British Columbia

Bat houses and bubble curtains: a closer look at the conditions for Pacific NorthWest LNG

Approval of a liquefied natural gas project in northern B.C. includes measures for protecting dolphins from loud noises and building new homes for endangered bats.

Dolphins, bats and migratory birds will all be affected by liquefied natural gas project

There are persistent concerns that Pacific NorthWest LNG's choice to build the export terminal on Lelu Island would threaten a salmon habitat in the Skeena River estuary and the eelgrass beds around Flora Bank. (Canadian Press)

When federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna approved the Pacific NorthWest Liquefied Natural Gas project, she attached 190 conditions to it, covering everything from wetlands to underwater noise to brown bats.

Just how much of a barrier these conditions are is a matter of debate.

"There's nothing in that list of conditions that I think are eyebrow-raising," Kevin Hanna, director for the Centre for Environmental Assessment Research at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus said.

"They are intended to ensure that ... we do as much as we possibly can to improve the quality of the project and the way that it operates."

Bob Zimmer, Conservative MP for Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies is glad the Liberals approved the project but is concerned about conditions limiting the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that it can emit. 

A 900-kilometre pipeline from Hudson's Hope would carry natural gas from northeastern B.C. wells to the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG facility on Lelu Island, near Prince Rupert, for liquification and transport on tankers to Asia. (Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project)

"We can actually contribute to the reduction globally of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions with B.C. LNG," he said. "If we actually limit the capacity of LNG exports, then we're limiting the benefit of it overseas, too."

Meanwhile, an organization called the Skeena Corridor First Nations issued a release saying the conditions do not go far enough in protecting the environment and Indigenous rights.

"Providing a green light for this project at this time will only lead to protracted litigation, which benefits no one," the group said in a written statement.

While the effects of the conditions will continue to be debated, CBC contacted the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to get a better idea of what some of these conditions entail. Here are some highlights:

Rebuilding wetlands

Restored wetland near Logan Lake in Kamloops. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

According to the response from the CEAA, approximately 120 hectares of wetland will have to be removed in order for the Pacific NorthWest LNG project to go ahead.

Wetlands such as bogs and swamps play an important role in local ecosystems.

According to the conditions, whoever builds the project would have to replace wetlands at a rate of 2:1 — so if 120 hectares are removed, 240 hectares will have to be restored or created elsewhere in the Prince Rupert area.

Bubble curtains

A dolphin jumping off the coast of Haida Gwaii. (D. Gardiner, Parks Canada)

A major concern with the project is its effect on marine life. There are conditions for  monitoring effects on fish, crabs and marine mammals.

Some of these conditions include the issue of noise control.

Just as humans can sustain hearing loss when exposed to loud noises, so can marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and porpoises. 

In order to avoid harm due to loud sounds, the company building the project will have to conduct tests to determine all areas where noise levels exceed 160 decibels. Whenever a marine mammal swims into that area, work will have to stop until it leaves again.

The company will also be required to build bubble curtains — sound barriers made up of tiny air bubbles — in order to reduce the harmful effects of loud noises.

Bat houses

Brown bat populations in eastern North America have been decimated by a fungal disease, white nose syndrome. (Getty Images/Flickr Flash)

It's not just water animals that will be affected by the project. Little brown myotis, better known as brown bats, use Lelu Island as a roosting and mating ground.

Since the bats are listed as endangered by the federal government, the company that builds the Pacific NorthWest LNG project will have to take steps to help protect them.

Among the conditions related to the bats, the company will have to install and maintain bat roosts to offset any loss of habitat.

Monitoring and enforcement

According to the CEAA, the job of making sure the conditions are being met will fall to its enforcement officers.

Additionally, the conditions require an independent environmental monitor appointed after "all reasonable efforts" are made to receive the approval of the Lax Kw'alaams Band and the Metlakatla First Nation.

When asked for clarification on the definition of "all reasonable efforts," the CEAA said it meant "earnest discussions."

Should those discussions fail, the CEAA will be able to appoint the independent monitor, who in turn will have the ability to stop any activity that does not meet the project conditions.

The full list of conditions can be read on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website.

To hear the full story, click on the audio labeled: 'Bat houses and bubble curtains: a closer look at the conditions for Pacific NorthWest LNG'.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca. You can also send encrypted messages using Signal to 250.552.2058.

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