Why BC should watch the Australian election: LNG and natural gas are suddenly a top issue

Could the future of northwestern British Columbia’s hoped for natural gas boom depend on the outcome of this weekend’s Australian general election?

While the mainstream media in North America has mostly been following the personal feud between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott or speculating whether or not Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s party will make a ripple or a splish, a natural gas crisis has rocketed high on to the Australian election agenda.

I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about Aussie politics, but I couldn’t ignore all the LNG and natural gas Australian election related stories that suddenly started showing up in my alerts.

LNG train “on ice”

This morning came the alert that Chevron has put the development of another train at its giant Gorgon LNG facility “on ice” (as a pun enabled headline writer in the Western Australian put it)

Chevron and its partners in the Gorgon LNG project on Barrow Island are expected to postpone work on detailed design and engineering of a fourth processing line at the mega project until at least next year as they battle to contain the soaring cost of the foundation development.
As reported by WestBusiness at the weekend, Chevron’s latest internal cost review is understood to have placed a final cost on Gorgon’s three-train venture of up to $US59 billion ($65.6 billion), or 13 per cent above the last confirmed budget revision of $US52 billion.
Chevron is refusing to discuss the status of the cost review and is understood to have told its Gorgon team to “value engineer” in the hope of substantially reducing the latest overrun on a project that was originally supposed to cost $US37 billion to complete.


Raw logs all over again

For a resident of northwestern BC, one thought comes to mind from the media reports on the LNG situation in the Australian election, it’s raw logs all over again.

It appears from those media reports that while Australia has huge reserves of shale-based natural gas, the way the country has structured its LNG boom, major industries and consumers are becoming alarmed that domestic natural gas prices for both will soon skyrocket. There are calls for whatever party wins the election to pass legislation that would create “domestic gas reservation” so that Australians won’t see the gas exported while they pay higher prices for what’s left over.

Most of the shale gas reserves are in Western Australia, while the population—and industry– are concentrated far away on the east coast.

That is leading to another controversy, demands that eastern Australia develop its coal gas reserves, which, of course, brings to mind Shell’s decision to forgo development of coal gas deposits in the Sacred Headwaters and the ongoing fight by the Tahltan First Nation to stop Fortune Minerals’ open pit coal mine in the Sacred Headwaters at Klappan.

Then there’s another vexing issue that northwestern BC is facing and soon have to deal with. In the election, some Australian politicians and unions are calling for curbs on the use for temporary (and not so temporary) foreign workers.

Another factor is the growing cost of natural gas extraction and LNG export, which has, in the midst of the election campaign, pitted Chevron against Australian unions, with Chevron executives (as they did in other contexts before the election call) pointing to Canada—that means Kitimat, folks — as the cheaper alternative.

Rising prices

The Australian has reported that a poll, commissioned by the nation’s manufacturers, so it is somewhat suspect, that:

Manufacturers  will today claim that most Australians want a policy of domestic gas reservation and that this would sway voter intentions, a move set to renew the acrimonious debate over rising gas prices.
Manufacturing Australia will release a survey it commissioned where 35 per cent of people said it was “quite likely” and 13 per cent “extremely likely” that it would sway their decision at the election if a party made a policy pledge on the issue.Those uncertain stood at 21 per cent.

In one Australian riding, a local candidate wants one per cent of Australia’s gas be reserved just for the State of Queensland.

Bob Katter flew through Gladstone as fast as the wind whistled through Spinnaker Park on Monday, where he told local media he wanted to reserve a domestic gas supply for Australia and scrap the 457 visas that bring foreign workers into the country….

Mr Katter said mineral processing was under enormous pressure in Australia with copper processing wiped out in northern Queensland and to counter that, the Katter Australia Party would reserve 1% of the gas supply for Queensland.
“Because of the escalating skyrocketing cost of coal, gas and electricity in the past eight years, one per cent of the gas will be reserved for the benefit of the people in Queensland if not Australia,” he said.

“That gas will be used to produce electricity at prices our retirees can afford, and young families can afford, and most importantly that our mineral processing plants have prices for processing they can afford.”


Coal gas

Another story in The Australian quotes James Baulderstone of the Australian energy company Santos:

THE NSW gas industry has warned of higher gas prices, job cuts and a significant risk to the state’s energy security if the coal-seam gas sector is not developed.
James Baulderstone, vice-president of eastern Australia at Santos, said without indigenous gas of its own, NSW had no ability to control its energy supply security.
“NSW faces prospective gas shortages as long-term contracts underpinning the state’s gas supply expire over the next two to three years, the very time in which the commencement of LNG exports from Queensland will see annual gas demand in eastern Australia triple,” he said.
“Looming natural gas shortages in NSW could be avoided by the timely and balanced development of the state’s already discovered reserves of natural gas.”

The Australian Liberal Party (which like BC’s is actually conservative) supports coal gas projects. But it also wants to force energy companies to develop gas reserves they have leased.

Chevron and the unions

Also embroiling the election is the growing dispute between Chevron and the Australian unions.
As the Australian Financial Review reported, Chevron is claiming that high costs are slowing the LNG projects and blaming the government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The federal government has rejected claims from Chevron that Australia’s high-cost economy is threatening the nation’s biggest energy project, Gorgon, even as the Maritime Union of Australia demands a 26 per cent pay rise and more than 100 other benefits for its members, including Qantas Club memberships and iTunes store credits.

As Chevron’s $52 billion Gorgon project became embroiled in the ­election campaign, trade union officials accused Chevron of seeking to dodge responsibility for poor labour productivity and high costs.

The union’s demands for employees working for 19 offshore oil and gas contractors around Australia include a 26 per cent raise over four years, no foreign labour without consultation, union control of hiring and four weeks holiday for every four weeks work.

(Note there are accusations of biased reporting during this election, especially from the media owned by Rupert Murdoch. I could find no independent confirmation of union demands for airline memberships and iTunes credits) 

The Australian Labour minister, Gary Gray, who is from Western Australia, and according to reports, in a tough re-election fight, is blaming Chevron and the other energy companies for “failing to control the costs of their staff and contractors.”

“We do need our companies to get better in managing their productivity issues,” he said.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he had studied China’s latest five-year economic plan and concluded Australia’s industrial relations system wasn’t hurting the industry.

Boom or bust?

The Australian Financial Review quotes Chevron Australia managing director Roy Krzywosinski as saying Australia has a two-year window to get ­policy settings right and fix industrial relations and productivity or risk losing out on billions of further investment in liquefied natural gas projects.

It goes on to make a reference to Shell and operations in Canada—again that’s Kitimat folks.

after the unprecedented rush of LNG investment in the past four years, Australia has become the most costly place worldwide for new plants, while new competition is emerging in North America and east Africa.

Shell, which has slowed its $20 billion-plus Arrow LNG project in Queensland, said construction costs in Australia are now up to 30 per cent higher than in the US and Canada.

Mr Krzywosinski said LNG projects are “long-term projects that transcend governments” and Chevron would work with all sides of politics to get policy settings right.

