The US based Natural Resources Defence Counsel environmental group, a major opponent of both the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipeline projects, is praising Rio Tinto for divesting its interests in the controversial Alaska Pebble Mine project.
The NRDC is, in fact, so pleased, with Rio Tinto that they took out an expensive full page ad in London’s Financial Times to congratulate the mining and smelting giant which, of course, owns Rio Tinto Alcan and the aluminum smelter in Kitimat. Related Rio Tinto donates $19 million Pebble Mine stake to charity
The National Resources Defence Counsel is often a favourite target for the Harper government and oil-patch conservatives who see it as one of the foreign environmental groups interfering in Canadian affairs.
We’ve gone each year [to corporate shareholder meetings or to meet corporate executives] to fight the Pebble Mine — a 21st Century example of what the mining industry will do if given free reign, based on promises of safety, sustainability, and technological innovation that can’t be kept and must not be believed….
In 2010, I also traveled to Tokyo to meet with leadership of Mitsubishi Corporation, a former significant Pebble shareholder that quietly sold all of its interest in the project eight months later.
This has become an essential aspect of our advocacy with multi-national corporations: meeting privately with company leadership and participating in the once-a-year public gathering of their shareholders, of which – in order to gain access — we are one. Attending the shareholder meetings is no fun, requiring immersion in a world where natural resources are for extraction and exploitation, where representatives from far-flung communities seeking remediation and redress from contamination recount the tragic impacts of mining on their daily lives.
But this year promised to be different for the residents of Bristol Bay – and for those of us supporting their cause.
Reynolds goes on to write that a week after Rio Tinto announced the divestment, they were meeting with RT CEO Sam Walsh and senior executives in the London headquarters:
We were there to thank them for listening to the people of Bristol Bay who, by overwhelming numbers, have consistently voiced their opposition to the mine – a project that embodies the greatest threat ever posed to the economic lifeblood of the region, the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery.
Each of us in turn – including Bobby Andrew (Yupik elder and spokesperson for Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of Bristol Bay village corporations and tribes; Kim Williams, Executive Director of Nunamta Aulukestai; and Bonnie Gestring, Circuitrider for Earthworks) — delivered a simple message: that Rio Tinto had fulfilled its commitment to Bristol Bay’s communities to act responsibly in a manner consistent with protection of the wild salmon fishery and the wishes of the people who depend on it. Given the scope of the proposed Pebble Mine and the unavoidable risks of contamination associated with its location, there is only one responsible course – divestment – and that is precisely what Rio Tinto had done. The company deserved congratulations, and we conveyed it unequivocally.
Later, meeting with Rio Tinto directors, Reynolds presented the board with a copy of the ad from the Financial Times.
In the blog, Reynolds noted that Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Minerals is determined to proceed with the project and so the NRDC says “despite major progress against the Pebble project, our work isn’t done, and we remain committed to continuing the fight – along with our Members and activists in support of the people of Bristol Bay.”
In taking out the ad, NRDC’s Taryn Kiekow Heimer, Senior Policy Analyst, Marine Mammal Protection Project, said:
NRDC and its 1.4 million members and activists join the people from Bristol Bay, Alaska Natives, commercial fishermen, sportsmen, jewelers, chefs, restaurant and lodge owners, and conservationists in thanking Rio Tinto for showing environmental and financial leadership by divesting from Pebble Mine.
The Haisla Nation and other groups often quoted NRDC studies on pipelines in their presentations before the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel.
Rio Tinto had a 19 per cent stake in Northern Dynasty, a Vancouver-based mining company whose main asset is the Pebble project in Alaska.
The FT reports that Pebble is one of the world’s largest known undeveloped copper resources. The project is mired in disagreement because of concern over its potential effect on salmon stocks.
The FT report says the US Environmental Protection Agency said that it would investigate whether fisheries in the region could be protected. The EPA investigation stops any award of environmental permits for the mine in the meantime, and could lead to a permanent block on the project by the EPA.
According to the report, Rio Tinto said it would donate its shares in Northern Dynasty – worth about $19 million Canadian – to two charitable foundations in Alaska: the Alaska Community Foundation, which funds educational and vocational training, and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation, which supports educational and cultural programmes in the region.
The Pebble Mine would be near rich salmon rivers which flow into Bristol Bay, Alaska. Opponents of the project fear that the giant mine would irreversibly damage salmon stocks for centuries to come.
That was 25 years ago. The media loves anniversary stories and the Exxon Valdez look-backs and updates are already ramping up—right in the middle of the Kitimat plebiscite on the Northern Gateway pipeline and terminal project.
The hashtag #ExxonValdez25 is beginning to trend, based on a Twitter chat for Monday sponsored by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The voters of Kitimat who will have to cast their ballots on the Joint Review Panel’s interpretation of the Northern Gateway proposal will find once again that the JRP tilted toward the industry and downplayed the lingering risks from a major tanker disaster—and that means neither the pro nor the anti side can be happy with the events that will be marked on March 24, 2014.
The Exxon Valdez accident is part of the Joint Review Panel findings that the economic benefits of Northern Gateway outweigh the risks. The JRP generally accepted the industry position, taken by both Northern Gateway and by ExxonMobil that Prince William Sound has recovered from the Exxon Valdez incident, something that is fiercely debated and disputed.
One area that is not in dispute is that the Exxon Valez disaster brought laws that forced energy companies to use double-hulled tankers. However, commercials that indicate that Northern Gateway will be using double-hulled tankers because the company respects the BC coast is pushing things a bit far, since those tankers are required by law.
Northern Gateway told the Joint Reivew Panel that
on a worldwide basis, all data sets show a steady reduction in the number
and size of oil spills since the 1970s. This decline has been even more apparent since regulatory changes in 1990 following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which required a phase-in of double-hulled tankers in the international fleet. No double-hulled tanker has sunk since 1990. There have been five incidents of double-hulled tankers that have had a collision or grounding that penetrated the cargo tanks. Resulting spills ranged from 700 to 2500 tonnes
The Haisla countered by saying:
The Haisla Nation said that, although there have been no major spills since the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, there were 111 reported incidents involving tanker traffic in Prince William Sound between 1997 and 2007. The three most common types of incidents were equipment malfunctions, problems with propulsion, steering, or engine function, and very small spills from tankers at berth at the marine terminal. The Haisla Nation said that, in the absence of state-of-the-art prevention systems in Prince William Sound, any one of those incidents could have resulted in major vessel casualties or oil spills.
The herring of Prince William Sound still have not recovered. Neither have killer whales, and legal issues remain unresolved a quarter of a century later. Monday is the 25th anniversary of the disaster, in which the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef and spilled at least 11 million gallons of oil into the pristine waters of the sound.
Prince William Sound today looks spectacular, a stunning landscape of mountainous fjords, blue-green waters and thickly forested islands. Pick up a stone on a rocky beach, maybe dig a little, though, and it is possible to still find pockets of oil.
