National Energy Board’s TransMountain Assessment "Justifies" Impacts on Southern Resident Killer Whales and First Nations' Culture
Alleged economic benefits of the project said to justify adverse impacts
VANCOUVER—The National Energy Board’s recommendation report issued today continues to fall short of the mark, according to intervenors in the assessment process. Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation earlier mounted a successful legal challenge to the NEB'S original recommendation, with counsel from Ecojustice arguing on their behalf that the Species at Risk Act demands no less than enforceable, effective mitigation measures to eliminate or reduce impacts to Southern Resident Killer Whales.
"What the NEB has done instead is simply to say that the impacts to Southern Resident Killer Whales are justified by the supposed economic benefits created by the pipeline," said Executive Director Karen Wristen. "But its task was to find conditions that it could impose on the project to reduce its impacts and avoid further harm to the animals."
The whales are only one of some 125 species in the Salish Sea assessed as being at some level of risk and for which project mitigation plans have not been spelled out.
"This deficiency in the assessment goes right back to the original filing of the project report and the NEB's decision to accept as a "marine risk assessment" a report that was so deeply flawed that it could not even be considered a professional risk assessment," said Wristen. "The proponent cherry-picked the sites and species for which it presented evidence, then conflated the probablility of a spill event with the consequences of such an event so as to avoid any appearance of risk."
Living Oceans' expert evidence was prepared by Dr. Jeffrey Short, a renowned expert on the ecological consequences of oil spills. Dr. Short was sharply critical of the marine risk assessment, pointing out that it also failed to assess all of the mechanisms by which oil harms marine life. He opined that hundreds of thousands of sea- and shore-birds would be placed at risk by a spill near the Fraser River estuary.
The economic benefits claimed by Trans Mountain for its project have also been hotly contested in evidence before the NEB. Intervenors' evidence pointed to the sea change in both the oil market and energy polciies in Asia and India, the supposed new markets for tarsands oil, since the original cost-benefit analysis was done. "It remains a conditon of the NEB's approval that Trans Mountain must file a new budget for the project, which will be used to determine the toll rates to be charged to tarsands producers. Trans Mountain will have to file evidence that sixty percent of the pipeline's capacity is still under long-term contract with producers. Some of the previously committed producers have announced they're pulling out of the tarsands and it remains to be seen whether or not the real economics of the project are attractive enough to sell to producers," said Wristen.
The actual decision whether or not to approve the project now lies with its owner and principal promoter, the federal Cabinet. That decision is not expected to be made until consultation with Frist Nations has been completed and there is no fixed timeline for that process.
Karen Wristen, Executive Director 604-788-5634