This Australian blogger warns:

The investment surge in LNG – often favourably compared with the Apollo moon program in its magnitude – is in some ways a bubble. Firms have rushed in, extrapolated an endless supply/demand imbalance for their product, ignored global competition, over-paid for assets and developed with little thought to what others were doing, grossly inflating input costs in the process.

The blogger goes on to say

This fallout is typical of the “built it and they will come” attitude that seized energy and mining executives in the final stages of the “commodity super cycle” boom. A similar story, with different dynamics, is playing out in coal and next year in iron ore.
The unions are largely not to blame for the cost blowouts even if they are a party to them. They are, after all, unions. What does capital think will happen if it hands them such a card to play?

Sound familiar?
Australia a mirror of the BC election?

Again it appears from this far off shore, that the Australian election is somewhat mirroring the recent BC provincial election and not only because of the issue of LNG. The Labour PM Kevin Rudd returned to power after three years on the back benches,  coming back after the party dumped PM Julia Gillard.

Like BC, the Australian Liberal Party is really conservative. The Liberal Leader Tony Abbott, wants to abolish Australia’s carbon tax but Abbott is also threatening to fine companies that don’t lower prices if (or when) the carbon tax is abolished.

The polls show that the Liberal Party is leading, but that Kevin Rudd is more popular than Tony Abbott. Rudd is running an attack campaign against Abbott, warning of the consequences of an (conservative) Liberal victory. Sounds a bit like Christy Clark.

Given the split in the polls, with the leader of one party more popular than the leader of the party that is leading the polls, this video of the editors of The Australian which accompanies this story  shows their senior editors are awfully confident, perhaps over confident, about the polls. I know given what happened in BC, Alberta and even Israel, I’d be a lot more skeptical.

We’ll know the outcome of the Australian election by this time next week. As for LNG, given the volatility of the market, who knows?


(Editor’s Note: Tony Abbott and the Australian Liberal Party won a landslide victory in the weekend vote)

 (Note some of the Australian media sites appear to be metered and allow only one viewing)

Joint Review Panel confirms closing arguments to begin in Terrace June 17

The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel has confirmed that final, closing arguments for the controversial Enbridge pipeline project will take place in Terrace for approximately two weeks, beginning on Monday, June 17, 2013.

The Panel says the purpose of closing arugments is to provide Parties Northern Gateway, intervenors, and government participants the opportunity to:

    • tell the Panel their views and opinions about the Project including whether Parties believe it is in the public interest;
    • persuade the Panel to recommend approval or denial of the Project;
    • make their case about the relevance and weight of any evidence on the Panel’s public registry;
    • discuss the merits of conditions that the Panel might place on any Certificate that may be issued for the Project;
    • suggest additional conditions should the Project be approved


As is common with National Energy Board and Joint Reivew procedures, final arguments argument should be in writing, followed by oral responses. Only one arugment document is permitted.

The written final arguments must be based on JRP evidence that is on the public record. No one can introduce new evidence in either the written argument or in their oral response.

The “aids to cross-examination” used during the questioning phase of the final
hearings cannot be used unless they were admitted onto the record by the Panel as evidence.
However a witness’ answer to questions given when an aid was used is evidence and can be
relied upon.

The absolute deadline for filing the written arugment is noon Pacific Time (1:00 pm Mountain
Time) on 31 May 2013.

Participants can take part either in the hearing room or remotely via a conferencing system.

A party of the proceeding cannot make an oral argument unless they have filed a written arugment.

The purpose of the oral argument is to let one party respond orally to the written argument filed by others. A party may also respond to the Oral Argument of other Parties who have presented Oral Argument before them and whose arguments they disagree with.

Participants are expected to have read in advance all the written arguments they may wish to challenge and are restricted from repeating arguments made by others but are allowed to indicate they agree with the earlier argument.

Top Down Bottom Up

There are very specific rules for how the closing arguments will proceed, which the JRP calls “Top Down Bottom Up”

In order to allow all Parties to respond to all of the Oral Arguments of other Parties, they will be given two opportunities to provide Oral Argument in what is referred to as a “Top Down –Bottom Up” process….

During either the Top Down or Bottom Up portion, parties may simply state that they adopt the position of specific parties who have gone before them.

In the Top Down portion, Northern Gateway will first provide its Oral Argument in response to the Written Argument of other Parties. This will be followed by the Oral Argument of intervenors and government participants in the order set out in the Order of Appearances (alphabetically, A-Z). During the Top Down, Parties will respond to the Written Argument of Parties they are opposed to as well as the Oral Argument of those who have argued before them.

Intervenors and government participants will have up to one (1) hour each to provide their Oral Argument. Since Northern Gateway has the burden of proving its case and will be responding to all other Parties, it will have up to two (2) hours for its Oral Argument.

After the Top Down Oral Argument, Parties will have the opportunity to very briefly reply to any new matters that were raised in the Oral Argument of other Parties who presented after them. This will proceed in a Bottom Up format where the Panel will start at the bottom of the Order of Appearances and proceed up from there (alphabetically, Z-A), ending with Northern Gateway.

During the Bottom Up Oral Argument, Parties can only reply to new matters that arose in Oral Argument after they presented their Oral Argument. For this reason, the Bottom Up Oral Argument should be very brief. Parties who do not have any reply comments specifically related to arguments they have not had the opportunity to address should not provide Bottom Up Oral Argument.

Coastal First Nations launch election commercial with Exxon Valdez radio call

Coastal First Nations have launched a commercial aimed at the British Columbia electorate, using the call from the Exxon Valedez to US Coast Guard Valdez traffic control saying that the tanker had run aground.


The commercial makes the connection between the Exxon Valdez disaster and the possibility of a tanker disaster on the British Columbia coast if the Enbridge Northern Gateway project goes ahead.

According to the Vancouver Sun, Paul Simon personally approved the use of the song Sounds of Silence in the commercial.

The BC New Democrats, who are leading the polls have said they oppose Northern Gateway. The ruling BC Liberals have set out five conditions that must be met if the project is to go ahead.

Kitimat port announcement surprise to Rio Tinto Alcan, District of Kitimat

The announcement Monday that the federal government intends to turn the private port of Kitimat into a public port, an announcement confirmed by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver in Terrace, Tuesday, came as a surprise to Rio Tinto Alcan, which now operates the port.

This morning RTA issued a brief statement:

This announcement was not discussed with Rio Tinto Alcan in advance.
We are endeavoring to have meetings with the federal government to gain clarity on this announcement as it specifically relates to our operations in Kitimat.

On Wednesday, Kitmat Mayor Joanne Monaghan told CFTK news the community was never consulted.

Monaghan told CFTK she still hasn’t been able to get anyone with the federal government to tell her more about the plan.

Since today, Thursday, is budget day, it is likely that federal officials would be unavailable for further comment until next week.

Who pays for upgrades?

Another point that is unclear from Monday’s announcement is whether or not the federal government fully intends to take over the navigation aids and enhancements on Douglas Channel and the BC Coast. If so, that means that the Canadian taxpayer would become, at a time of budget cuts, responsible for millions of dollars that Enbridge Northern Gateway has consistently said that the company will pay for.