“I think the big surprise for all of us who have worked on this thing for the last 25 years has been the continued presence of relatively fresh oil,” said Gary Shigenaka, a marine biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The legal dispute over the spill is still ongoing, with the Telegraph’s Joanna Walters noting:
[S]tate senator Berta Gardner is pushing for Alaskan politicians to demand that the US government forces ExxonMobil Corporation to pay up a final $92 million (£57 million), in what has become the longest-running environmental court case in history. The money would primarily be spent on addressing the crippled herring numbers and the oiled beaches.
“There’s still damage from the spill. The oil on the beaches is toxic and hurting wildlife. We can’t just say we’ve done what we can and it’s all over – especially with drilling anticipated offshore in the Arctic Ocean – this is significant for Alaska and people around the world,” she told The Telegraph.
An ExxonMobil spokesman then told The Telegraph, the energy sector’s standard response:
Richard Keil, a senior media relations adviser at ExxonMobil, said: “The overwhelming consensus of peer-reviewed scientific papers is that Prince William Sound has recovered and the ecosystem is healthy and thriving.”
But federal scientists estimate that between 16,000 and 21,000 gallons of oil from the spill lingers on beaches in Prince William Sound and up to 450 miles away, some of it no more biodegraded than it was at the time of the disaster.
Overall, the Exxon Valdez disaster was, as US National Public Radio reported, a spur to science. But NPR’s conclusion is the exact opposite of that from the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel—at least when it comes to fish embryos.
Twenty-five years of research following the Exxon Valdez disaster has led to some startling conclusions about the persistent effects of spilled oil.
When the tanker leaked millions of gallons of the Alaskan coast, scientists predicted major environmental damage, but they expected those effects to be short lived. Instead, they’ve stretched out for many years.
What researchers learned as they puzzled through the reasons for the delayed recovery fundamentally changed the way scientists view oil spills. One of their most surprising discoveries was that long-lasting components of oil thought to be benign turned out to cause chronic damage to fish hearts when fish were exposed to tiny concentrations of the compounds as embryos.
It seems that some species recovered better than others from the oilspill.
For example, the recovery of the sea otter population has received widespread media coverage, but with widely divergent points of view. The more conservative and pro-industry writers point to the recovery of the otter population, while environmental coverage stresses the quarter century it took for the otter population to rebound.
Although recovery timelines varied widely among species, our work shows that recovery of species vulnerable to long-term effects of oil spills can take decades,” said lead author of the study, Brenda Ballachey, research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “For sea otters, we began to see signs of recovery in the years leading up to 2009, two decades after the spill, and the most recent results from 2011 to 2013 are consistent with recovery
The Joint Review Panel generally accepted Northern Gateway’s and the energy industry’s evidence on the Exxon Valdez incident and concluded
The Panel’s finding regarding ecosystem recovery following a large spill is based on extensive scientific evidence filed by many parties, including information on recovery of the environment from large past spill events such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Panel notes that different parties sometimes referred to the same studies on environmental recovery after oil spills, and drew different conclusions.
In its consideration of natural recovery of the environment, the Panel focused on effects that are more readily measurable such as population level impacts, harvest levels, or established environmental quality criteria such as water and sediment quality criteria.
The Panel finds that the evidence indicates that ecosystems will recover over time after a spill and that the post-spill ecosystem will share functional attributes of the pre-spill one. Postspill ecosystems may not be identical to pre-spill ecosystems. Certain ecosystem components may continue to show effects, and residual oil may remain in some locations. In certain unlikely circumstances, the Panel finds that a localized population or species could potentially be permanently affected by an oil spill.
Scientific studies after the Exxon Valdez spill indicated that the vast majority of species recovered following the spill and that functioning ecosystems, similar to those existing pre-spill, were established.
Species for which recovery is not fully apparent, such as Pacific herring, killer whales, and pigeon guillemots, appear to have been affected by other environmental factors or human influences not associated with the oil spill. Insufficient pre-spill baseline data on these species contributed to difficulties in determining the extent of spill effects.
Based on the evidence, the Panel finds that natural recovery of the aquatic environment after an oil spill is likely to be the primary recovery mechanism, particularly for marine spills. Both freshwater and marine ecosystem recovery is further mitigated where cleanup is possible, effective, and beneficial to the environment.
Natural processes that degrade oil would begin immediately following a spill. Although residual oil could remain buried in sediments for years, the Panel finds that toxicity associated with that oil would decline over time and would not cause widespread, long-term impacts.
The Panel finds that Northern Gateway’s commitment to use human interventions, including available spill response technologies, would mitigate spill impacts to ecosystems and assist in species recovery..
It is clear, however, from the local coverage in Alaska and from the attention of the world’s media that Prince William Sound has not fully recovered from the Exxon Valdez incident (it may yet in who knows how many years). Anger and bitterness still remains among the residents of Alaska, especially since the court cases are dragging on after a quarter century.
Those are the kinds of issues that Kitimat residents will face when they vote in the plebiscite on April 12. Just who do the people of Kitimat believe, those who say the chances for a spill are remote and the environment and the economy will quickly recover? It probably depends on whether or not you consider 25 years quick. Twenty-five years is quick in geological time but it is a third or a half of a human life time.
As for the residents of Kitamaat Village, and probably many people in Kitimat, Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross summed it up in a Facebook posting on Sunday
If this happens in Kitamaat, all those campaigning for Enbridge will pack up and leave for another coastline to foul. Haisla don’t have much of a choice. We would have to stay and watch the court battles on who should pay what.
Ross is right. Whether it’s Prince William Sound or Douglas Channel, the people who live the region are stuck with the mess while the big companies walk away and the lawyers get rich.
The herring, now dwindling on on the Pacific Coast, was once “superabundant” from Washington State through British Columbia to Alaska and that is a warning for the future, a new study says.
A team of scientists lead by Simon Fraser University argue that the archaeological record on the Pacific Coast offers a “deep time perspective” going back ten thousand years that can be a guide for future management of the herring and other fish species.
An archaeological study looked at 171 First Nations’ sites from Washington to Alaska and recovered and analyzed 435,777 fish bones from various species.
Herring bones were the most abundant and dating shows that herring abundance can be traced from about 10,700 years ago to about the mid-nineteenth century with the arrival of Europeans and the adoption of industrial harvesting methods by both settlers and some First Nations.
That means herring were perhaps the greatest food source for First Nations for ten thousand years surpassing the “iconic salmon.” Herring bones were the most frequent at 56 per cent of the sites surveyed and made up for 49 per cent of the bones at sites overall.
The study is one of many initiatives of the SFU-based Herring School, a group of researchers that investigates the cultural and ecological importance of herring.
“By compiling the largest data set of archaeological fish bones in the Pacific Northwest Coast, we demonstrate the value of using such data to establish an ecological baseline for modern fisheries,” says Iain McKechnie. The SFU archaeology postdoctoral fellow is the study’s lead author and a recent University of British Columbia graduate.
