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Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel

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8 Environmental assessment

Contents

8 Environmental assessment

8.1 Scope of the environmental assessment

8.1.1 Scope of the project

8.1.2 Factors to consider

8.1.3 Scope of the factors

8.2 List of Issues

8.3 Purpose of and need for the project

8.4 Alternatives to the project

8.5 Alternatives means of carrying out the project

8.5.1 Marine terminal location

8.5.2 Eastern terminus location

8.5.3 Intermediate pump station and valve locations

8.5.4 Pipeline routing

8.5.5 Tanker approaches

8.5.6 Construction methods, timing, and mitigation

8.5.7 Views of the Panel

8.6 Environmental assessment methods

8.6.1 Spatial and temporal boundaries

8.6.2 Valued ecosystem components and key indicator species

8.6.3 Species at risk

8.6.4 Methodology for environmental effects analysis and significance findings

8.7 Environmental effects

8.7.1 Atmospheric environment

8.7.2 Terrestrial vegetation and wetlands

8.7.2.1 Rare plants and rare ecological communities

8.7.2.2 Old growth forests

8.7.2.3 Non-native weed species

8.7.2.4 Soils

8.7.2.5 Wetlands

8.7.3 Terrestrial wildlife and wildlife habitat

8.7.3.1 Woodland caribou

8.7.3.2 Grizzly bear

8.7.3.3 Terrestrial birds

8.7.3.4 Amphibians

8.7.4 Freshwater fish and fish habitat

8.7.5 Surface and groundwater resources

8.7.6 Marine mammals

8.7.7 Marine fish and fish habitat

8.7.8 Marine water and sediment quality

8.7.9 Marine vegetation

8.7.10 Marine birds

8.8 Capacity of renewable resources

8.9 Environmental protection

8.10 Follow-up and monitoring

8.11 Summary views of the Panel

8 Environmental assessment

The Panel conducted its environmental assessment of the project under both the National Energy Board Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.

The Panel is required to recommend whether the project:

  • is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects;
  • is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that can be justified in the circumstances; or
  • is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that cannot be justified in the circumstances.

The Governor in Council will then make a decision on the project taking that recommendation into account.

The assessment of the environmental effects of the project is integrated throughout this report. This chapter focuses on the changes caused to the biophysical environment by routine project activities, including marine transportation. This chapter also describes the cumulative effects of the project in combination with effects from other projects and activities. Chapter 9 addresses the effects of project-related changes to the biophysical environment on people and communities. The effects of malfunctions and accidents on the biophysical and human environments are discussed in Chapter 7. In cases where the Panel recommends that the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on a biophysical component, the Panel discusses whether or not these effects are justified in the circumstances in Chapter 2.

8.1 Scope of the environmental assessment

The scope of the environmental assessment included the following three elements:

Scope of the project

Defines project components and activities the Panel must consider.

Factors to consider

Environmental and socio-economic elements likely to be affected by the project.

Scope of the factors

Guidance on the information needs and analysis required.

8.1.1 Scope of the project

The scope of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project includes all project components and all related works and activities that would be part of facility construction and operations, as well as marine transportation of oil and condensate within Canadian waters off the coast of British Columbia.

Part I of the Joint Review Panel Agreement's Terms of Reference (Appendix 4) includes all project components that were considered in the environmental assessment.

Under the Terms of Reference, the Panel considered decommissioning and abandonment of the pipelines and the Kitimat Terminal in a broad context. Any decommissioning or abandonment activities would require separate applications and be subject to future examination under the National Energy Board Act. Decommissioning or abandonment would be subject to the regulatory requirements in place at that time.

According to its mandate, the Panel examined a conceptual abandonment plan, an estimate of future abandonment costs, and Northern Gateway's ability to address future abandonment costs. Northern Gateway would be fully responsible and accountable to meet all regulatory standards with respect to abandonment.

8.1.2 Factors to consider

The Panel assessed the environmental effects of project construction and operations, including the environmental effects of malfunctions and accidents that may occur in connection with the project, and any cumulative environmental effects. The Panel also considered the significance of these environmental effects. Elements considered in this framework included:

  • mitigation measures, monitoring plans, and follow-up programs;
  • emergency response plans;
  • public and Aboriginal people's knowledge and comments;
  • purpose of, need for, and alternatives to the project;
  • alternative means of carrying out the project;
  • capacity of renewable resources; and
  • measures to enhance any beneficial environmental effects.

8.1.3 Scope of the factors

Guidance on information requirements and expectations for the environmental assessment was included in the Joint Review Panel Agreement's Terms of Reference.