How “On the Waterfront” could decide the fate of Enbridge’s Kitimat terminal

Water, not oil, is the hot issue this summer in Kitimat

Rio Tinto Alcan reopens access to Kitimat waterfront

PART FOUR: State Department assessment of the railway to Rupert route for bitumen

Here are edited portions of the EIS assessment for a major oil terminal at Prince Rupert

Environmental Setting

The EIS says “the local surface geology at the Prince Rupert site consists of bedrock (granitic rocks) overlain by glacial outwash and a thin soil cover.” and goes on to note that “Prince Rupert is located along the coastal region of Canada, which is seismically active.”

Potential Impacts

At Prince Rupert, depth to bedrock is expected to be relatively shallow, so rock ripping and some blasting could be necessary. The impacts of rock ripping and blasting are limited to the immediate area and would not result in any significant impacts to the underlying or nearby geology. Excavation activities, erosion of fossil beds exposed due to grading, and unauthorized collection can damage or destroy paleontological resources during construction.

(The report notes that The potential for finding paleontological resources in the areas that would be disturbed is unknown. But the area of the coast has been heavily metamorphisized and most fossils, so far, have been found further inland, largely along the Copper River near Terrace)

In terms of geologic hazards, the Prince Rupert terminals would be located along the coastal region of Canada, which is seismically active. In addition, the presence of steep slopes increases the risk of landslides and the port’s coastal location increases the risk of flooding…. The Prince Rupert rail terminals and port facilities would be designed to withstand potential seismic hazards and flooding…

Construction of the proposed terminals and port expansion in Prince Rupert would result in the disturbance of approximately 3,500 acres (1,400 hectares) of land for the construction of the rail terminal complex and approximately 1,200 acres (487 hectares) for the expansion of the port. Potential impacts to the soils resources of the area could result from vegetation clearance, landscape grading, and recontouring to ensure proper drainage, the installation of storm water drainage systems, construction of the required infrastructure, and other construction activities.
One of the primary concerns during construction activities is soil erosion and sedimentation.
Potential impacts to soils from erosion are expected to occur in areas where the slopes are greater than 20 per cent and where the erosion potential due to their nature is high. Based on available landscape and soils information, the soils found in the area are not highly erodible and the required infrastructure would be located in areas that are relatively flat. Therefore, the impact of the proposed terminal complex and port construction activities on soil erosion would be minor.


Environmental Setting

The Prince Rupert Terminals and port expansion would occur in British Columbia on Kaien Island, which receives about 102 inches of rainfall per year. The terminals would be located on an inlet that is part of the eastern Pacific Ocean on the Venn Passage near the much larger Inland Passage, which extends from Washington State to Alaska along the islands and mainland of British Columbia, Canada. Venn and Inland Passages are marine (salt water) waterbodies. The islands consist of bedrock (granitic rocks) overlain by glacial outwash and a thin soil cover.
Groundwater is shallow, poor quality, and unused. Drinking water is derived from lakes on the mainland. Water quality in the terminal complex area is seawater and inland brackish.

Potential Impacts

During construction of the facilities at Prince Rupert, the primary potential impacts to groundwater would be spills or leaks from construction equipment. Mitigation for these impacts includes having in place appropriate plans in place and appropriate cleanup materials available.
During operations of the facilities at Prince Rupert, the primary potential impacts to groundwater would again most likely be spills or leaks from operation equipment or associated with crude oil unloading of railcars. Although the initial impacts of potential releases or spills may be contained or limited to soil, potential impacts to groundwater may occur depending on the depth to groundwater, soil characteristics (e.g., porosity, permeability), spill volume and extent, and whether the spill reaches surface water bodies, some of which are interconnected to groundwater.

Surface Water
Environmental Setting

The upland character surrounding the potential Prince Rupert terminal area is dominated by bog forest uplands and the flowing surface water bodies are predominantly precipitation- and shallow groundwater-fed intermittent streams. Some open waterbodies are present in the southeast portion of Kaien Island. Tidal shore zones are of a rugged and rocky nature and receive wave energy generated by naturally occurring fetch and large wakes from marine traffic. Winter winds are strong and from the southeast to southwest, with surface currents predominantly northward from the Hecate Strait. Lighter summer winds have less influence on currents and allow freshwater runoff from land and deep water tidal effects to exert more control and provide variation in summer current patterns. Significant wind and tidal mixing tend to occur where waters are shallow and around islands and rocky points of land. The coastal landscape is predominantly fjords carved into the granitic Coast Mountains, created by the last of several glacial periods approximately 12,000 years ago. Shores tend to be rocky and steep with beaches restricted to sheltered areas adjacent to estuaries and the navigable straits and channels provide a wide variety of exposures and habitats.

Potential Impacts

Construction of the facilities at Prince Rupert would disturb approximately 4,700 acres. The primary potential impacts to surface waters include erosion and sedimentation and spills/leaks of hazardous materials. Mitigation for these impacts includes having in place appropriate SPCC plans in place and appropriate cleanup materials available.
During operations, the primary potential impacts to surface waters include storm water runoff, spills, or leaks from operation equipment or associated with crude oil unloading of railcars.
Provision of storm water management measures would mitigate the impacts of stormwater runoff.

Terrestrial Vegetation
Environmental Setting

The Prince Rupert terminals and port facilities would be located in the Coastal Gap Level III Ecoregion. The vegetation immediately adjacent to the Pacific Ocean includes stunted, opengrowing western red cedar, yellow cedar, and western hemlock with some stunted shore pine and Sitka spruce . There are also open areas present within the affected areas. It is unclear if biologically unique landscapes or vegetation communities of concern exist within the proposed Prince Rupert terminal complex boundary.

Potential Impacts

The proposed rail terminal complex and port facilities at Prince Rupert would require the clearing of up to 4,700 acres of natural vegetation, most of which is forested based on aerial photo interpretation. There does not appear to be any biologically unique landscapes or communities of conservation concern within the terminal complex boundary. Nearly all of these impacts would be permanent as natural habitats are converted for use as rail terminals and port facilities.

Environmental Setting

Many wildlife species use this coastal area for hunting, foraging, roosting, breeding, and nesting (Tourism Prince Rupert 2012). Wildlife characteristic of this ecoregion include grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis), black bear (Ursus americanus), mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus), black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus
columbianus), wolf (Canis lupus), moose (Alces alces), mink (Mustela sp.), bald eagle
(Haliaeetus leucocephalus), seabirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and grouse (Tetraoninae)
The Prince Rupert terminal complex would be located in the Northern Pacific Rainforest(Region 5) bird conservation region, which is an ecologically distinct region in North America…

The coast of the Northern Pacific Rainforest is characterized by river deltas
and pockets of estuarine and freshwater wetlands set within steep, rocky shorelines. These wetlands provide critical nesting, wintering, and migration habitat for internationally significant populations of waterfowl and other wetland-dependent species. The area includes major stopover sites for migrating shorebirds, especially western sandpipers (Calidris mauri) and dunlins (Calidris alpina). Black oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani), rock sandpipers (Calidris
ptilocnemis), black turnstones (Arenaria melanocephala), and surfbirds (Aphriza virgata) are common wintering species. Nearshore marine areas support many nesting and wintering sea ducks. Many seabirds breed on offshore islands, including important populations of ancient murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus), rhinoceros auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata), tufted puffin (Fratercula cirrhata), common murre (Uria aalge), western gull (Larus occidentalis), glaucouswinged gull (Larus glaucescens), and Leach’s storm-petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa). Pelagic
waters provide habitat for large numbers of shearwaters (Calonectris spp. and Puffinus spp.), storm-petrels (Hydrobatidae), and black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes)

Potential Impacts

Direct impacts could occur due to vegetation removal or conversion, obstructions to movement patterns, or the removal of native habitats that may be used for foraging, nesting, roosting, or other wildlife uses (Barber et al. 2010). Indirect impacts to wildlife are difficult to quantify and are dependent on the sensitivity of the species, individual, type and timing of activity, physical parameters (e.g., cover, climate, and topography), and seasonal use patterns of the species (Berger 2004). Most of these impacts would be essentially permanent.