Co-author and SFU archaeology professor Dana Lepofsky states: “Our archaeological findings fit well with what First Nations have been telling us. Herring have always played a central role in the social and economic lives of coastal communities. Archaeology, combined with oral traditions, is a powerful tool for understanding coastal ecology prior to industrial development.”
The researchers drew from their ancient data-catch concrete evidence that long-ago herring populations were consistently abundant and widespread for thousands of years. This contrasts dramatically with today’s dwindling and erratic herring numbers.
“This kind of ecological baseline extends into the past well beyond the era of industrial fisheries. It is critical for understanding the ecological and cultural basis of coastal fisheries and designing sustainable management systems today,” says Ken Lertzman, another SFU co-author. The SFU School of Resource and Environmental Management professor directs the Hakai Network for Coastal People, Ecosystems and Management.
The paper says that the abundance of herring is additionally mirrored in First Nations’ place
names and origin narratives. They give the example of the 2,400-y-old site at Nulu where herring
made up about 85 per cent of the fish found in local middens. In Heiltsuk oral tradition, it is Nulu where Raven first found herring. Another site, 25 kilometres away at the Koeye River, has only has about 10 per cent herring remains and is not associated with herring in Heiltsuk tradition.
(In an e-mail to Northwest Coast Energy News, McKechnie said “there is a paucity of archaeological data from Kitimat and Douglas Channel. There is considerable data from around Prince Rupert, the Dundas Islands and on the central coast Namu/Bella Bella/ Rivers Inlet area and in southern Haida Gwaii.”)
The study says that the archaeological record indicates that places with abundant herring were consistently harvested over time, and suggests that the areas where herring massed or spawned were more extensive and less variable in the past than today. It says that even if there were natural variations in the herring population, the First Nations harvest did not affect the species overall.
Many coastal groups maintained family-owned locations for harvesting herring and herring roe from anchored kelp fronds, eel grass, or boughs of hemlock or cedar trees. Herring was harvested at other times of the year than the spawning period when massing in local waters but most ethnohistorical observations identify late winter and springtime spawning as a key period of harvest for both roe and fish.
The herring and herring roe were either consumed or traded among the First Nations.
Sustainable harvests encouraged by building kelp gardens,wherein some roe covered fronds were not collected, by minimizing noise and movement during spawning events, and by elaborate systems of kin-based rights and responsibilities that regulated herring use and distribution.
Industrial harvesting and widespread consumption changed all that. Large numbers of herring were harvested to for rendering to oil or meal. By 1910, the problem was already becoming clear. In that year British Columbia prohibited the reduction of herring for oil and fertilizer. There were reports at that time that larger bays on the Lower Mainland were “being gradually deserted by the larger schools where they were formerly easily obtained.”
But harvesting continued, in 1927 the fishery on eastern Vancouver Island, Columbia, processed
31,103 tons of herring. The SFU study notes that that is roughly twice the harvest rate for 2012 and would also be about 38 per cent of the current herring biomass in the Strait of Georgia.
In Alaska, reduction of herring began in 1882 and reached a peak of 75,000 tons in 1929.
As the coastal populations dwindled, as with other fisheries, the emphasis moved to deeper water. By the 1960s, the herring populations of British Columbia and Washington had collapsed. Canada banned herring reduction entirely in 1968, Washington followed in the early 1980s.
In the 1970s, the herring population off Japan collapsed, which opened up the demand for North American roe, which targeted female herring as they were ready to spawn. That further reduced the herring population so that the roe fishery is now limited to just a few areas including parts of the Salish Sea and off Sitka and Togiak, Alaska.
The First Nations food, social and ceremonial herring fishery continues.
Government fishery managers, scientists, and local and indigenous peoples lack consensus on the cumulative consequences of ongoing commercial fisheries on herring populations. Many First Nations, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and other local fishers, based on personal observations and traditional knowledge, hypothesize that local herring stocks, on which they consistently relied for generations, have been dramatically reduced and made more difficult to access following 20th century industrial fishing
Deep time perspective
The SFU study says that some fisheries managers are suggesting that the herring population has just shifted to other locations and other causes may be climate change and the redounding of predator populations.
But the study concludes, that:
Our data support the idea that if past populations of Pacific herring exhibited substantial variability, then this variability was expressed around a high enough mean abundance such that there was adequate herring available for indigenous fishers to sustain their harvests but avoid the extirpation of local populations.
These records thus demonstrate a fishery that was sustainable at local and regional scales over millennia, and a resilient relationship between harvesters, herring, and environmental change that has been absent in the modern era.
Archaeological data have the potential to provide a deep time perspective on the interaction between humans and the resources on which they depend.
Furthermore, the data can contribute significantly toward developing temporally meaningful ecological baselines that avoid the biases of shorter-term records.
Other universities participating in the study were the University of British Columbia, University of Oregon, Portland State University, Lakehead University, University of Toronto, Rutgers University and the University of Alberta.
The worldwide population of Orcas probably crashed during the last Ice Age, creating a “bottleneck” in the genetic diversity of the species around the world, a problem that could continue to affect killer whales today, according to a new genetic study published on February 4,2014.
Rus Hoelzel from the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, at Durham University, in the UK and colleagues used DNA sequencing from archive material from earlier studies, or from museum specimens to track the evolution of the Orcas.
One group of Orcas that lives off South Africa are an exception, with greater genetic diversity than others, the new study has revealed.
“Killer whales have a broad world-wide distribution, rivaling that of humans. At the same time, they have very low levels of genetic diversity,” Hoelzel said.
“Our data suggest that a severe reduction in population size during the coldest period of the last ice age could help explain this low diversity, and that it could have been an event affecting populations around the world.
The Orca population along the Northwest Pacific Coast has the same low genetic diversity as in other areas, the study showed.
The killer whale is as a top predator, feeding on everything from seals to sharks. That means from the top of the food chain, the Orca also serves as a sentinel species for past and future ocean ecosystems and environmental change.
In the study published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, Hoelzel and his colleagues assembled 2.23 gigabytes of Northern Hemisphere killer whale genomic data and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from 616 samples worldwide.
The scientists concluded that killer whales were stable in population size during most of the Pleistocene (2.5 million – 11,000 years ago) followed by a rapid decline and bottleneck during the last great period of the Ice Age (110,000-12,000 years ago).
“Our data supports the idea of a population bottleneck affecting killer whales over a wide geographic range and leading to the loss of diversity,” Hoelzel said. “The South African population stands out as an exception, which may be due to local conditions that were productive and stable over the last million years or so.”
They are pointing to the “Benguela upwelling” ocean system which delivers nutrient rich cold water to the oceans off South Africa. The Benguela system remained stable despite the last glacial period and the nutrient rich water would have been able to sustain the supplies of fish and dolphins that killer whales in this part of the world feed on.
