In the debate over energy infrastructure and other major projects, one common question recently has been whether proposals are being rigorously enough reviewed. The public clearly has some doubts about how much confidence it can place in these reviews.
So in this issue of the Monitor we take a close look at what major project review processes actually consist of. What we find is that they are in fact rigorous, science-based, highly responsive to public and Aboriginal input, and much more comprehensive than many people have been led to believe. The environmental considerations alone that get assessed are vast in scope – everything from local frog habitat to global greenhouse gas implications. And all that work is supplemented with equally demanding assessments of economic, community, and social impacts.
Throughout these processes, the scope of stakeholder outreach and consultation is vast. Every single query and concern requires a response, and timelines frequently get paused when significant new issues or revisions are put on the table. Approvals are commonly granted only after years of ongoing review. And they are invariably based on conditions, sometimes over 100, designed to ensure that identified impacts are moderated. Strong enforcement mechanisms ensure all those conditions get acted on.
It’s small wonder then that major project reviews often represent investments of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours of work for proponents. It’s a huge vote of confidence in British Columbia that so many proponents are willing to step up with that kind of investment. In turn, British Columbians deserve to have confidence in the rigorousness of these reviews; confidence that if projects are approved they will be in the local, provincial and national interests. And based on an objective look at the nature and scope of these reviews it’s clear we can in fact have that confidence.
Pacific NorthWest LNG: Approval Pending
Pacific NorthWest LNG is a proposal for a liquefied natural gas facility on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert. While it has earned provincial approval, the more than three-year long federal review process was still unfolding as of June 2016, with a final decision from the federal cabinet pending. The scope of the review so far has included:
Major Project Reviews: Comprehensive and Complete
What we know about Woodfibre LNG:
Woodfibre LNG is a recently approved proposal for a modestly sized liquefied natural gas facility, on a former pulp mill site near Squamish. The following is a partial but representative list of potential issues that were exhaustively assessed during its more than two-year-long review.
IT WON’T HARM THE ENVIRONMENT…
Air Issues/Impacts Assessed: Local air
quality indicators, greenhouse gas emissions and consistency with targets and legislation
Water Issues/Impacts Assessed: Local creeks, salmon habitat, other freshwater and marine fish habitat, marine bird habitat, noise and other impacts on marine mammals
Land Issues/Impacts Assessed: Rare plants and sensitive ecosystems, eagle habitat, habitat for at-risk species such as bats and amphibians
IT WILL BE GOOD FOR THE LOCAL ECONOMY…
Issues/Impacts Assessed: Local employment and training, impact on local labour costs, compatibility with local economic strategies
IT WILL BE GOOD FOR THE LOCAL COMMUNITY…
Issues/Impacts Assessed: Local government revenue and spending, local housing demand, compatibility with traditional and existing land uses, community well-being indicators such as crime and substance-abuse levels
LNG Canada: Tackling the tough issues
LNG Canada is an approved proposal for a liquefied natural gas facility on a former industrial site near Kitimat.
The BC-led review of this project encompassed:
- air quality
- greenhouse gas emissions
- water quality
- fish and fish habitat
- marine resources
- vegetation and wetlands
- wildlife and birds
- infrastructure and services
- community health and well-being
- marine transportation and use
- visual quality
- archaeological and heritage resources
- human health
Approval hinged in part on design and operational commitments that will address specific impacts that either are expected to be significant, or which were particularly important given local conditions.
|Greenhouse Gases||Project will have one of the lowest levels of GHG emissions of any such facility in
the world – 0.15 tonnes of C02e per tonne of production, compared to best-in-class performance elsewhere of 0.22 tonnes
|Air Quality||Proponent will participate in regional monitoring to manage the cumulative effect of key air emissions from this project and other local industry, and will implement various operating procedures such as use of low-sulphur fuel|
|Aboriginal Interests||Numerous conditions included for the benefit of the many Aboriginal groups living in varying proximity to the project, including employment and training programs, a cultural awareness program, and participation in monitoring|
Source: BC EAO Assessment Report
Trans Mountain Expansion: An Even Closer Review
The Trans Mountain Expansion Project is a proposal to twin a pipeline linking Edmonton and Burnaby. In May, the National Energy Board recommended approval, subject to more than 150 conditions, including a requirement that project construction be carbon neutral. However, the federal cabinet will make the final decision and additional review requirements were recently added.
The National Energy Board Review:
The NEB assessed potential impacts, and came to two fundamental conclusions:
- Trans Mountain can be constructed, operated and maintained in a safe manner
- It is in Canada’s public interest that Trans Mountain proceed
The NEB identified benefits including:
- Better market access for Canadian energy products
- Jobs for Canadians
- Local and regional spending during construction
- Improved marine spill response readiness
- Increased government revenues
The NEB found potential “burdens” to be manageable and acceptable – finding, for example, a “very low probability” of spills.
Source: NEB Report, May 2016
More Reviews Remain Ahead
The federal government has committed to broader assessment of greenhouse gas impacts and expanded consultations – a “ministerial review panel” will report in November.
The provincial government will do its own additional Aboriginal consultations, in light of a recent court decision – this was pending as of June.
Weighing in at 533 pages, the NEB report was nearly three years in the making, having heard the concerns of 400 interveners, 35 indigenous groups and 1,250 other groups or individuals.”
– Vancouver Sun Editorial