speaks to Pakistani crewmembers who were stranded on a barge after the vessel towing it sunk with their fellow crewmembers on board in the Northern Arabian Sea. MCS CHARLOTTETOWN’s approach team speaks to Pakistani crew members who were stranded on a barge after the vessel towing it sunk with their fellow crewmembers on board in the Northern Arabian Sea. (Cpl Robert LeBlanc,/Canadian Forces Combat Camera)
In February, 2008. the crew of HMCS Charlottetown rescued the crew of a Pakistani barge that was drifting in the North Arabian sea after the tug that was hauling the barge sank. (Cpl Robert LeBlanc,/Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

On must wonder then if the Harper Government, or at least Minister Shea is suggesting that this country ignore centuries of maritime law and custom and, in the future, pass that barge by because it was not in Canadian waters?

Perhaps buried in the next omnibus bill we will see the Harper Government restrict rescue at sea to Canadian territorial waters. Farfetched? Well that is what Minister Shea’s answer in the Commons seems to suggest.

Given the cutbacks to the Coast Guard services over the past few years, and if there are going to be large tankers, whether LNG or bitumen, on the west coast, it is an open question whether or not the Harper government has actually made  those “arrangements shall include the establishment, operation and maintenance of such search and rescue facilities as are deemed practicable and necessary, having regard to the density of the seagoing traffic and the navigational dangers, and shall, so far as possible, provide adequate means of locating and rescuing such persons.”

Now comes the question of the use of the tug Barbara Foss and the two Smit tugs that later joined to tow the Simushir into Prince Rupert harbour.

It is the responibility of the owner or manager of a disabled vessel, large or small, to contract with a tug or towing service to safely take it back to port. But, and it’s a big but, the tow begins only when it is safe to do so, if there is a danger of the ship foundering, sinking or running aground, it is the obligation of all the responding vessels to render assistance, not just the tug contracted to do the job.

(There are reports that the Simushir owners chose to hire the Barbara Foss rather than the heavy duty Smit tugs available at Prince Rupert. Jonathan Whitworth, CEO of Seaspan told Gary Mason of The Globe and Mail that there are about 80 boats on the west coast, capable of  heavy-duty towing, but noted that as in the case of the Simushir, those vessels may not be available when needed)

While around the Lower Mainland of BC, even a small boat that has run out of gas or has engine trouble can get commercial assistance from many service providers, the same is not true of the north coast, or at Haida Gwaii, where are no such regular services. Seapan’s Whitworth told The Globe and Mail there is often a 6,000 horsepower log hauling tug that works off Haida Gwaii. but he also noted that it would be too expensive to have a tug permanently moored on the archipelago.

That means mariners who run out of gas or have engine trouble, say on Douglas Channel, have to call Prince Rupert Coast Guard radio and request assistance either from nearby vessels or from the volunteer Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue  service. RCMSAR policy says that a the rescue boat will not tow a vessel if “commercial assistance is reguarly available.” If commercial assistance is not available RCMSAR is only obligated to tow the boat as far as a “safe haven,” where the boat can tie up safely or contract for that “commercial assistance.”

Here on Douglas Channel the safe haven is usually Kitimat harbour and thus during the summer frequently either a good  Samaritan vessel or RCMSAR take the disabled vessel all the way to MK Bay.

Shea’s pat answer to the Opposition questions only betrayed the fact that the east coast minister is woefully ignorant of conditions on the northern coast of British Columbia.

In the old days, a minister who screwed up so badly would be asked to resign. That never happens any more. Ministerial responsibility has sunk to the bottom of the sea.

The bigger picture question seems to be. Why, if the Harper government is so anxious to get hydrocarbons, whether bitumen or natural gas to “tide water” does it keep going out of its way to show its contempt for the people who live on Canada’s west coast?

A note for the voters of Prince Edward Island, where Shea is the member for Egmont. Consider this, if a ship gets into trouble outside the 12 mile limit, trouble that could threaten your beautiful red sandy beaches, you’re likely on your own.