8.2 List of Issues

Early in the Panel's process, the Panel established a draft List of Issues to guide its environmental assessment and public interest determination. The Panel subsequently revised this list after receiving input during the Panel sessions. The revised List of Issues was released on 19 January 2011 (Appendix 5).

During the Panel sessions, and throughout its process, the Panel heard from many people and parties, through oral statements and letters of comment. Some expressed views and presented evidence in areas beyond the List of Issues. Issues outside of the Panel's mandate fell under the following topics:

  • product refining or upgrading capabilities;
  • product transport to markets in eastern Canada;
  • upstream oil production in the Alberta oil sands region and its linkage to global climate change;
  • views about the end market use of crude oil;
  • views about the acceptability of using fossil fuels;
  • views about Canadian policy and policy needs related to energy production and use, transportation, refining, and offshore shipping; and
  • views about federal government department resourcing, capacity, and legislated responsibilities.

Views of the Panel

The Panel finds that these issues are of importance to Canadians. These issues are not under this Panel's regulatory framework or jurisdiction. These issues can and should be discussed in forums and processes under their respective jurisdictions.

8.3 Purpose of and need for the project

According to Northern Gateway, the purpose of the project is to provide access to the west coast of Canada for oil exports and condensate imports. Northern Gateway said that the project is needed so that Canadian oil producers can obtain full value for their oil production by diversifying market access, providing increased competition, and preventing condensate shortages.

Northern Gateway said that the project, in meeting its purpose, would lead to higher netbacks for all Canadian producers, encourage innovation in Canada's energy sector, and alleviate the condensate supply shortages.

A detailed discussion of the need for the project is provided in Chapter 10. The Terms of Reference required the Panel to consider the purpose of the project and the need for the project in its assessment. These factors are considered as part of the overall benefits and burdens of the project in Chapter 2.

8.4 Alternatives to the project

The Terms of Reference required consideration of alternatives to the project. These are meant to be any feasible, functionally-different ways to meet the need for the project and achieve its purpose. In developing its public interest determination under the National Energy Board Act, the Panel can also consider the alternative of not proceeding with the proposed project. Chapter 2 addresses this through the Panel's weighing of the benefits and burdens of the project.

In its application, Northern Gateway considered the general locations of the marine terminal and the eastern terminus as alternatives to the project. The Panel considers these to be alternative means of carrying out the project because, in its view, these alternate locations represent other technically- and economically-feasible ways the project could be implemented. See Section 8.5 for the Panel's discussion on these aspects.

The Panel's intent in evaluating alternatives to the project was to determine if Northern Gateway's preferred approach is reasonable to meet the purpose of, and need for, the project. While the Panel considered these alternatives, it did not require that they be assessed to the same degree as the applied-for project, which remained the focus of the Panel's assessment.

Shipment by rail

Some intervenors questioned Northern Gateway about the ability to transport large volumes of oil by rail to the west coast.

Some intervenors who are potential shippers said that they currently ship oil and diluent by rail. They generally viewed rail transport as filling flexible and specific niche requirements for shipping, supplementing pipeline transportation only when necessary. Some producers said that rail uses more energy, has higher operating costs, and that a pipeline represents a preferable long-term transportation method.

Northern Gateway said that the costs of shipping oil by rail are generally higher than by pipeline. The Province of British Columbia questioned this conclusion.

Northern Gateway said that the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project is proposed in response to shippers' desires to have a safe and economical means to move their oil products to the west coast to access international markets. Northern Gateway acknowledged that larger volumes of oil have been shipped by rail in recent years. It said that it considered rail transport to be less economical and not as safe as pipeline transportation.

Pipeline expansion

Intervenors, such as Coastal First Nations and Haisla Nation, questioned the feasibility of other projects, primarily Kinder Morgan's planned Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project, to meet the purpose of, and need for, the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. Other participants said in oral statements that Kinder Morgan's project would be a more viable, less risky option.

Northern Gateway said that it had considered whether Kinder Morgan's project was a viable alternative to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. It dismissed it because of the physical limitations of such an expansion in creating additional transportation capacity, the uncertain timing of commercial and regulatory approval, and the fact that it would not provide new condensate service.

Views of the Panel

The possibility of transporting oil to, and condensate from, the west coast by rail on the same scale as that proposed for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project was generally speculative and not supported by oil producers.

The Panel finds that that adding capacity to other projects to meet the transportation needs of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project is not a viable option at this time. As Northern Gateway said, part of the project's purpose is to transport condensate from the west coast to Alberta. At this time, this would not be accomplished via the contemplated plans for other potential projects. The Panel finds that the alternatives to the project discussed during its process would not be preferable to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project proposal, in terms of meeting the purpose and need identified by Northern Gateway.