The scientists believe that other major upwelling systems around the world – the California current off North America; Humboldt off South America; and the Canary current off the coast of North Africa – were either disrupted or collapsed altogether during the last glacial or Pleistocene periods. This could potentially have reduced the food supply to killer whales in these areas, leading to the fall in their numbers.
While it was likely that other factors affecting killer whale populations were “overlapping and complex”, the scientists ruled out hunting as an effect on the bottleneck in populations. Hunting by early man could not have happened on a sufficient enough scale to promote the global decline in killer whale numbers.
In an e-mail to Northwest Coast Energy News, Hoelzel said that the team sequenced the DNA from a male killer whale from the Southeast Alaska resident community. “This genome revealed the same pattern of historical population dynamics as we found for a whale from the North Atlantic, suggesting shared history across a very broad geographic range, and a shared population bottleneck around the time of the last glacial maximum,” Hoelzel said.
The scientists say looking at the genetic diversity of the ocean’s other top predators, such as sharks, might potentially suggest a negative impact on their numbers too during the Ice Age.
In a news release, Rio Tinto says it is considering its future holdings in a Vancouver-based mining company named Northern Dynasty, which now is the main proponent of the copper and gold mine project. Rio Tinto “through QIT-Fer et Titane Inc., an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto plc, owns 18,145,845 common shares of Northern Dynasty, representing approximately 19.1 per cent of Northern Dynasty’s issued and outstanding shares.”
Rio Tinto says the review is part of the financially troubled conglomerate’s review of its mining holdings: “Rio Tinto will consider the Pebble Project’s fit with the Group’s strategy of investing in and operating long life and expandable assets, and with the strategy for its Copper business, which is focused on its four producing assets (Kennecott Utah Copper, Oyu Tolgoi and its interests in Escondida and Grasberg), and two development projects, La Granja in Peru and Resolution in Arizona.”
The Pebble Mine project is as controversial in Alaska and the western United States as the Northern Gateway pipeline project is in British Columbia. Critics say the proposed huge open pit copper and gold mine could endanger the Alaska headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers, considered two of the world’s great salmon spawning grounds. Both flow into the “salmon nursery” in Bristol Bay, where young salmon go to feed, possibly also imperiling salmon stocks from both Alaska and British Columbia
New York City controller John Liu and California state controller John Chiang said their letter was prompted when Rio Tinto rival Anglo-American sold its share of the controversial project in September.
Their letter cited environmental concerns, including the fact that the project would leave 10 billion tonnes of mining waste near the salmon spawning grounds, increased regulatory scrutiny from the US Environmental Protection Agency and what the two controllers called “reputational risks” including opposition from Alaska First Nations and even jewelry companies like Tiffany & Co and Zales and Jostens. The letter cited a poll which showed 73 per cent of Americans, 84 per cent of Alaskans and 98 per cent of Bristol Bay residents opposed the project.
When it decided to sell its share back to Northern Dynasty, Anglo-American also cited a “strategic review” of the company’s operations.
At the time, Rio Tinto’s Jennifer Ruso told the Alaska Dispatch, the company “will only participate in the project if it can be constructed, operated and closed in a manner that preserves the water, salmon, fisheries, wildlife and the environment. The project must also be developed in accordance with our strict standards for health, safety, environmental protection, cultural heritage, and community relations.”
Northern Dynasty and Rio Tinto then said they were considering an underground mine instead of an open pit operation, which did not satisfy environmental critics of the project.
On December 13, Northern Dynasty reported that it had re-acquired 100 per cent ownership of the Pebble Mine project after completing the pull out deal with Anglo-American.
The company, however, is looking for new partners. It says:
Our primary focus is to select the right partner for Northern Dynasty and the right investor for Alaska, a company with sufficient financial resources and technical capabilities, working experience in the United States and a shared commitment to environmentally sound and socially responsible development. We have little doubt that Pebble will attract major mining company interest in the months ahead.
The news release says that Northern Dynasty has spent US$556 million over the past few years and “substantial progress has been made toward our goal of permitting, constructing and operating a world-class, modern and environmentally responsible mine at Pebble that will co-exist with the fisheries resources of southwest Alaska.”
In the news release, Northern Dynasty President & CEO Ronald Thiessen said Pebble’s engineering design, environmental science and regulatory planning were advanced that the company would begin to ask for US and Alaska permitting under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) sometime the first quarter of 2014.
It describes the project this way:
The Pebble Project is an initiative to responsibly develop a globally significant copper, gold and molybdenum deposit in southwest Alaska into a modern, long-life mine, which will benefit not only Northern Dynasty, but the people, culture and industries of the State of Alaska, as well as suppliers, consultants and industries in the Lower 48 United States of America.
A recent study authored by IHS Global Insight, entitled The Economic and Employment Contributions of a Conceptual Pebble Mine to the Alaska and United States Economies found the Pebble Project has the potential to support 15,000 American jobs and contribute more than $2.5 billion annually to US GDP over decades of production.
The Pebble Project is located 200 miles southwest of Anchorage on state land designated for mineral exploration and development. It is situated in a region of rolling tundra approximately 1,000 feet above sea-level, 65 miles from tidewater on Cook Inlet and presents favourable conditions for successful mine site and infrastructure development.
As the Alaska Dispatch reported when Anglo-American pulled out, the copper and gold deposits are so extensive and potentially valuable that pressure to develop the mine will continue despite the threat to salmon and the Alaska environment.
Special report: Clio Bay cleanup: Controversial, complicated and costly
Chevron, the company operating the KM LNG project at Bish Cove and the Haisla Nation have proposed that marine clay from the Bish Cove construction site be used to cap more than 10,000 sunken and rotting logs in Clio Bay. Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross says he hopes that using clay to cover the logs will help remediate the environmentally degrading sections of the Bay. The proposal has brought heated controversy over the plan, both among residents of Kitimat and some members of the Haisla Nation, who say that Clio Bay is full of life and that the capping will cause irreparable damage.
An investigation by Northwest Coast Energy News shows that capping thousands of sunken logs is a lot more complicated and possibly costly than anyone has considered. It is also clear that many of the comments both supporting and opposing the Clio Bay project are based on guesses rather than the extensive scientific literature available on the subject.
Northwest Coast Energy News findings include:
In 1997, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans surveyed sunken log sites in Douglas Channel. The results, published in 2000, identified 52 sites just on Douglas Channel and the Gardner Canal that had various levels of enviromental degradation due to sunken logs. Clio Bay was not the list. The DFO scientists recomended followup studies that never happened.
Scientific studies show that degradation from sunken logs can vary greatly, even within one body of water, due to depth, currents, number of logs, and other factors. So one part of a bay can be vibrant and another part environmentally degraded due to low levels of dissolved oxygen and decaying organic material.
If KM LNG wasn’t paying for the remediation of Clio Bay, it could be very expensive. Capping sunken logs at a cove near Ketchikan, Alaska, that is the same size and shape as Clio Bay cost the US and Alaska governments and the companies involved $2,563,506 in 2000 US dollars. The total cost of the cleanup of the site which was also contaminated with pulp mill effluent was $3,964,000. The estimated cost of capping the logs in the Alaska project was $110 per cubic yard.
