Back to Inuvik for the second round of hearings of the Joint Review Panel. A cold morning (minus 32 degrees C), which is incongruous given that Environment Canada is reporting today that temperatures in northern Alberta and southern Northwest Territories this past winter were a staggering 8 degrees C above normal. This is the area where the Mackenzie Gas Project’s gas pipeline terminates. Winter temperatures across Canada averaged 3.9 degrees C above normal—the warmest winter since records were kept. This warmest winter underlines one of Sierra Club of Canada key concerns about the MGP that climate changes considerations have not been adequately reflected in the design of the natural gas transmissions pipeline and the gathering system of smaller pipelines extending out to the anchor fields. The design of the transmission pipeline is the focus of the Joint Review Panel’s hearings this week.
Rick Luckasavitch gave the opening presentation of behalf of the proponents. The crucial issue emerging out of his presentation is that the Joint Review Panel and National Energy Board will only have the opportunity to review the preliminary engineering design if Imperial Oil has its way prior to licensing the MGP. Detailed engineering would take place after licensing. Most of the permafrost and geotechnical information for the region with discontinuous permafrost north of Norman Wells needed for the detailed engineering design would be collected in the winter 2006-07 or subsequently; neither the JRP nor the NEB would be able to assess this information prior to licencing.
Chuck Brumwell then asked questions on behalf of Environment Canada. In the interchange with the proponents, it became clear that climate change variability (e.g., increasing weather extremes, increases in storm surges and forest fires) had not been taken into consideration in the development of the proposal. On behalf of the proponents, Chris Heuer expressed the view that depth of permafrost thaw is the key factor in determining climate change impact, and that climate change variability is not relevant. Heuer noted that a more conservative estimate of climate warming based on historical weather records rather than the estimate of 0.5 degrees C. warming per decade developed in the 2003 workshop. The more conservative warming rates are now 0.72 degrees C/decade for Inuvik and 0.63 degrees C/decade for northwestern Alberta. .
Brumwell also asked about impacts that may be caused if the 21 additional gas fields located in the Kendall Island Bird Sanctuary were brought into production and linked to the MGP gathering system. Luckasavitch refused to answer this question directly, noting that any expansion of the Niglintgak lateral pipeline would be based on the quantity and quality of the gas and timing of the additional developments. He said that the Niglintgak lateral has an additional capacity of 75 million cu ft/day (35 – 40% of its total capacity) to accommodate further developments. He would make not comment on whether the footprint (environmental impact) of any system expansions would be a factor in this decision making.
Mark Lange representing Fisheries and Oceans Canada asked questions about mitigations measures relating to frost bulbs at stream crossings and repairing the stream bottom for streams that have been crossed by pipelines using an open-cut crossing technique.
Margot Burgess, Sharon Smith and John Adams representing Natural Resources Canada asked several good questions. Smith asked the proponent witnesses what experience the team has in designing chilled high pressure gas pipelines in permafrost? A direct answer was not forthcoming. She went on to ask whether the report setting out the criteria to select mitigation methods for each site-specific application is available. The report was promised by the proponents in the third quarter of 2005, and then again for the end of 2005. Luckasavitch indicated that he was not able to provide a date that the report would be tabled with the JRP. Robert Hornall, the JRP chair, indicated that the JRP would like to see it as soon as possible.