Mackenzie Gas Project Update: Review Panel Rejects Governments' Attempt to Weaken Its Recommendations
Don't ignore any of our recommendations.
That's the message that the Joint Review Panel for the Mackenzie Gas Project has sent to the governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories in response to attempts at limiting or rejecting most of the 176 conditions the Panel says are necessary for the massive project to begin.
Tasked with reviewing the environmental and socio-economic implications of the project, the independent Joint Review Panel (JRP) concluded that it was possible to mitigate the project's most significant adverse impacts – as long as 176 separate recommendations were fully implemented.
"When the Panel released its report in December 2009, we were cautiously pleased with their emphasis on sustainability," said Carla Sbert, Nature Canada's manager of conservation programs and legal Issues. "The recommendations are the result of a very serious, comprehensive and committed effort to protect the pristine Mackenzie basin from the most potentially destructive impacts of this proposed project."
In a confidential letter to the Panel, the federal and territorial governments proposed to negotiate changes to the recommendations behind closed doors. Their proposal? Of the 115 recommendations directed to the federal and territorial governments, they propose to accept only ten. A further 77 recommendations would receive conditional acceptance – the governments "accept the intent" – and 28 recommendations are set to be rejected.
According to the JRP, the recommendations that would be rejected or receive only conditional acceptance include those directed to limiting greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring sustainable end use of the extracted gas, completing and implementing First Nations land use plans, and protecting wildlife like caribou and polar bears. Recommendations intended to protect the Kendall Island Bird Sanctuary from the impact of the anchor fields and other proposed development inside this protected area would also be limited or rejected.
"This is a basin-opening project, so the irreparable harm that could result if this project is allowed to go ahead without all the proper safeguards is huge," said Sbert. "The governments should accept all the recommendations and the National Energy Board should approve the project only if there are assurances that all JRP recommendations for sustainable development will be implemented."
In response to the government's objection that many of the JRP's recommendations would constrain development, the JRP rightly said: "The Panel rejects any suggestion that there should be no constraint on future developments." (emphasis in original)
"We're encouraged that the JRP has both refused to engage in a confidential exchange with the governments and that they have stood firm by their conclusion that in the absence of implementation of its recommendations, and in particular those directed to Governments, the adverse impacts of the Project could be significant," added Sbert.
The Mackenzie Gas Project is expected to cost at least $16 billion, not including the costs of implementing the Panel's recommendations. The Project includes three major natural gas production fields in the Mackenzie Delta north of Inuvik and a pipeline system (the longest pipeline is approximately 1,200 km) to carry the gas south along the Mackenzie Valley to northern Alberta to fuel tar sands development and other uses. Two of the gas fields to be developed are in the Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (KIBS).
At the Joint Review Panel's hearings in 2007, Nature Canada argued that the full impact of the project on the lands, water and wildlife of this unique environment would leave an unacceptable footprint. If allowed to proceed, the project would:
The future of the Mackenzie Valley and the basin-opening project to develop it is by no means clear. The governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories must submit a final response to the Joint Review Panel recommendations to the National Energy Board (NEB). Nature Canada has already submitted comments to the NEB calling for all 176 of the JRP recommendations to be implemented, ensuring that environmental impacts are reduced if the Mackenzie Gas Project is approved. In the meantime, we commend the JRP for standing behind their recommendations and fighting efforts to weaken them.