The Alaska project shows that a remediation project means while most of the logs in a bay or cove can be capped, in some parts of a water body, depending on currents, contamination and planned future use, the logs have to be removed and the area dredged.
Agencies such as the State of Alaska, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers all recommend using “clean sand” for capping operations. Although “clay balls” have been used for capping in some cases, the US officials contacted say they had no record of large amounts of marine clay ever being used for capping. They also noted that every log capping project they were aware of happened in sites that had other forms of contamination such as pulp mill effluent.
Chevron only recently retained the environmental consulting firm Stantec to study Clio Bay. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has told District of Kitimat Council it recently completed mapping of the seafloor at Clio Bay. The Alaska project was preceded by five years of monitoring and studies before capping and cleanup began.
A letter from Fisheries and Oceans to the District of Kitimat says that Clio Bay has been mapped and the department is planning to monitor any capping operations. However, it appears from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website that the department has no current policies on remediation since the Conservative government passed two omnibus which weakened the country’s environmental laws. According to the website, new remediation policies are now being drafted. That means that although DFO will be monitoring the Clio Bay operation, it is uncertain what standards DFO will be using to supervise whatever happens in Clio Bay.
Northwest Coast Energy News is continuing its investigation of the sunken logs problem. Expect more stories in the days to come.
Special report: Clio Bay cleanup: Controversial, complicated and costly
Haisla First Nation Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross says the Haisla made the proposal to the KM LNG project, a partnership of Chevron and Apache, to use the marine clay to cover the thousands of logs at the bottom of Clio Bay after years frustration with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the BC provincial government, which for decades ignored requests for help in restoring almost fifty sunken log sites in Haisla traditional territory.
The problem is that remediation of the hundreds of sites on Canada’s west coast most containing tens of thousands of sunken logs has been so low on DFO’s priority list that even before the omnibus bills that gutted environmental protection in Canada, remediation of sunken log sites by DFO could be called no priority.
Now that the KM LNG has to depose of a total of about 3.5 million cubic metres of marine clay and possibly other materials from the Bish Cove site, suddenly log remediation went to high priority at DFO.
The controversy is rooted in the fact that although the leaders of the Haisla and the executives at Chevron knew about the idea of capping Clio Bay, people in the region, both many residents of Kitimat and some members of the Haisla were surprised when the project was announced in the latest KM LNG newsletter distributed to homes in the valley.
In a statement sent to Northwest Coast Energy News Chevron spokesperson Gillian Robinson Ridell said:
The Clio Bay Restoration Project proposed by Chevron, is planned to get underway sometime in early 2014. The proposal is fully supported by the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Haisla First Nation Council. The project has been put forward as the best option for removal of the marine clay that is being excavated from the Kitimat LNG site at Bish Cove. Chevron hired Stantec, an independent engineering and environmental consulting firm with extensive experience in many major habitat restoration projects that involve public safety and environmental conservation. The Haisla, along with Stantec’s local marine biologists, identified Clio Bay as a site that has undergone significant environmental degradation over years of accumulation of underwater wood debris caused by historic log-booming operations. The proposal put forward by the marine biologists was that restoration of the marine ecosystem in the Bay could be achieved if marine clay from Chevron’s facility site, was used to cover the woody debris at the bottom of the Bay. The process outlined by the project proposal is designed to restore the Clio Bay seafloor to its original soft substrate that could sustain a recovery of biological diversity.
Non-aboriginal residents of Kitimat are increasingly worried about being cut off from both Douglas Channel and the terrestrial back country by industrial development. These fears have been heightened by reports that say that Clio Bay could be closed to the public for “safety reasons” for as much as 16 months during the restoration project.
The fact that Clio is known both as a safe anchorage during bad weather and an easy to get to location for day trips from Kitimat has made those worries even more critical.
There is also a strong feeling in Kitimat that the residents were kept out of the loop when it came to the Clio Bay proposal.
In a letter to the District of Kitimat, DFO said:
Clio Bay has been used as a log handling site for decades which has resulted in areas of degraded habitat from accumulations of woody debris materials on the sea floor. The project intends to cap impacted areas with inert materials and restore soft substrate seafloor. The remediation of the seafloor is predicted to enhance natural biodiversity and improve the productivity of the local fishery for Dungeness crab. The project area does support a variety of life that will be impact and therefore the project will require authorization from Fisheries and Oceans Canada for the Harmful Alteration, Disruption or Destruction (HADD) of fish and fish habitat.
The letter avoids the controversy over the use of marine clay but saying “inert material” will be used. That can only increase the worries from residents who say that not only clay but sand, gravel and other overburden from Bish Cove and the upgrade of the Forest Service Road may be used in Clio Bay. (The use of “inert material” also gives DFO an out if it turns out the department concludes the usual practice of using sand is better. That, of course, leaves the question of what to do with the clay).
Although Ellis Ross has said he wants to see large numbers of halibut and cod return to Clio Bay, the DFO letter only mentions the Dungeness Crab.
Try to search “remediation” on the DFO site and the viewer is redirected to a page that cites the omnibus bills passed by the Conservative government and says
On June 29, 2012, the Fisheries Act was amended. Policy and regulations are now being developed to support the new fisheries protection provisions of the Act (which are not yet in force). The existing guidance and policies continue to apply. For more information, see Changes to the Fisheries Act.
On April 2nd, 2013 the Habitat Management Program’s name was changed to the Fisheries Protection Program.
So, despite what communications officers for DFO and the Harper government may say, there was no policy then and there is no policy now on remediation of log sites. Given Harper’s attitude that LNG and possibly bitumen export must proceed quickly with no environmental barriers, it is likely that environmental remediation will continue to be no priority—unless remediation becomes a problem that the energy giants have to solve and pay for.
On the other hand, the State of Alaska and the United States Environmental Protection Agency spent a decade at a site near Ketchikan studying the environmental problems related to sunken logs at transfer sites
Those studies led Alaska to issue guidelines in 2002 with recommended practices for rehabilitating ocean log dump sites and for the studies that should precede any remediation project.
The Alaska studies also show that in Pacific northwest coast areas, the ecological effects of decades of log dumping, either accidental or deliberate, vary greatly depending on the topography of the region, the topography of the seabed, flow of rivers and currents as well as industrial uses along the shoreline.
The Alaska policy is based on studies and a remediation project at Ward Cove, which in many ways resembles Clio Bay, not far from Kitimat, near Ketchikan.
The Alaska policy follows guidelines from both the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers that recommend using thin layers of “clean sand” as the best practice method for capping contaminated sites. (The Army Corps of Engineers guidelines say that “clay balls” can be used to cap contaminated sites under some conditions. Both a spokesperson for the Corps of Engineers and officials at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation told Northwest Coast Energy News that they have no records or research on using marine clay on a large scale to cap a site.)