Environmental Setting

Prince Rupert is an important deepwater port and transportation hub of the northern coast of British Columbia. It is located on the northwest shore of Kaien Island, which is connected to the mainland by a short bridge. The town of Prince Rupert is just north of the mouth of the Skeena River, a major salmon-producing river. Key commercial fisheries include Pacific salmon, halibut, herring, and groundfish, which are processed from Prince Rupert.

Prince Rupert area supports a high density of streams and rivers that host an array of valuable recreational fisheries for salmon, steelhead (anadromous rainbow trout), rainbow trout, lake trout, cutthroat trout, char, Arctic grayling, and northern pike .

Potential Impacts

New impacts to commercial and recreational fisheries’ habitats from the construction and operation of the facilities in Prince Rupert could include marine intertidal zones as well as fish spawning zones (e.g., herring), if present. There would likely be short-term impacts to the benthic (bottom dwelling) community during construction of the berths and mooring facilities. Bottom-dwelling
fish (i.e., halibut, flounder, and rockfish) and marine invertebrates (i.e., clams, mussels, crabs, and other bivalves and crustaceans) could potentially be impacted during construction as well, but these affects are expected to be minor and temporary or short-term in duration.

Additional shipping traffic would increase underwater sound because large vessels, including tankers, put out relatively high noise levels. Fish and other aquatic organisms (including invertebrates and marine mammals) use sound as a means of communication and detection within the marine acoustic environment. Increased shipping traffic could mask natural sounds by increasing the ambient noise environment from Prince Rupert Harbor and along the marine route to the Gulf Coast area. Long-lasting sounds, such as those caused by continuous ship operation, can cause a general increase in background noise and there is a risk that such sounds, while not causing immediate injury, could mask biologically important sounds, cause hearing loss in affected organisms, and/or have an impact on stress levels and on the immune systems of aquatic species.

Exotic and invasive species are sometimes transferred in the ballast water of tanker ships.
Monitoring and controls would need to be implemented to treat ballast water discharged into Prince Rupert Harbor such that invasive or exotic species would not be released into the marine environment.

Threatened and Endangered Species

This section focuses on animal and plant species present in the Prince Rupert area that are Canada SARA protected. As a coastal area along the Pacific Migratory Bird Route, and an area that receives a lot of precipitation and is heavily forested, many wildlife species inhabit the area, as discussed in Section, Wildlife. According to the British Columbia (B.C.) Conservation Data Centre (2012), only one SARA threatened/endangered species is known to occur in Prince Rupert—the green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris), a Pacific Ocean inhabitant. In addition, several SARA special concern species occur in Prince Rupert, including western toad (Anaxyrus boreas), coastal tailed frog (Ascaphus truei), North American racer (Coluber constrictor), grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus), and Stellar sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus)

Potential Impacts

The green sturgeon is typically found along nearshore marine waters, but is also commonly observed in bays and estuaries. The expansion of the proposed port facility could have minor adverse effects on the green sturgeon, but the sturgeon could readily avoid the port area.
Increased shipping traffic at Prince Rupert and as the vessels transit to the Gulf Coast area refineries may affect the feeding success of marine mammals (including threatened and endangered species) through disturbance, because the noise generated by tankers could reduce the effectiveness of echolocation used by marine mammals to forage for food. Whales use underwater vocalizations to communicate between individuals while hunting and while engaged in other behaviors. Increased underwater noise from additional shipping traffic could disrupt these vocalizations and alter the behavior of pods of whales. Moreover, additional boat and
tanker traffic could also increase the potential for collisions between marine mammals and shipping vessels. These effects would be additive in nature and could potentially add to existing disturbance effects and collision risks caused by the current level of shipping traffic, commercial and recreational fishing, and cruise ship passage.

Land Use, Recreation, and Visual Resources
Environmental Setting

Land use, recreation, and visual resources for the Prince Rupert area where the new terminals and expanded port facilities would be built differ sharply from the other terminal sites. Prince Rupert is located on an inlet of the Pacific Ocean in a heavily forested area of British Columbia.
Urban land use is generally limited to the communities in and around the city of Prince Rupert, with some small outlying communities and villages in the area. Given Prince Rupert’s role as a terminus of the Alaska Ferry System, many people see the port and surrounding areas in a recreational context. The area is largely undeveloped and would be sensitive to changes in the visual landscape.

Potential Impacts

If constructed on previously undeveloped land, the new facilities would primarily impact mixed forest… The construction and operational impacts on land use, recreation, and visual resources at the Lloydminster, Epping, and Stroud terminal complex sites and along the Cushing pipeline route would be the same as for the Rail/Pipeline Scenario.

Environmental Setting


Construction and operations activities are not expected to have a significant effect on population and housing for this scenario. Because construction and operations job estimates have not yet been determined for this scenario, worker requirements for Prince Rupert, Lloydminster, and Epping are assumed to be minor..additional temporary housing could be needed in Prince Rupert… Prince Rupert only has about 740 hotel/motel rooms

Local Economic Activity

Tanker infrastructure and operations would be affected as ships transport crude oil from Prince Rupert through the Panama Canal to Texas ports near Houston.

Direct construction expenditures for facilities at Prince Rupert would be approximately $700 million, with approximately 1,400 annual construction jobs, based on the cost estimates of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway marine terminal in Kitimat

Despite the large population of First Nations people in the Prince Rupert area, Canada does not have a similar definition to minorities as the Keystone report applied under US law and so it notes “Impacts to minority and low-income populations during construction and would be similar to those described for the proposed [Keystone] Project and could possibly result in increased competition for medical or health services in underserved populations. Canada does not define HPSA and MUA/P, so it is unknown whether or not the minority populations in Prince Rupert or Lloydminster exist in a medically underserved area.

Tax Revenues and Property Values

It says construction of a new terminal Prince Rupert would generate provincial sales taxes, goods and services taxes, and hotel taxes. Construction of the tank and marine terminals at Prince Rupert…would involve large numbers of road trips by heavy trucks to transport construction materials and equipment to and from the sites. Construction in Prince Rupert could also potentially involve vessel deliveries of material. This traffic could cause congestion on major roadways, and would likely require temporary traffic management solutions such as police escorts for oversize vehicles.

