Day Six: February 21, 2006, part 1

On Tuesday the JRP returned to Inuvik. Stephen is working in Ottawa. So, his blogging is again done by Paul Falvo in Inuvik.

You may have read part 2 already. That was the evening session where members of the public spoke. Now we are back to the morning. It was an exciting day, with a star-studded cast.

In fact, given the educational/scientific nature of this day, you really want to read the starting at page 15. I simply can’t do justice with my hasty summaries.

The morning started with Dr. Peter Ewins, WWF-Canada’s Director of Arctic Conservation introducing the WWF team — on behalf of well-known Northerner Bill Carpenter — WWF’s director of NWT community-based conservation projects. WWF had a panel of four experts.

First up was Dr. Gordon Orians, Professor-Emeritus of Biology at the University of Washington in Seattle, and an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. Dr. Orians gave a brief presentation on lessons learned from the extensive exploitation of oil and gas resources on Alaska’s North Slope. In brief, the National Academies of Sciences formed a committee of 18 people to carry out an analysis. Dr. Orians was asked to, and accepted, the responsibility to chair that committee. Over a two-year period, the committee met eight times, visiting the North Slope during the summer and the winter, interviewing people in all of the North Slope native Alaskan villages; people elsewhere, particularly in Fairbanks and Anchorage. Some of their meetings were up to a week in length.

The committee members came from a broad array of backgrounds: petroleum geologists, anthropologists, native Alaskans, ecologists, economists, etcetera.

The 18 members of the committee laboured hard, and produced a consensus document. It is nearly 300 pages long. It is a consensus document; all 18 members of the committee agreed to its entire content.

Before publication, it was extensively reviewed by a panel of people that are identified in the report. The report has been acknowledged and praised for its objectivity by a broad spectrum of society, including the native Alaskans, representatives of the oil industry and the general public.

By way of even briefer summary of Dr. Orian’s already brief presentation, 5 main points:

  1. Once development gains a foothold, expansion in a pattern bearing and having similar characteristics is inevitable in the Northwest Territories.
  2. The influence of the infrastructure extends to varying distances on either side of the structures. For example, the effects of seismic operation have caused — offshore in the Beaufort Sea — deflections of the migratory pathways of bowhead whales up to 12 to 20 kilometres from the active sites.

    The roads carry dust that go kilometres to the side, affect the albedo snow cover and snow melt. The roads interrupt hydrological channels, cause ponding, creating effects that go varying distances from the road.

    The activities associated with these structures have affected the behaviour of various species of animals on land. Very important among them are the caribou. And the central Arctic caribou herd had its calving grounds in what became the middle of the oil fields in the Kuparak area.

  3. This influence extends over time.
  4. Without planning and a clear assessment of what these kinds of cumulative effects are, it is likely and almost certain that more damage will be caused than would otherwise be necessary.
  5. Despite a great deal of scientific information available, much of it from the oil and gas industry, there were and are enormous gaps in the scientific knowledge.

Dr. Pete Ewins took over again and showed slides if satellite images of parts of northern B.C. where there are already linear developments. Here are roads, pipelines, seismic lines, drill pads, which in total we know to have cumulative impacts on various valued ecosystem components. That’s the reality just south of the Liard.

If we move up to the Colville Hills area, Colville Lake, and you superimpose perhaps a 50-year scenario for what the volume of gas might actually trigger, if we were able to take it to market, we would see a similar scenario of actual pads, seismic lines, pipelines, and roads, linear access.

Pete was showing a map produced by CARC which tries to combine a reality taken from space, satellite images here in the north-eastern part of B.C., with the sort of projections that we might expect through cumulative inevitable or induced development in other parts of those northern gas basins or fields.

This map is one which was produced by the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee. There are a number of models using information that are available to the public as to volumes of gas one might expect to see flowing down such a pipeline. And this is the kind of composite scenario for what the industrial footprint could look like. This is not capturing impacts, of course.

WWF-Canada strongly supports a community-based protected area strategy action plan in the 16 eco-regions here, either directly intersected by the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project or associated infrastructure, that a representative network of special cultural wildlife areas be identified and protected ahead of major decision-making.

Pete went on to discuss the importance and distribution and migration of caribou.

To see the visuals that go with his presentation, see the JRP Public Registry:

WWF stresses the need for monitoring and recommends the posting of guaranteed measures, perhaps posted bonds, to ensure that the final clean-up and remediation, restoration actually happens not at the taxpayer’s expense.

Dr. Peter Usher of the JRP Panel had questions about the future scenario, the CARC maps. This is an issue that has arisen also before the NEB.

Dr. Usher asked:

“Is it is fair to say, I would assume, that the actual dimensions of the flow lines and well pads, and so on, have been significantly enhanced for the purposes of illustration, and that if we were to look at them, for example, in the way that you showed your first slide of satellite photography, that even if such development did occur, that’s not quite what we would see from satellite photography. Is that a fair comment?”

Dr. Ewins replied:

“ That’s for illustration purposes, I assume. But my point — or two points. One is I showed the actual satellite imagery to convey a real spatial impression of, in that case, just south of the Liard, how it actually looks. And it is a network and those are actual infrastructure footprints.

But because we are looking forward here at how to assess cumulative impacts, effects, clearly the effects, whether you’re a bit of water or a bird or a caribou, or a local person, the effects are actually much wider, depending on what you’re looking at, than you see on a map from any given infrastructure footprint.”

Next to speak on behalf of WWF was Dr. Robert Goodland responding to the question on FPIC, Free Prior Informed Consent or Consultation. Dr. Goodland undertook to produce a document referred to on the difference between consultation and consent in relation to FPIC. See it on the Registry (see above).

Finally, Dr. Francis Grant-Suttie, in answer to a question by Dr. Usher said WWF has worked in the Amazon, the Russian Far East, Africa, the Caucasus and many other parts of the world. We have witnessed large mega projects that unto themselves have caused induced development. In our thesis, this project, the Mackenzie Gas Project, follows the same pattern where we envision the cumulative impacts of additional projects that will attach themselves onto the original proposed project that you are reviewing currently.

There were questions for the WWF experts from various intervenors, including Jennifer WALKER-LARSEN on behalf of the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board. Jennifer asked and Dr. Orians agreed that despite the level of scientific information available, there were serious impacts to wildlife in Alaska.

Imperial responded with a curtly worded statement that included that, “the proponents do not agree with the World Wildlife Fund that further protective land-use plans, or regional assessments, need to be completed in advance of regulatory approvals for the Mackenzie Gas Project.”

Imperial then gave its presentation on EIS methodology. See it in — you guessed it — the Registry:

Dr. Usher of the JRP Panel had questions for Imperial on its study and assessment of TK.

That’s all she wrote for the morning and afternoon session. My summary above does not do justice to the session, so please consult the transcript if you really want to see what was going on. Check your trash bin for part 2 — the evening session — that I sent earlier.