Day Seven: February 23, 2006

As I write this, a lawyer for the Yukon government is seeking to confirm through a specialist advisor to the Panel (Dr. Bob Gibson) that Yukon is part of the North. It’s an example of the many different interests represented here at the Joint Review Panel (JRP) Hearings.

This “blog” is part humour, part information. It’s intended as information and light entertainment for people with an interest in the proceedings — if I’ve got something wrong, please let me know.

We’re into overtime. Today is a bonus day. Numbers in the room have dwindled. We’re down to the oil company teams; a dozen or so folks from Environment Canada, GNWT Depart of the Environment, and other government departments; and 13 or 14 lawyers. Not many community members present.

Sierra Club of Canada and WWF-Canada are the only ENGOs represented here for this discussion on environmental impact assessment (EIA) methodology.

Discussion this week has centred in large part on defining sustainability — in the context of non-renewable resource extraction — and the search for adverse effects and labelling of their significance. On behalf of Sierra Club, I asked a question to the three specialist advisors on whether the two are the same, and if not, how to link them. Dr. Gibson responded in part by saying that sustainability provides guidance for the determination of adverse effects. (For his complete answer, and to find out how I linked it to the Canadian Idol auditions taking place today in Yellowknife, see today’s transcript at Dr. Gibson’s comments from today and yesterday are well worth reading.)

Dr. Gibson makes a comment that if you turn the Mackenzie Valley into heaven on earth, we will attract a lot of people here. Of course, to a lot of us, the Mackenzie Valley already is a piece of heaven. Consider Alestine Andre’s thoughts on making the whole region a protected area forever. (see Tsiigehtchic Community Hearing, 20 Feb 06 at the above link).

The Panel’s three specialist advisors are dismissed and we are back to questioning the proponents on EIA methodology.

DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) has concerns about the proponents’ one-size-fits-all view of determining significance of adverse effects, and their definition of “far future.” Rowland Harrison (he’s the member of the National Energy Board (NEB) who sits on the JRP) stops them at this point to clarify the proponents’ definitions of time. This leads to a long exchange: turns out the proponent is confusing thoroughly everyone. But after great effort it is distilled down to this:

  • short term = 1 year or less
  • medium term = 1-4 years
  • long term = 4-30 years
  • far future = 30-62 years or longer.

“Or longer” is added with some hesitation because the proponents hope — optimistically, I think — that there will be no effects of the MGP (Mackenzie Gas Project) beyond that time. Either way, it is a far cry from the “seven generations” that many of us hope the Panel will consider.

“We have to treat people involved in this project differently than people who aren’t,” the Proponent says at one point.

A lot of the questions revolve around the so-called ‘decision tree’ that the proponent uses to illustrate determination of significant adverse effect. DFO raises some excellent points — similar to those which the Panel itself raised yesterday. It becomes increasingly clear that the proponents have a very technical view of the future. I would not label them as “deep ecologists.”

To understand DFO’s concerns and the questions raised by the Panel, look at the decision tree in the EIS (environmental impact study). You’ll also find it in the JRP Registry as slide 33 of the presentation the proponents filed for 21-22 Feb

For example, a negative biophysical effect of high magnitude, occurring locally, over the long term is defined as “not significant” by the proponents. Same thing for a moderate effect of any geographic area … or for a low effect of any geographic extent for any duration. This gives rise to some interesting scenarios. For example, some families might depend on caribou in a particular area for food. If that is disrupted for up to 30 years, the proponents call it “not significant.”

The proponents admit that a moderate effect on fish into the far future “could make a difference to someone in the far future” but if the effect is “only” long term, then it is “not significant.”

Similar “oddities” occur on the socio-economic side of the house (EIS includes both biophysical and socioeconomic). For example, a “high” socioeconomic effect confined to the local level over the short term (defined as construction of the project, so a period of years) is “not significant.”

One of the proponents scientists has been having a little trouble expressing some of her ideas and the proponents’ lead on the EIS injects a little humour when he defines “water people” as aquatic biologists and “dirt people” as soil scientists.

Jennifer Walker-Larsen of the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board (GRRB) points out that proponents have a different definition of “significance” than that of common public understanding. Apparently some local species have been observed to be more sensitive than scientific predictions. (Maybe the animals aren’t reading the science). Walker-Larsen observes that the Proponent has difficulty coming up with a specific way to define serious risk — whenever we talk about an actual animal we move away from methodology.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) asks, if an effect that results from the operation of the proposed project occurs throughout its life (therefore long term), and if project life be extended to 45-50 years, would that effect be long term or far future?

Imperial answers that if duration went longer than expected project life it would be termed “far future” but if it occurred from another project or a change to the project that would be a NEW effect that would need to be identified at that time.

INAC requested graphic representation of years, one for pipeline and one for gathering system and Imperial made an undertaking to do so. This leads to more questions from the Panel about the starting period of time periods.

By 3:40pm on this, the last — overtime — day of the General Hearing on Environmental Impact Statements. We are down to:

  • panel members 7
  • panel staff 6
  • translators 6
  • transcribers 1 (more in back room)
  • 1 lawyer with 1 client asking questions
  • witness panel 5
  • proponent lawyers 3
  • other proponent staff 7
  • secretariat staff 2
  • government and other/unknown 12
  • ENGO 1 (me)
  • youth 0

Jennifer Walker-Larsen now makes a presentation for the

Walker-Larsen outlines GRRB’s concerns about EIS methodology. See the presentation at the link above. The EIS looked at wildlife habitat, availability, movement and mortality. Prediction confidence was classified as high, moderate or low. But because of previous industry experience, “low” was actually “moderate-high.

Walker-Larsen quotes WWF’s Peter Ewins when he said that a model is just a model and only as good as the data that goes into it. Woodland caribou have been observed to preferred winter roads. An Enbridge study showed that impacts on Enbridge pipeline turned out to be much greater than expected.

Caribou were supposed to avoid the pipeline by 250m but that turned into 2 km in reality. A prediction of 220m for moose turned into 800m.

GRRB recommends:

  • additional wildlife surveys
  • readjustment of distance analysis results
  • re-analyse of predicted impacts for local wildlife monitoring
  • implementation by MGP of monitoring plans before constriction to establish baseline

That’s my hasty summary. Read the full transcript on the registry!