Cultural Resources

Despite the rich heritage of First Nations in the Prince Rupert area, the Keystone alternative study reported;

No cultural resources studies have been conducted for the Prince Rupert area. Review of aerial photographs shows that a small portion of the area that could potentially be developed has already been disturbed by development, including port facilities, structures, and roads. This preliminary review shows that most of the area appears undeveloped and would have the potential for intact buried cultural resources.

The report notes that “Any ground disturbance, especially of previously undisturbed ground, could potentially directly impact cultural resources.”

It goes on to note that the potential to

include intact buried cultural resources would require evaluation through research and cultural resources surveys. If cultural resources were identified, follow-up studies could be required. In general terms, the archaeological potential of heavily disturbed areas, such as might be found in active rail yards or within developed transportation corridors, is normally lower than in undisturbed areas.

Archaeological potential is also contingent upon factors such as access to water, soil type, and topography, and would have to be evaluated for each area to be disturbed. Aboveground facilities have the potential to indirectly impact cultural resources from which they may be visible or audible. The potential for increased rail traffic to contribute to indirect impacts would require consideration.

Air and Noise

The report also summarizes the possible green house gas emissions for the rail and tanker project as whole from Prince Rupert to the Gulf Coast refineres and notes that overall

On an aggregate basis, criteria pollutant emissions, direct and indirect GHG emissions, and noise levels during the operation phase for this scenario would be significantly higher than that of the proposed [Keystone XL] Project mainly due to the increased regular operation of railcars, tankers, and new rail and marine terminals.

Air Quality

The rail cars and tankers transporting the crudes would consume large amounts of diesel fuel and fuel oil each day….The criteria pollutant emissions would
vary by transportation segment, particularly during marine-based transit. Oil tankers traveling from the Prince Rupert marine terminal through the Panama Canal to Houston/Port Arthur pass through several different operational zones, including reduced speed zones leading into and out of the ports, North American Emission Control Areas where the use of low-sulfur marine fuel is mandated, and offshore areas where the tankers travel at cruise speeds.

During the return trip, tankers are filled with seawater (ballast) to achieve buoyancy necessary for proper operation, which affects the transit speeds of the vessel. Furthermore, the tankers spend several days loading or unloading cargo at each marine terminal with auxiliary engines running (an activity called hoteling). The tanker emissions accounted for return trips (i.e., both loaded cargo going south and unloaded cargo going north).

In aggregate, the total operational emissions (tons) estimated over the life of the project (50 years) are several times greater than those associated with the combined construction and operation of the proposed Keyston XL Project

Greenhouse Gases

Direct emissions of GHGs would occur during the construction and operation of the Rail/Tanker Scenario. GHGs would be emitted during the construction phase from several sources or activities, such as clearing and open burning of vegetation during site preparation, operation of on-road vehicles transporting construction materials, and operation of construction equipment for the new pipeline, rail segments, multiple rail and marine terminals, and fuel storage tanks.

Due to limited activity data, GHG emissions from construction of the Rail/Tanker Scenario were not quantified; however, these emissions would occur over a short-term and temporary period, so construction GHG impacts are expected to be comparable to the proposed [Keystone XL] Project.
During operation of the railcars and tankers that comprise this scenario, GHGs would be emitted directly from the combustion of diesel fuel in railcars traveling over 4,800 miles (7,725 km) and fuel oil in marine tankers traveling over 13,600 miles (21,887 km) round-trip.

The Rail/Tanker Scenario would also result in indirect emissions of GHGs due to the operation of 16 new rail terminals, an expanded port, and potential pumping stations. The new rail terminal in Prince Rupert would be projected to require 5 MW of electric power to operate, possibly bring indirect GHG emissions


Noise would be generated during the construction and operation of the Rail/Tanker Scenario. Noise would be generated during the construction phase from the use of heavy construction equipment and vehicles for the new pipeline, rail segments, and multiple rail and marine terminals, and fuel storage tanks. Due to limited activity/design data, noise levels from the construction of this scenario were not quantified; however, this noise would occur over a short term and temporary period, so construction noise impacts are expected to be comparable to those
of the proposed Project. During operation of the railcars and tanker ships that comprise this scenario, noise would be generated from the locomotives, movement of freight cars and wheels making contact with the rails as the train passes, train horns, warning bells (crossing signals) at street crossings, and tanker engines during hoteling and maneuverings at the new rail and marine terminals in Prince Rupert.

(Noise from ocean going vessels which is a concern for coastal First Nations and environmental groups is covered later on impact on wildlife)


Climate Change Effects on the Scenario
Environmental Setting

The Keystone study looks at the affects of climate change, but concentrates largely on the Gulf Coast beause the most of the Rail/Tanker Scenario was outside of the boundaries of the study, but it does note that the sea levels are projected to rise due to glacial melting and thermal expansion of the water. The rate, total increase, and likelihood of the rise is in part dependent on how rapid the ice sheets warm and is a source of ongoing scientific uncertainty.

The United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) estimates that sea level rise could be between 3 to 4 feet by the end of the century.

Increasing sea level projected due to climate changes as described above shifts the impact of mean high tide, storm surge, and saltwater intrusion to occur further inland and this would negatively affect reliable operation of the port infrastrucure for tanker traffic. Mitigation of these climate effects could be addressed by making engineering and operational changes at the port.

Potential Risk and Safety
Environmental Setting

The Rail/Tanker Option would combine the risk inherent in both pipeline and oil tanker
transport. However, the risks and consequences for using oil tankers to transport the hazardous materials are potentially greater than the proposed Project. Overall, crude oil transportation via oil tankers has historically had a higher safety incident rate than pipelines for fire/explosion, injuries, and deaths.

Spills have been reported while the vessel is loading, unloading, bunkering, or engaged in other operations

The main causes of oil tanker spills are the following:
• Collisions: impact of the vessel with objects at sea, including other vessels (allision);
• Equipment failure: vessel system component fault or malfunction that originated the release of crude oil;
• Fires and explosions: combustion of the flammable cargo transported onboard;
• Groundings: running ashore of the vessel; and
• Hull failures: loss of mechanical integrity of the external shell of the vessel.

From 1970 to 2011, historical data shows that collisions and groundings were the maincauses of oil tanker spills worldwide.

Potential Impacts

Loading and unloading of the railcars at tank farms near seaports could allow spills to migrate and impact seawaters and shorelines.

However, the loading and unloading are generally carried out under supervision and would be addressed promptly by the operators, limiting the potential migration and impacts of the spill to the immediate area.

Once the tanker is loaded and at sea, the propagation and impacts of a spill could become significant. Oil tankers may carry up to 2,000,000 bbl of oil

A release of oil at sea would be influenced by wind, waves, and current. Depending on the volume of the release, the spreading of oil on the surface could impact many square miles of ocean and oil birds, fish, whales, and other mammals and could eventually impact shorelines. Oil would also mix with particulates in sea water and degrade. As this occurs some oil will begin to sink and either be retained in the water column (pelagic) or settle to the ocean floor (sessile).

