Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Kinder Morgan delivers another blow to Southern Resident Killer Whales

October 2, 2017

Living Oceans was shocked to learn last week that Kinder Morgan has been interfering with salmon spawning in several rivers in B.C.’s interior, before their route is even approved.  Salmon spawning deterrent mats—a relatively new approach to “protecting” salmon—were laid in a total of eight salmon spawning streams with no permits whatsoever.  The NEB called a halt to the activity, but the company is seeking permission to continue.

When we saw the news, we started checking Kinder Morgan’s NEB filings to figure out which streams were involved—and the news got worse.  “It would be ironic if it weren’t so sad,” said Karen Wristen, Executive Director.  “The very salmon runs that are most critical to the survival of the Southern Resident Killer Whales are the target of Kinder Morgan’s illegal activity.”

Early spring Chinook are a red-listed run, with returns this year said to be ‘very poor’ according to folks in Valemount, B.C., where viewing the Swift Creek Chinook run is a major attraction at the Visitors’ Centre. Those few fish that completed their 1200-kilometre journey to the spawning grounds were met with bright orange mats laid over the spawning gravel, making it impossible for them to build their redds in portions of Swift Creek rated as having high potential for spawning.

This new technique for ‘protecting’ salmon has only been used a couple of times and we can find no evidence that its impact on the spawning success and survival of wild salmon has been assessed.  Kinder Morgan’s idea of monitoring and followup is to watch to see if the mats successfully prevent spawning—not to see if the returning fish actually find adequate alternate habitat and spawn successfully.

Swift Creek is just one of over 40 watercourses in which Kinder Morgan maintains that it must construct its river crossings outside of the safe work window (Least Risk Biological Window) for salmon and cannot implement DFO’s “Measures to Avoid Harm”.  The only reason given appears to be Kinder Morgan’s construction timetable.

 “The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission requires a pipeline company to bore a tunnel under fish-bearing streams,” said Wristen. “But the NEB is apparently content to take Kinder Morgan at its word that it must dig trenches through all these watercourses. There is no public process around these approvals, which may or may not have been given already.”

Marvin Rosenau, an instructor in the Fish Wildlife and Recreation Program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, has had bitter experience as an environmental monitor for watercourse crossings.  He explained that the greatest danger to fish occurs when the coffer dams erected during construction of the trenched crossings are removed. “You get a pulse of silt going into the river,” he told us. “Downstream redds can be buried and juvenile stages of salmon can be suffocated by the silt.”

Living Oceans and Raincoast Conservation Foundation sent a letter to the NEB demanding answers to questions regarding its apparent failure to require the protection of salmon spawning habitat.

“The Trans Mountain Expansion Pipeline was bad enough for the whales, without this. Rebuilding Chinook abundance is one of the key actions needed to prevent the whales from declining into extinction, said Wristen. “Now, they face not only the noise, pollution and danger of ship strikes; but the pipeline is also likely to reduce their major food source.”