Day Ten: March 16, 2006

Third day of the hearings dealing with the routing and design of the gas pipeline of the Mackenzie Gas Project, and questions for the MGP proponents continue. Wayne Savigny concluded his questioning and Yaremko asked additional questions relating to environmental effects associated with river crossings that make use of horizontal directional drilling. In the afternoon, members of the JRP asked questions as well. However, this blog focuses on the discussion relating to my intervention. I finally got to ask a few questions during the morning.

My first point was that the unique engineering challenge associated with the MGP other than its size, is that there is a high-pressure chilled gas pipeline that is to be buried in discontinuous permafrost. Luckasavitch more or less agreed but indicated that it is not just the discontinuous permafrost that creates the engineering challenge, but the continuous permafrost as well. I asked whether the proponents would agree with my statement that the 450-km stretch between Inuvik and Norman Wells, which contains much discontinuous permafrost, is the very area that has the weakest data about permafrost conditions from boreholes. Luckasavitch first disagreed, but then retreated somewhat to say that the proponent has sufficient data for this area but is planning to collect more.

I then referred to a chart prepared by the proponents which describes a program for future data collection along the pipeline route over the next few years. I stated that virtually all of this data (e.g., stream measurements, geophysical drilling to obtain permafrost, ice content, and soil type and temperature information) could be characterized as baseline information for the purposes of environmental assessment. I asked the proponent to confirm that none of this information would be made available to the JRP (because the JRP concludes its hearings before the data would be available). Laplante did not answer the question but gave her cue-card answer that environmental impact statement contains sufficient information to allow the JRP to make its determinations. I asked whether or not the proponent did not think that the JRP could do a better job if the information in the future research program was made available to it. The proponent refused to provide an opinion.

I then challenged Luckasavitch’s contention that environmental assessment panels don’t review detailed engineering plans in the course of their work. I disagreed with his statement, noting that the Alaska Highway Pipeline Environmental Assessment Panel had first issued an interim report stating that the pipeline could be build safely subject to various conditions, such as detailed engineering for ice-rich permafrost soils along the route. Foothills, the pipeline proponent, prepared detailed engineering plans and other work to satisfy the Panel’s conditions. The Panel held technical hearings in 1982 and issued its final report in June 1982. I indicated that the JRP needs to decide how much information it requires to properly assess the environmental effects of the MGP, and whether the approach take for the Alaska Highway Pipeline Panel Review would be appropriate.

My final line of questioning challenged the proponents’ contention that its assumptions relating to mitigation of environmental effects associated with climate change are conservative. The proponents’ key assumptions are there would be a temperature increase of 0.72 degrees C per decade at Inuvik and a 0.1 m increase in the level of the Beaufort Sea.

I asked the proponent whether or not it wished to reconsider this assertion of conservatism given the dramatic findings subsequent to the release of the proponents’ environmental impact statement in October 2004 including the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment in November 2004, and other studies showing increasing sea levels resulting from melting of the massive West Antarctic ice sheet and Greenland ice cap, possible disappearance of Arctic summer sea ice within fifteen years, and record temperatures in Canada this past winter. Michelle Laplante and Rick Luckasavitch read from their cue-cards in response. I responded that I was scared shitless by the threat that climate change poses, but that none of these findings gives the proponents pause. This latter comment was picked up on CBC Radio One.

Later that day, Environment Canada gave a Climate Change 101 presentation, discussing climate change and its impacts, noting that the changes are greatest in the Arctic, reviewing future climate variability, and noting the increase in severe/extreme events in the Mackenzie Valley including lightning and an increase in forest fires. Environment Canada stated that it was not satisfied that the proponents have demonstrated that climate change/variability are unlikely to affect the structural integrity of the pipeline. The models/methods used by proponents are not adequate to predict future climate. Environment Canada is recommending that the proponents:

  • Properly incorporate the upper limit temperature scenarios to cover the range of future temperature conditions including their variability and extremes;
  • Develop and implement a collaborative long-term environmental plan to suitably assess climate change/climate variability effects on the project and project interactions with valued environmental components (VECs).