Pelagic oil could be consumed by fish or oil fauna passing though the submerged oil. Sessile oil could mix with bottom sediment and potentially consumed by bottom feeding fauna. Spills in ports-of-call could affect receptors similar to an open ocean release but also could temporarily affect vessel traffic and close ports for cleanup activities.

The identification of key receptors along the rail route alternative was not available for this evaluation. Therefore a comparison to the proposed project was not completed.

Surface Water

The Lloydminster to Prince Rupert portion of this route would begin in the western plains at the Saskatchewan/British Columbia border and travel west through an area of high-relief mountains with large valleys, referred to as the Cordillera region. From a water resource perspective, the plains region of Canada is characterized by relatively large rivers with low gradients. The plains rivers drain the Rocky Mountains to the Arctic Ocean. The Cordillera region is largely composed of northwest-southwest trending mountain ranges that intercept large volumes of Pacific
moisture traveling from the west towards the east. River systems in this region are supplied by a combination of seasonal rainfall, permanent snowfields, and glaciers.

The following are larger rivers crossed by the existing rail lines between Lloydminster and Prince Rupert:

• North Saskatchewan River, Alberta
• Pembina River, Alberta
• McLeod River, Alberta
• Fraser River, British Columbia
• Nechako River, British Columbia
• Skeena River, British Columbia


Spills within wetlands would most likely be localized, unless they were to occur in open, flowing water conditions such as a river or in the ocean. A crude oil spill in a wetland could affect vegetation, soils, and hydrology. The magnitude of impact would depend on numerous factors including but not limited to the volume of spill, location of spill, wetland type (i.e., tidal versus wet meadow wetland), time of year, and spill response effectiveness. The construction of additional passing lanes to accommodate increased train traffic resulting from this scenario could
result in permanent impacts to wetlands if passing lanes were constructed where wetlands occur.
However, as there is some leeway regarding the exact location of the passing lanes, it is expected that wetlands would be avoided by design.


The Rail/Tanker Scenario railroad route would cross numerous major streams and rivers in Canada, many of which support anadromous fish species such as salmon.

Anadromous species are those that spawn and rear in freshwater but migrate to the ocean at a certain size and age. Pacific salmon are large anadromous fish that support valuable commercial and recreational fisheries. Commercial fisheries for salmon occur in marine water and most recreational fishing for salmon occurs in freshwater. Salmon eggs are vulnerable to the effects of fine sediment deposition because female salmon deposit their eggs in stream bed gravels.

Despite this vulnerability, the overland railway route is not expected to present any new impacts to salmon unless there is a spill into its habitat, although the risk of spills does increase under this scenario due to the increase in the number of trains that would use the route.

Potential new impacts under the Rail/Tanker Scenario on commercially or recreationally significant fisheries along the route would be minor because the railroads that would be used are already built and in operation. However, the risk of an oil spill or release of oil or other materials still exists. The tanker portion of this route scenario is also subject to oil spill risk.

Threatened and Endangered Species

The rail route would cross over the Rocky Mountain region of western Alberta, which is inhabited by species such as the woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus) (a SARA threatened species) and grizzly bear (a SARA special concern species). This region of British Columbia is home to a number of SARA threatened/endangered species, including the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum) (SARA threatened), salish sucker (Catostomus sp.) (SARA endangered), white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) (SARA endangered), caribou (southern mountain population) (SARA threatened), northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis laingi) (SARA threatened), and Haller’s apple moss (Bartramia halleriana) (SARA threatened).

A number of additional SARA special concern species inhabit the regions of Canada that would be traversed by the Rail/Tanker Scenario, including but not limited to those special concern species expected to occur in the Prince Rupert region, and discussed above (B.C. Conservation Centre 2012).

Northwest Coast Energy News Special report links

What the Keystone Report says about Kitimat and Northern Gateway
What the Keystone Report says about the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Vancouver.
What the Keystone Report says about CN rail carrying crude and bitumen to Prince Rupert.
The State Department Environmental Impact Study of the railway to Prince Rupert scenario.

State Department news release

State Department Index to Supplemental Environmental Impact Study on the Keystone XL pipeline


Ellis Ross denies reports Haisla are softening position on Enbridge Northern Gateway

Ellis Ross, Chief Counsellor of the Haisla Nation tonight denied reports published in the Globe and Mail that the Haisla are softening their stand against the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project.

Ross told Northwest Coast Energy News that the Haisla stand by their filings with the Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review Panel that the First Nation is opposed to the project that would build a pipeline to Kitimat to carry bitumen from Alberta and then ship to Asia by tanker.

Ross confirmed that the Haisla have withdrawn from its membership in Coastal First Nations, largely due to disagreements on liquified natural gas projects. The Haisla are a partner in the BC LNG project and have an agreement supporting the KM LNG project at Bish Cove which is in Haisla traditional territory.

In the Globe and Mail story Haisla First Nation withdraws from anti-Northern Gateway group, reporter Nathan Vanderklippe wrote:

The Haisla First Nation, an aboriginal group situated at the terminus on the B.C. coast of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, has pulled out of an organization that has stridently opposed the controversial project, and called for greener practices in the export of natural gas.
The Haisla said they have withdrawn from Coastal First Nations, effective immediately, amid a first nations debate about the environmental impact of West Coast industrial development that has now blown out into the open. The move also comes amid a softening Haisla stance toward oil exports from their traditional territory, which some see as evidence that the tide is turning on opposition to Gateway.

Ross strenuously denied that there has been any change in the Haisla opposition to the Northern Gateway project as the Globe and Mail is reporting. He says the disagreements with Coastal First Nations comes from the fact that the LNG project terminals are in Haisla traditional territory.

Another member of the Coastal First Nations, the Gitga’at First Nation at Hartley Bay told the Vancouver Sun it was worried about “huge volumes of pollutants could be pumped into the air associated with the development of a liquefied natural gas industry at Kitimat, affecting the health of the aboriginal community.” Gitga’at councillor Marven Robinson told the Sun that the First Nation is not opposed to LNG, but is questioning the risks and is seeking more information.

Ross said the Haisla Nation Council will likely issue a statement in the coming hours.


(more to come)


Kitimat-Stikine Regional District votes to oppose Enbridge Northern Gateway

Map Regional District Kitimat Stikine
Map showing the Regional District of Kitimat Stikine (RDKS)

The Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine voted on Sept. 14, 2012, to oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. Eight of the twelve Regional District Directors of Kitimat Stikine voted to both to oppose the Northern Gateway project and to support resolutions of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) on the pipeline.

Telegraph Creek director David Brocklebank, who originally proposed the motion, was supported by Dease Lake alternate director Joey Waite, Terrace municipal directors Dave Pernarowski (mayor) and Bruce Bidgood (councillor), Nass director (and regional district chair) Harry Nyce, Hazelton village mayor Alice Maitland, the Hazeltons and  Kispiox/Kitwanga director Linda Pierre and Diana Penner (who was sitting in for the director Doug McLeod) for the rural area around Terrace and Kitimat.

