Nature Canada has regularly given testimony to the Joint Review Panel studying the merits of the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project.
Our message: The full impact of the project on the lands, water and wildlife of this unique environment will leave an unacceptable footprint, and important bird habitat like the Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary would be permanently damaged by such massive industrialization.
The hearings ended with closing remarks on November 28-30, 2007 where Nature Canada recommended that the Mackenzie Gas Project should not proceed because:
The 623-square-kilometre Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS), located on the northern tip of the Mackenzie River Delta, is part of a globally significant breeding and staging ground for waterfowl and shorebirds. Over 60,000 shorebirds, such as Red-necked Phalaropes, Whimbrels, and Lesser Golden Plovers nest in the outer delta of the Mackenzie River, which includes Kendall Island.
Ten confirmed natural gas fields lie under the Kendall Island MBS, and the Mackenzie Gas Project would bring natural gas from two of these fields to southern developments and markets. The list of harmful effects is long, but here are three:
Land subsidence –Extracting natural gas from beneath the Kendall Island sanctuary will cause the land to sink. Combined with global warming, which is causing arctic water levels to rise, and Kendall could be transformed from a low-lying terrestrial home for birds to a marine habitat.
Construction and ongoing operations will bring noise from trucks, airplanes, and barges, or from the compression stations and other buildings. High noise levels mask the acoustic signals birds use to communicate, making it next to impossible for animals to defend territory, find mates, make or respond to distress calls. This can have a clear effect on population levels.
Vegetation clearing, particularly during construction, will destroy habitat for wildlife. This loss will be long-term, as arctic ecosystems are especially slow to recover from such disturbance. The snow goose, the caribou, the bear – they will literally be left without a home.
Environmental assessments submitted by the oil and gas companies have so far been completely inadequate in assessing the project’s true impact on wildlife habitat, particularly for migratory birds, and have failed to comply with the government’s own environmental assessment guidelines.
• The Beaufort Marine Zone is a critical area for many species of migratory birds, yet the project’s impact on bird species that depend on this zone, including several species of sea duck, has not been considered.
• Seven Important Bird Areas, including the Kendall Island Bird Sanctuary, provide crucial staging and nesting areas for tens of thousands of waterfowl along the Mackenzie River. Roughly 100 species of migratory birds are present in the Mackenzie River Delta alone, including the last known breeding habitat of the highly endangered Eskimo curlew. Yet the proponent’s environmental impact statement virtually ignores many of these species.
• Long-range studies show that a number of Arctic bird species, including the Hudsonian Godwit and Whimbrel, are in decline, due to disturbance of their nesting grounds and the loss of habitat at key migratory stopovers. The project could make these conditions worse and could speed up their decline.
Before any development takes place, the project’s proponents should complete an analysis of its cumulative effects on migratory birds, particularly those whose populations have declined significantly, and develop a plan to mitigate these effects.
Protected areas, including national parks, national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries, provide insurance that some of this wilderness landscape will escape the worst effects of development, and they are essential yardsticks for measuring how unprotected areas are changed by development.
If we can’t measure the effects of current development, we will never be able to predict them, or learn to reduce them, in the future.
As supporters of the NWT Protected Areas Strategy and the Boreal Conservation Framework, Nature Canada greets with enthusiasm the announcements in 2007 and 2008 to temporarily withdraw over 10 million hectares of boreal forest from development.
However, the lands have been granted interim protection only; they have not yet become permanently protected as national parks and national wildlife areas. In addition, effective mitigation plans are not in place to address the impact of the project on the Important Bird Areas located along the Mackenzie River itself, including the Mackenzie River Delta, Kuguluk River, Lower Mackenzie River Islands, Middle Mackenzie River Islands and Brackett Lake IBAs.
The Joint Review Panel is expected to file its report with the National Energy Board in December 2009.