The EPA actually chose Sechelt, BC, based Construction Aggregates to provide the fine sand for the Ward Cove remediation project. The sand was loaded onto 10,000 tonne deck barges, hauled up the coast to Ward Cove, offloaded and stockpiled then transferred to derrick barges and carefully deposited on the sea bottom using modified clam shell buckets.
The EPA says
Nearly 25,000 tons of sand were placed at the Ward Cove site to cap about 27 acres of contaminated sediments and 3 other acres. In addition, about 3 acres of contaminated sediments were dredged in front of the main dock facility and 1 acre was dredged near the northeast corner of the cove. An additional 50 acres of contaminated sediments have been left to recover naturally.
A report by Integral Consulting, one of the firms involved at the project estimated that 17,800 cubic metres of sand were used at Ward Cove.
In contrast, to 17,800 cubic metres of sand used at Ward Cove, the Bish Cove project must dispose of about 1.2 million cubic metres of marine clay at sea (with another 1.2 million cubic metres slated for deposit in old quarries near Bees Creek).
Studies at Ward Cove began as far back as 1975. In 1990 Alaska placed Ward Cove on a list of “water-quality limited sites.” The studies intensified in 1995 after the main polluter of Ward Cove, the Ketchikan Paper Company, agreed in a consent degree on a remediation plan with the Environmental Protection Agency in 1995. After almost five years of intensive studies of the cove, the sand-capping and other remediation operations were conducted from November 2000 to March 2001. A major post-remediation study was carried out at Ward Cove in 2004 and again in 2009. The next one is slated for 2015.
Deaf ears at DFO
“We need to put pressure on the province or Canada to cleanup these sites. We’ve been trying to do this for the last 30 years. We got nowhere,” Ellis Ross says. “Before when we talked [to DFO] about getting those logs and cables cleaned up, it fell on deaf ears. They had no policy and no authority to hold these companies accountable. So we’re stuck, we’re stuck between a rock and hard place. How do we fix it?”
Ross says there has been one small pilot project using marine clay for capping which the Haisla’s advisers and Chevron believe can be scaled up for Clio Bay.
Douglas Channel studies
The one area around Kitimat that has been studied on a regular basis is Minette Bay. The first study occurred in 1951, before Alcan built the smelter and was used as a benchmark in future studies. In 1995 and 1996, DFO studied Minette Bay and came to the conclusion that because the water there was so stagnant, log dumping there had not contributed to low levels of dissolved oxygen although it said that it could not rule out “other deleterious effects on water quality and habitat`from log dumping.”
That DFO report also says that there were complaints about log dumping at Minette Bay as far back as 1975, which would tend to confirm what Ross says, that the Haisla have been complaining about environmentally degrading practices for about 30 years.
Ross told Northwest Coast Energy News that if the Clio Bay remediation project is successful, the next place for remediation should be Minette Bay.
A year after the Minette Bay study, DFO did a preliminary study of log transfer sites in Douglas Channel, with an aerial survey in March 1997 and on water studies in 1998. The DFO survey identified 52 locations with sunken logs on Douglas Channel as “potential study sites.” That list does not include Clio Bay. On water studies were done at the Dala River dump site at the head of the inlet on Kildala Arm, Weewanie Hotsprings, at the southwest corner of the cove, the Ochwe Bay log dump where the Paril River estuary opens into the Gardner Canal and the Collins Bay log dump also on the Gardner Canal.
In the introduction to its report, published in 2000, the DFO authors noted “the cumulative effect of several hundred sites located on BC coast is currently unknown.”
Since there appears to have been no significant follow-up, that cumulative effect is still “unknown.”
In 2000 and 2001, Chris Picard, then with the University of Victoria, now Science Director for the Gitga’at First Nation did a comparison survey of Clio Bay and Eagle Bay under special funding for a “Coasts Under Stress” project funded by the federal government. Picard’s study found that Eagle Bay, where there had been no log dumping was in much better shape than Clio Bay. For example, Picard’s study says that “Dungeness crabs were observed five times more often in the unimpacted Clio Bay.”
Although low oxygen levels have been cited as a reason for capping Clio Bay, Picard’s study says that “near surface” oxygen levels “did not reliably distinguish Clio and Eagle Bay sediments.” While Clio Bay did show consistent low oxygen levels, Eagle Bay showed “considerable interseasonal variation” which is consistent with the much more intensive and ongoing studies of oxygen levels at Wards Cove.
It appears that Chevron was taken by surprise by the controversy over the Clio Bay restoration. Multiple sources at the District of the Kitimat have told Northwest Coast Energy News that in meetings with Chevron, the company officials seemed to be scrambling to find out more about Clio Bay.
This is borne out by the fact, in its communications with Northwest Coast Energy News, Chevron says its consulting firm, Stantec has cited just two studies, Chris Picard’s survey of Clio Bay and a 1991 overview of log-booming practices on the US and Canadian Pacfic coasts. So far, Chevron has not cited the more up-to-date and detailed studies of Ward Cove that were conducted from 1995 to 2005.
Chevron says that Stantec marine biologists are now conducting extensive field work using divers and Remote Operated Vehicle surveys to “observe and record all flora and fauna in the bay and its levels of abundance. Stantec’s observations echoed the previous studies which determined that the massive amount of wood has harmed Clio Bay’s habitat and ecosystem.”
Reports in the Australian media seem to bare out Chevron’s position on environmental responsibility. Things seem to be working at Barrow Island.
Robinson went on to say:
Those same high environmental standards are being applied to the Kitimat LNG project and the proposed Clio Bay Restoration project. The proposed work would be carried out with a stringent DFO approved operational plan in place and would be overseen by qualified environmental specialists on-site.
The question that everyone in the Kitimat region must now ask is just how qualified are the environmental specialists hired by Chevron and given staff and budget cuts and pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to downgrade environmental monitoring just how stringent will DFO be monitoring the Clio Bay remediation?
Alaska standardsIn the absence of comprehensive Canadian studies, the only benchmark available is that set by Alaska which calls for:Capping material, typically a clean sand, or silty to gravelly sand, is placed on top of problem sediments. The type of capping material that is appropriate is usually determined during the design phase of the project after a remediation technology has been selected. Capping material is usually brought to the site by barge and put in place using a variety of methods, depending on the selected remedial action alternative.
Thick capping usually requires the placement of 18 to 36 inches of sand over the area. The goal of thick capping is to isolate the bark and wood debris and recreate benthic habitat that diverse benthic infauna would inhabit.
Thin capping requires the placement of approximately 6 – 12 inches of sand on the project area. It is intended to enhance the bottom environment by creating new mini-environments, not necessarily to isolate the bark and wood debris. With thin capping, surface coverage is expected to vary spatially, providing variable areas of capped surface and amended surface sediment (where mixing between capping material and problem sediment occurs) as well as limited areas where no cap is evident.
Mounding places small piles of sand or gravel dispersed over the waste material to create habitat that can be colonized by organisms. Mounding can be used where the substrate will not support capping.