Brocklebank had proposed the motion at the August meeting. It was tabled to allow for the directors who represent the various regions and municipalities time for consultation.
Voting against were Kitimat municipal director Corinne Scott, New Hazelton mayor Gail Lowry, Thornhill’s Ted Ramsey and Stewart municipal director Billie Ann Belcher.

Scott said she was voting against the motion, continuing the Kitimat council’s position that it remain neutral until the report of the Northern Gateway Joint Review panel. Ramsey also said Thornhill wanted to also remain neutral.

Other directors pointed to what they called the politicization of the Joint Review and how they believed it had been influenced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

While the District of Kitimat remains neutral, the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District, Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers have all voted to oppose the Northern Gateway.

Haisla, BC government sign agreement for third LNG facility at Kitimat

Updated with map, agreement details

Map of Haisla Framework Agreement
A map, released by the BC government, shows the area of Crown land covered by the Haisla Framework agreement that could lead to another LNG project in Kitimat. (Govt of BC)

The Haisla Nation and the BC government have signed an agreement that will lead to a third liquified natural gas project near Kitimat.

The “Haisla Framework Agreement” allows for the lease or sale of up to approximately 700 hectares of Crown land near the Douglas Channel, and for the foreshore lease of submerged lands of up to 102 hectares for a berthing facility.


The area is just north of the Haisla Reserve land  at Bish Cove where the KM LNG project will be located, but south of the proposed BC LNG and Enbridge terminals.  It is all undeveloped and unserviced land within the boundaries of the District of Kitimat.

That could mean, if all projects go ahead there the west side of Douglas Channel from Kitimat almost to Jesse Falls would see three, perhaps fourm hydrocarbon facilities and terminals.

The agreement provides the Haisla with the options for up to a 60-year lease or the possibility of purchasing of the land outright.

The agreement also commits both parties to start work on land-use planning for areas around the Douglas Channel, which, the BC government says, has tremendous potential as a marine port.

A news release from the BC government today does not specify the backer of the terminal, While the most obvious candidate could be the  Shell project LNG project (last fall Shell purchased the old Methanex site and the associated marine terminal at Kitimat) there is now media speculation that there could be other players involved, possibly another giant Exxon Mobile.

A news release from the BC government says that the “framework agreement” is a “significant step toward government’s commitment to have three terminals and their connecting pipelines operating by 2020, creating more than 1,400 ongoing jobs and generating an estimated $600 billion in economic activity over 30 years.”

The release says the agreement “provides the structure for a land purchase or lease that will Haisla Framework agreement logoallow the Haisla to partner with industry to develop a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility and marine export terminal on the west side of the Douglas Channel in the areas around Haisla Reserve #6.”

The release quotes, Ida Chong,  BC Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation  as saying:

Our government is working with First Nations like the Haisla to create new jobs and opportunities throughout British Columbia. This agreement builds on our strong partnership with the Haisla Nation, and it is the key to unlocking the vast potential of a whole new natural gas export industry in British Columbia which will provide long-term stability for families and communities.

It also  quotes Ellis Ross, Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation: –

This agreement allows the Haisla to look at the land on the west side of the Douglas Channel in a different light. This gives the Haisla and associated projects the certainty needed for the LNG proposals and other projects coming forward for our territory. If we are able to do this, the Haisla people will benefit, as will all British Columbians and Canadians.

Ida Chong and Ellis Ross sign agreement
Ida Chong and Ellis Ross sign the Haisla Framework Agreement in Vancouver, Sept.14, 2012 (Govt of BC photo)

The release goes on to say that the agreement signals a closer working relationship between the Haisla and BC in and around the Kitimat and Douglas Channel area. It commits both parties to start work on land-use planning for areas around the Douglas Channel, which has tremendous potential as a marine port. This certainty will allow other development projects in the area to proceed.

The agreement says the Haisla will work independently to find a suitable partner for the development of the land. Details of the lease or sale are expected to be finalized this fall.

How “On the Waterfront” could decide the fate of Enbridge’s Kitimat terminal

There’s one question about the Enbridge Northern Gateway project that many people ask and few can answer: Who is responsible for the port of Kitimat? Who would be liable should there be a disaster in the port? Nobody really knows.

Unlike many harbours in Canada, the port of Kitimat is “private,” although as the District of Kitimat says, “Transport Canada and other federal agencies continue to regulate navigation, security and environmental safety.” Kitimat has promoted that private status as an economic advantage.

If there’s a dispute, the question of responsibility and liability would probably end up in the Supreme Court of Canada, with the justices sorting out a historic puzzle. Or perhaps that historical puzzle could mean that the future of the port of Kitimat might be decided by the next B.C. provincial election.

Most of the other harbours in Canada are the responsibility of Ports Canada, a branch of Transport Canada or run by (usually not-for-profit) semi-public port corporations or local harbour commissions.

To find out why Kitimat is one of the few private ports in Canada, the first thing to do is watch Eliza Kazan and Bud Schulberg’s classic 1954 multiple Oscar winning movie, On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando, about how the mob ran the New York docks.

What has On the Waterfront got to do with Kitimat? It goes back to when the then Aluminum Company of Canada/Alcan (now Rio Tinto Alcan) was planning the Kitimat project; much of that work was done in New York both by employees and consultants. It was in 1949, that Malcolm Johnson, a New York Sun reporter, wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning series of investigative reports called “Crime on the Waterfront,” exposing corruption and Mafia involvement with the docks and the longshoremans’ union. The movie was based, in part, on that investigative series.

So in its planning, Alcan was determined that the longshore unions would not be involved in running the docks in Kitimat. The publicly stated reason has always been that Alcan wanted a seamless 24/7 operation that would be integrated with the aluminum smelter. Alcan would sign a collective agreement with the United Steelworkers that covered both the smelter and the docks. (CAW 2301 now represents most of the workers at the Kitimat smelter.)

When the Kitimat project was being finalized in 1949 and 1950 at the height of the Cold War, aluminum was a strategic commodity, security was high on the agenda, and it was not just the Soviet bloc but the mob as well that worried the authorities.

Add two factors. First, in 1949 the province of British Columbia was anxious to promote what would today be called a “mega-project.” Second, in the post-war era when corporations were relatively enlightened compared to today, Alcan was determined not to create the traditional “company town.”

To promote private-sector development of both hydro-electricity and aluminum, B.C. signed a rather loosely worded agreement with Alcan, noting that the project was going on “without investment by or risk to the government.” That agreement was implemented by the Legislative Assembly of B.C. by an equally wide open Industrial Development Act. One aim of both was try to ensure that future “socialists” would not expropriate the project.

Industrial township

With the province handing over the Crown land at the head of Douglas Channel at a very nominal price to Alcan, next came the creation of the District of Kitimat. With the town under construction, with few buildings and a small population, under normal B.C. practice, the area would be “unincorporated” and would not have a municipal government. But Alcan and the province came up with a new concept, which they called “an industrial township,” which would allow a municipal government to be established in anticipation of future growth.

The act that established the District of Kitimat put the boundaries outside the land owned by Alcan (excluding land reserved for the Haisla Nation).

Alcan began selling off the land in the planned areas of the town and other land it didn’t need. Individuals bought houses and businesses bought the land for their own use. Alcan retained ownership of the harbour and estuary lands and the small “Hospital Beach.”

