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Endangered caribou, birds and frogs among animals threatened by Enbridge pipeline: documents

Jun 21. 12

OTTAWA — Endangered populations of woodland caribou, along with rare types of birds and frogs, are among a list of at least 15 species that face threats from the potential construction of Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, reveals newly released government records.

Internal correspondence between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada warned the project could affect the populations, listed under schedule one of Canada's Species at Risk Act.

Link to internal government notice

Schedule one is considered to be the most serious of three categories under the federal legislation. The designation is issued for species following a scientific evaluation by a committee of government and non-government experts.

Lawyers for Ecojustice, a Canadian environmental law organization, said the correspondence, released to Postmedia News through access to information legislation, raises new questions about the potential impacts of the project and the risks of proposed changes to laws such as the Species At Risk Act that were included in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget implementation legislation, bill C-38.

A spokesman for the Alberta-based energy company that is proposing the 1,200 km pipeline to ship oil from Edmonton to Kitimat, B.C. and send condensate, used to thin petroleum products for transport in pipelines, in the opposite direction, said it wasn't disputing any species listed under the federal legislation.

But the company also told Postmedia News it was working to reduce impacts to species at risk in the $6.6 billion project's design.

"The route selection process includes consideration for avoidance of protected, critical or sensitive habitats and further route refinements may be considered as new species of concern and their habitat are identified," said Todd Nogier, the manager of corporate and western access communications for Enbridge.

"Northern Gateway will contribute toward additional research to help mitigate the effects of the project on the marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems."

The notice about the species at risk was sent on July 21, 2010 by Alastair Beattie, an environmental assessment analyst at the fisheries department, to Jeffrey Barry, the manager of environmental assessment and marine programs section of Environment Canada.

The Northern Gateway project and other proposed pipeline projects would allow Canadian oil companies operating in the oilsands region to expand production and exports to new markets in the United States and Asia.

Apart from the boreal and southern mountain populations of woodland caribou, the list also included sprague's pipit, the short tailed albatross, the pink footed shearwater, the marbled murrelet, the northern goshawk Queen Charlotte (laingii) subspecies, the western toad, the yellow rail, the rusty blackbird, the western screech-owl, the peregrine falcon pealei subspecies, the cryptic paw, the coast tailed frog, and the long-billed curlew.

The 15 species listed in the notice did not include marine mammals such as humpback and fin whales that could be killed or harmed by the increased traffic or unintentional collisions with supertankers transporting the oil from the pipeline.

But other internal correspondence, also released through access to information legislation, revealed federal scientists were raising concerns about gaps in information about risks of collisions because of a voluntary reporting system, combined with the "inability for many large vessels to feel the impact," with a whale and subsequently report it.

Link to internal government emails

"You noted that very little marine mammal related information can be found in the contractor prepared EA (environmental assessment) document, and from my own perspective, I find this somewhat disconcerting," wrote Lisa Spaven, who works in the conservation and biology section of the fisheries department in a Nov. 25, 2010 email to other federal scientists.

Link to documents

An Enbridge spokesman told Postmedia News in March that it had consulted more than 200 environmental experts and scientists to analyze potential impacts, and it incorporated its research into the pipeline project proposal.

Environment Canada was not immediately able to comment on the documents, while the fisheries department has declined interview requests with its scientists since March, stating that it could interfere with the ongoing environmental review of the Enbridge project.

Lawyers for Ecojustice said Enbridge has included mitigation plans for many different species at risk, including the ones highlighted by the government's internal correspondence, but they also suggested Environment Canada has failed to enforce some of its own laws requiring the identification of critical habitat, making it difficult to prepare or evaluate potential measures to reduce impacts of proposed industrial projects.

They also expressed concerns about proposed changes in bill C-38 that would no longer require project developers to renew special permits to operate on sites that disturb critical habitat.

Under the existing law, federal authorities would be required to review mitigation measures to protect species at risk before renewing permits.

The lawyers also said that above ground access corridors to allow for maintenance on the pipeline would disturb forest cover and give predators, such as wolves, new sight lines, leaving endangered populations of woodland caribou vulnerable and in need of constant protection.

Ecojustice staff lawyer Sean Nixon added he was concerned the government had additional plans to change its environmental protection laws in the fall.

"First, they're getting out of the business of habitat protection (with proposed changes in bill C-38) and second they're getting out of the business out of anything that isn't absolutely, squarely, 100 per cent guaranteed to be in the federal jurisdiction, which means that suddenly you have a very timid federal government that isn't doing much at all to protect species," said Nixon.

"You end up with a patchwork of different (federal and provincial) regulatory processes."

By Mike De Souza, Postmedia News

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