Special report: Clio Bay cleanup: Controversial, complicated and costly
Updated October 3, 2013, with DFO statement
One of the major concerns about Clio Bay is the possible lack of oxygen to support sealife. While some people have called Clio Bay “dead,” others have pointed to catches of crab, cod and salmon to dispute that.
The experience at Ward Cove, Alaska, even though it was more polluted than Clio Bay, shows that oxygen levels are highly variable, depending on season, location and depth.
In 1995, the DFO`s Institute of Ocean Siences studied dissolved oxygen levels in Minette Bay, and concluded, according to a report posted on the DFO website, that because Minette Bay was stagnant from May to November” and those conditions existed even before industrial development in the Kitimat Valley:
Examination of all the dissolved oxygen data showed that conditions before or early in the industrial development of the region were not significantly different from those observed in the 1995 to 1996 study. On the basis of these analyses we concluded that log storage and handling activities in the bay do not appear to have exacerbated the naturally occurring low dissolved oxygen conditions.
The US Enviromental Protection Agency studied disolved oxygen levels at Ward Cove during water quality monitoring from 1998 to 2002. The monitoring found that dissolved oxygen levels of less than 4 milligrams per litre commonly occurred in Ward Cove during the summer and early fall. “During this time, hypoxic conditions (dissolved oxygen less than 2 milliggrams per litre) occurred occasionally at and near the bottom and less frequently in midwater areas. Hypoxia can be dangerous to both fish and bottom dwelling species.”
The EPA study showed that water circulation is restricted within Ward cove. A counter-clockwise circulation brings ocean water from Tongass Narrow into the cove along the south shore. That water usually exits after 15 days.
The EPA studied dissolved oxygen in Ward Cove from November 1995 to October 2002, using 13 monitoring stations, nine inside the cove and four outside in Tongass Narrows.
This monitoring found that the water column is strongly stratified during the summer resulting in poor mixing of bottom water. The EPA says during the monitoring period:
dissolved oxygen levels between 2 and 4 mg/1 were commonly observed in Ward Cove. These conditions began at water depths greater than approximately 20 metres in mid to late July and continued until early October, but oxygen levels between 2 and 4 mg/1 may also occur in water as shallow as 15 metres.
The EPA says the normal oxygen level for the surface waters of Ward Cove is approximately 8 mg/1 at 10°C. Under natural conditions and vertical stratification, dissolved oxygen levels in deeper waters can vary considerably and be reduced significantly below 8 mg/1 by respiration and the decay of organic materials, including sunken logs.
Since Clio Bay is deeper than Ward Cove, that means dissolved oxygen levels could be decreased at the greater depths.
The Ward Cove study also confirmed laboratory studies that showed that salmon can detect and avoid areas of low oxygen. Coho, pink, sockeye, chum, steelhead, Dolly Varden and Cutthroat trout are all native to the cove. Introduced Chinook are also found at Wards Cove.
A Ward Cove report says:
Depressed dissolved oxygen conditions are unlikely to significantly affect the growth of juvenile or adult salmonids migrating through or feeding in or near Ward Cove. Some minor indirect effects, however, may occur as a result of hypoxia-induced changes to food chain organisms inhabiting the cove and adjacent waters.
The growth cycles of the adult stage of all seven anadromous salmon and trout species native to Ward Creek should be completed prior to their arrival in the cove from the ocean. Some feeding by adult cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden may occur in or near the cove as they hold in preparation for entering Ward Creek. The growth of subadult chinook salmon, a fish species not native to Ward Creek, is also not likely affected by exposures to these conditions.
Returning adult salmonids may be present in the cove when the lowest dissolved oxygen and highest water temperatures occur in late summer and early fall. Adult salmonids will usually avoid hypoxic conditions, except when staging to enter freshwater during the latter part of their annual spawning migrations. Severe depressed DO levels at this time in combination with low flows and high water temperatures in Ward Creek can result in adult mortality. Fish kills have not been observed recently in the cove, likely because the depressed DO conditions have not extended into a greater portion of the water column in combination with low flows in Ward Creek.
As for other species, the report says reaction varies, with species that are able to swim often leaving areas of depressed oxygen. Previous studies have shown that bottom dwelling species may be able to tolerate low oxygen for a short time and become susceptible if they don’t swim out of the area. Those species who are are not mobile, have weak swimming abilities, or live within the sediment are more likely to be susceptible.
That means that changes in oxygen level could mean that deaths or migration of mobile bottom dwelling species at a location, leaving the impression that species are no longer around, even though the changes may be seasonal. Scientific studies show that low oxygen levels can also make all species in that area vulnerable to disease due to stress. Low oxygen also limits swimming ability and makes a species more prone to predation.
From August 1995 until October 1996, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Institute of Ocean Sciences and the North Coast Division of Habitat Management) with the support local companies studied the water quality in Minette Bay.
A 1961 study of oceanography of the BC fjords and a second study of in 1968 had already reported finding low dissolved oxygen levels in Minette Bay.
As far back as 1975, the report says:
Concerns have been raised that the poor water quality of the bay is exacerbated if not caused directly by the log handling practices there. Other habitat disruptions have been attributed to the industrial activities associated with log handling practices in this bay, e.g. bottom scouring, bark litter, and sinkers.
The DFO report says that the purpose of our study of Minette Bay was to determine if log handling in the bay “significantly contributed to low dissolved oxygen concentrations.”
The study of Minette Bay was similar to the one then starting at Ward Cove, but on a much smaller scale, checking salinity, temperature and levels of dissolved oxygen.
The report says:
The renewal of Minette Bay deep waters occurs annually during the winter and early spring months. Renewal occurs in the form of multiple events, some of which penetrate to the bottom while others only affect the intermediate waters. These events are caused by the outbreaks of the Arctic air mass over the region. The cold air temperatures reduce run-off thereby increasing surface salinity while at the same time the strong outflow winds push the surface layer away from the head of Kitimat Arm and bring denser water closer to the surface. The cold outflow winds also cool and mix the surface waters. In the stagnant period from May to November, dissolved oxygen concentrations in the deep waters decline rapidly to near zero conditions by July and remain low until the late fall.
The 1995 study concluded, based on surveys and reports from the previous 45 years, that measurements of dissolved oxygen in 1951 before the Alcan smelter was built, through measurements in the 1960, were not different from the 1995 measurements in the deep waters.`and concluded “that log handling practices in the bay have not exacerbated the naturally occurring low DO conditions in the bay.”
It goes on to say while log storage and handling at Minette Bay had no apparent effect on dissolved oxygen:
other deleterious effects on water quality and habitat are possible. These impacts might include: the disruption of animal and plant ‘life on and in the sediments by the grounding of log booms or scouring of the bottom sediments by the movement of log booms; the alteration of the natural composition of the sediments and the benthic community by the accumulation of bark, whole logs and other wood debris on the sediments underneath the log storage areas and in the log dump zone; anoxia in sediments due to an increased organic load; and toxic concentrations of leachates from the logs and other wood debris.