The District of Kitimat has some legal responsibility for “wharfs” at the port of Kitimat. At council meetings, the environmental group, Douglas Channel Watch, has raised the question of the district’s responsibility and liability in case of an Enbridge incident but there’s been no definitive response from district staff. There is no municipal harbour commission as there is in other jurisdictions.

Up until recently, it was a convenient arrangement for everyone involved. Alcan, Eurocan and Methanex ran their dock operations without any interference, beyond standard Transport Canada oversight.

Things began to change in 2007, when the Rio Tinto Group bought Alcan, creating Rio Tinto Alcan. A couple of years ago, a senior staff source in the Canadian Auto Workers explained it to me it this way. “Alcan was a big corporation, but Alcan was a corporation with a big stake in Canada. As a union, we could do business with them. Rio Tinto is a transnational corporation with businesses in lots of countries but no stake in any of them. So it’s a lot harder now.”

With the Rio Tinto acquisition of Alcan, things tightened up in Kitimat. Negotiations between the District and RTA for the District to obtain more land stalled. Access to the estuary and other RTA lands that had been somewhat open under Alcan became more restrictive. In 2010, the Eurocan paper mill shut down along with its dock. In 2011, Rio Tinto bought the dock from West Fraser, owner of Eurocan. The Kitimat community noted that when the dock was repainted, it said just “Rio Tinto.” not “Rio Tinto Alcan” and that led to lots of gossip and wondering about what the Rio Tinto Group really plans for Kitimat. Last fall, Shell Canada purchased the former Methanex dock for part of its liquified natural gas operations.

With the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, the BC LNG project at North Cove and the KM LNG project at Bish Cove all along the shore of Douglas Channel and within the boundaries of the District of Kitimat which extends as far south as Jesse Lake, the question that has to be asked is, what happens now? If the Enbridge project is built, it will start just beyond the boundaries of the land owned by Rio Tinto Alcan.

That old arrangement between Alcan and the District of Kitimat is facing many new challenges.

The district once had a harbour master, but the position was eliminated because he had nothing to do. Alcan owned its docks, Alcan managed the docks and Alcan union employees worked on the docks. Later came the Eurocan (now owned by Rio Tinto) and Methanex (now owned by Shell) docks, again owned and operated by private corporations.

The District of Kitimat, nominally in charge, was content to sit back and collect taxes.

With the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, the B.C. LNG project at North Cove and the KM LNG project at Bish Cove all along the shore of Douglas Channel and within the boundaries of the District of Kitimat, the question that has to be asked is, what happens now? If the Enbridge project is built, it will start just beyond the boundaries of the land owned by Rio Tinto Alcan.

In Canada, ports and harbours are normally under federal jurisdiction and Transport Canada has oversight. But Alcan’s “private port” and the District of Kitimat were created by acts passed by the B.C. government.

The original agreement between the province and Alcan mentions an “aluminum plant” and “low-cost electrical power,” it doesn’t mention bitumen or liquified natural gas. Those provincial acts do not cover bitumen, supertankers and liquified natural gas.

B.C. Opposition Leader Adrian Dix has made it clear that his New Democratic Party opposes the Northern Gateway project. The federal government has said the province can’t really do anything to stop Enbridge Northern Gateway once Stephen Harper has decided that the pipeline project is in the national interest.

At this moment, Dix is a “contender” for the premiership, with Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals dropping in the polls and with key members of her government deciding not to run in the election next spring.

So, if, as expected, Adrian Dix becomes the next B.C. premier, he has one very strong hand to play. Any act can, with proper legal advice, be amended by the B.C. legislature. That means the “socialists” so feared by Alcan and the premier of the day, Byron “Boss” Johnson, could alter the 1949 law. That in turn may upset the decades-old arrangement that created the private port which Enbridge is banking on.

Harper government reserves Gateway environmental decision for the cabinet, sets Dec. 31, 2013 deadline for JRP

The future of the Northern Gateway project is now completely in the hands of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet.

Today, Friday, August 3, 2012, Environment Minister Peter Kent used the provisions of what the Harper government calls the Jobs, Growth and Long Term Prosperity Act (former Bill C-38) to set a final deadline for a report from the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel  on December 31, 2013 and reserve the final environmental decision for the Governor-in-Council.

Today’s move, in effect, is the final gutting of the Joint Review Process, making it irrelevant, since, as long suspected, the government will now make the decision on its own.

The Joint Review Panel no longer has the power to reject the Northern Gateway on environmental grounds, that is now solely up to the Harper cabinet. Once the Gateway project is approved, as expected, the NEB has been ordered to issue the approval certificate within seven days.

By releasing the news on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend, the Harper government spin doctors through Environment Minister Peter Kent have also pulled the classic government move of releasing bad news when it will least be noticed.

There is also the new agreement between the Ministry of Environment and the National Energy Board. The revised memorandum of agreement says:

The Governor in Council will make the decision on the environmental assessment (whether the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects and if, so whether such effects are justified in the circumstances). The Governor in Council will decide, by order, whether the board should issue a certificate and will give reasons for the order.

Under the act, the NEB now has to file its environmental assessments within 543 days of the act coming into force, hence the imposed deadline.

If there are no excluded periods this would mean that the environmental assessment and report must be submitted no later than Dec. 31, 2013.

The final paragraph of Kent’s letter also says

If the Project is approved by the Governor in Council, the NEB will issue the certificate of public convenience and necessity within seven days of the Governor in Council’s order.

That’s a clear indication that the Harper government still intends at this point to fast track the Northern Gateway project.

Apart from giving the most environment unfriendly cabinet in Canadian history the decision power, most of the memorandum of agreement are legalistic changes necessary to bring the former agreement into compliance with the new law.

The environmental sections of the agreement, based on the amendments to the Environmental Assessment act have a couple of interesting points

any change that the project may cause in the environment, including any change it may cause in listed wildlife species as critical habitat or residences of that species….

Although the memo goes on to say

any change to the project that may be caused by the environment whether such change or effect occurs within or outside Canada

While this may be simply legalistic language, given the overall tone of the Harper government’s policy, especially the changes in the Fisheries Act that only protects fish habitat when it affects  commercial species, one has to wonder if the emphasis on listed (that is threatened or endangered) species is again a narrowing of the criterion for approving the pipeline.

The second phrase is also ambiguous, seemingly to imply that the environment could be to blame  for any problems the project may face. Opponents have long pointed out that the environmental conditions and risks such as geologic instability along the pipeline route and the heavy weather in the waters off British Columbia are factors that increase the danger of an oil spill event whether on land or sea. However, the new agreement  presents an almost Orwellian scenario that would blame the environment, an “Act of God” in insurance terms, rather than the company or the government for any future disaster.

The main phrase in the agreement “whether such effects are justified in the circumstances” clearly indicates that the Harper government is fully prepared to ignore the environmental fallout of the Northern Gateway project and so the stage is set for a much wider political battle.

Peter Kent letter to JRP concerning the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project  (pdf)

Amendment to the Agreement concerning the Joint Review of the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project  (pdf)