It called for further studies of Minette Bay such as using an underwater camera, could provide a cost effective way to visually inspect and classify the bottom sediments. Those sediments could then be sampled
based on the preliminary mapping of sediment characteristics, log handling impacts and visual ·surveys. At these locations the benthic community should be sampled for diversity and species composition. This information by itself or in conjunction with historical surveys in the bay and Kitimat Arm may give a sense of the degree of impact that log handling operations are having on the ecology of Minette Bay.
It also called for studies for “two small inlets that have very shallow sills; Foch Lagoon which has a 4 metre deep sill at low water and the other is Kiskosh Inlet which has a 2 metre deep sill.”
Kiskosh Inlet has a maximum depth of about 53m and is more like Minette Bay than Foch Lagoon which has a much deeper basin (250m). Their very shallow sills suggest that the deep basin waters in these two inlets may be oxygen depleted. A comparison with Minette Bay may be instructive as there are no log storage or handling activities in either of these inlets.
In 1997, DFO created a list of 52 sites on Douglas Channel that were used as active, abandoned or potential log dump sites, as targets for studies. The east and west sides of Minette Bay were two items on the list. Clio Bay, Foch Lagoon and Kiskosh Inlet were not on that list.
Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross says that if the Clio Bay capping project works, Minette Bay should be next.
Dissolved oxygen standards
The state of Alaska has set standards for dissolved oxygen in marine water with a minimum of six milligrams per litre in the one metre surface layer for coastal water and 5 milligrams per litre in estuaries, “except where natural conditions cause this value to be depressed,” with an additional standard of a minimum of 4 milligrams per litre at any one point in both coastal waters and estuaries.
In a statement to Northwest Coast Energy News, DFO spokesperson Carrie Mishima said, “Site-specific standards for dissolved oxygen levels will be developed for the enhanced site by sampling a control site having similar habitat parameters.”
It appears from documents posted on the DFO website that dissolved oxygen monitoring has been dismissed by DFO as too expensive until the issue became important to fish farming.
A 2005 DFO report on the Bay of Fundy noted
The time has therefore arrived for Canada to proceed seriously and rapidly toward the development and implementation of adequate dissolved oxygen standards and management protocols for the marine coastal zone and aquaculture. Such an effort will enable us to avoid the serious eco-socio-economic consequences associated with poor water quality. From a risk analyses perspective the dissolved oxygen issue might be classified as manageable. Aquaculture takes place in a relatively small proportion of the Canadian coastline and it is only within some of these areas that aquaculture is intense enough to pose potential problems. Hence, the likelihood of a major aquaculture induced depletion of dissolved oxygen is probably low to moderate and the impact of reductions is also probably low to moderate.
Another 2005 DFO report, again on aquaculture, based on meetings in Ottawa noted:
Dissolved oxygen is not yet an easily applied regulatory tool on a specific case-by-case basis, and views were mixed regarding its promise as a candidate for monitoring environmental quality in the coastal zone. However, it is one of the few options available for monitoring over hard bottoms. It is also a useful tool for predicting and assessing far-field effects in environments where oxygen levels may be a concern.
This despite the fact that Alaska and the EPA had been monitoring dissolved oxygen and setting standards for the previous decade.
Canada does not yet have national standards for dissolved oxygen levels in coastal waters. DFO says “site specific” standards will be applied at Clio Bay, but so far there are no details of what those standards will be.
Special report: Clio Bay cleanup: Controversial, complicated and costly
Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross says that capping the logs at Clio Bay was a Haisla idea, taking advantage of the opportunity to use the marine clay from Bish Cove to bring back the Clio ecosystem.
The Haisla were told by experts who video taped the bottom of Clio Bay that are between 15,000 to 20,000 sunken logs in Clio Bay.
“I know because I’ve spent a lot of time down there plus my dad actually worked for the booming company for years and knew what was going on out there,” Ross said. “There are two extreme areas we’re talking about, if you look at Clio Bay where it’s estimated that there 15,000 to 20,000 logs down there, imagine what Minette Bay looks like? And it’s all iron, it’s steel. It’s not just wood, there are a lot of cables down there.
“The Haisla have known about the degradation of our territory for years. The problem we have as Haisla members is to restore the habitiat is that nobody wants to clean up the habitat. This was our idea, after review from technical experts from DFO as well as our own experts. We’re looking for a three way solution, with the company, DFO and the Crown and the Haisla.”
“I’d love to go and catch halibut and cod, like my ancestors used to.”
He said that the Haisla have beem aware of environmental problems from sunken logs for decades and have been asking for cleanup of degraded areas since 2004, not just at Clio Bay, but in the Kildala Arm and at Collins Bay, which were studied by DFO in 1997.
“The logs are down there, they are oxidizing, but no one wants to do anything about it, including the company and including the Crown. We had independent people come in and review it and have them come up with a recommendation. There was a small scale project [involving marine clay] that proved that this could work.
“This system here is killing two birds with one stone, get rid of the clay and try to remediate some of the habitat,” Ross said.
He said that the original estimate of marine clay excavated at Bish Cove was 10,000 cubic metres. That has now risen to about 3.5 million cubic metres because the KM LNG project is digging deeper for the foundation of the LNG terminal. The original plan called for disposing 1.2 million cubic metres at sea and another 1.2 million cubic metres on land.
“The original idea was to dump the clay in the middle of the ocean. In small amounts it could have been mitigated, but in large amounts we said ‘no.’ If we try to dump clay in the middle of the channel, we have no idea where it’s going to end up, what the effect is going to be.” Ross said. “We did the same thing here for the terrestrial side, we said ‘OK that with the rock quarries above Bees Creek,’ use the clay to help remediate that as well, bring it back.”
Asked about Ward Cove in Alaska, where the US Environmental Protection Agency ordered a cleanup, Ross said. “The difference here is that no one is ordering these companies to clean up the sites, they walk away. No one is taking responsiblity, The Haisla are trying to do this within the parameters they’ve given us.So if someone could come in and order these companies and do something, we’ll look for something else to do with the clay. Until that day comes, the Haisla are still stuck with trying to bring back this land by ourselves. If the District of Kitimat wants to pay the bill, great. Let’s see it.
“We need to put pressure on the province or Canada to cleanup these sites. We’ve been trying to do this for the last 30 years. We got nowhere. Before when we talked about getting those logs and cables cleaned up, it fell on deaf ears [at DFO]. They [DFO] had no policy and no authority to hold these companies accountable. So we’re stuck, we’re stuck between a rock and hard place. How do we fix it?”
Ross also noted that Shell’s LNG Canada project also faces remediation problems, “Shell is going to have the same problem, their’s is going to be different, they’re going to have get rid of contamination on the ocean bottom and beneath that it’s basically going to be gravel, it’s not clay, they’re going to have get rid of that product.”