8.5 Alternatives means of carrying out the project

The Panel also considered alternative means of carrying out the project. Alternative means differ from alternatives to in that they represent the various technically- and economically-feasible ways that an applied-for project can be carried out, and which are within the applicant's scope and control.

For the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, the Panel considered alternative means related to siting the marine terminal, eastern terminus, intermediate pump stations and valves; establishing the general pipeline route and tanker approaches; and alternate construction methods, timing, and mitigation.

8.5.1 Marine terminal location

General location

Northern Gateway said that it analyzed alternative marine terminal locations. It initially considered over a dozen potential port sites in Alaska, Washington, and British Columbia (Figure 8.1). It also considered the work that Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had conducted in the 1970s to compare the relative vulnerability of 11 Pacific coast sites to the effects of an oil spill. That work ranked four sites (Port Angeles, Port Simpson, Prince Rupert, and Kitimat) as having the lowest vulnerability.

Northern Gateway said that location options were narrowed by considering a number of criteria, including:

  • the need for year-round, ice-free access;
  • channel suitability for large tankers;
  • tanker berth areas sheltered from open water conditions;
  • land availability;
  • feasibility of pipeline and road access; and
  • the need to limit environmental effects.

Based on these criteria, Northern Gateway determined that Kitimat and Prince Rupert were the most appropriate locations for a marine terminal, and it evaluated those options further.

Northern Gateway said that it then focused on the suitability of pipeline access to these potential terminals, taking into account pipeline constructability, operability, safety, environmental sensitivity, mitigation measures, and lifecycle costs. Northern Gateway considered various pipeline routes to Prince Rupert and Kitimat.

During the proceeding, Natural Resources Canada and intervenors, such as Haisla Nation, asked about the terminal location selection process and said that there are several existing and approved rights-of-way between the Alberta-British Columbia border and Prince Rupert that could be followed. Through oral statements, several people told the Panel about the existing Pacific Northern Gas pipeline, which has experienced several line breaks due to geotechnical events, many of which were associated with large rainfall events in the area of the Zymoetz and Telkwa Passes, east of Terrace.

Northern Gateway said that a route to Prince Rupert would encounter moderate to serious environmental constraints and issues. These included the likelihood of difficult silt and erosion control requirements in high-value fish habitat, and exposure to avalanches and rockslides in the narrow valleys. A route to Prince Rupert would also be hundreds of kilometres longer than one to Kitimat, and the pipelines would be immediately adjacent to the Bulkley and Skeena Rivers and among the many associated geohazards in those areas.

Northern Gateway said that the pipeline route southward to Kitimat through the Kitimat River valley would also not be without challenges. That route would possibly encounter slide-prone clays and likely require watercourse crossings in potentially boulder-prone material.

Northern Gateway determined that both options encounter geohazards and environmental constraints. Based on its assessment, Northern Gateway concluded that Prince Rupert was not a suitable location and that the safest, most effective route with the least potential environmental effects would be to Kitimat through the Kitimat River valley. Its chosen option avoids the geotechnical instability in the areas of Zymoetz and Telkwa Passes. Northern Gateway also said that the project costs would be lower by selecting Kitimat as the marine terminal location, rather than Prince Rupert.

Figure 8.1 Alternative marine terminal location options considered

Figure 8.1 Alternative marine terminal location options considered

Specific location

Northern Gateway ultimately identified and evaluated four alternative sites for the Kitimat Terminal (Figure 8.2).

Figure 8.2 Alternative Sites for the Kitimat Terminal

Figure 8.2 Alternative Sites for the Kitimat Terminal

Alternative Sites 1 and 2 are both located adjacent to the Rio Tinto Alcan site on disturbed sites zoned for industrial use. Site 3 is located 4 kilometres northeast of Kitimat, with a potential marine berth near the existing Eurocan Pulp & Paper Co. berth. Site 4 (the Kitimat Terminal site) is in an area that the District of Kitimat has zoned for future industrial development.

Northern Gateway said that its evaluation process considered:

  • site suitability for tanks and tanker berths;
  • proximity to existing infrastructure;
  • pipeline length;
  • road access;
  • avoidance of parks and recreation areas;
  • potential effects on water resources, vegetation, and wildlife habitat;
  • potential effects on communities, landowners, land users, and Aboriginal groups; and
  • possible effects of shoreline oiling.

Northern Gateway said that it selected Site 4 as its preferred and proposed location for the Kitimat Terminal because, in its view, the site held several advantages over the other alternatives.

Northern Gateway said that Site 4 (noted as Kitimat Terminal Site in Figure 8.2) has been logged and does not contain culturally-modified trees. It is located away from spawning areas and rivers, marine bird concentration areas, sensitive shorelines, and designated reserve lands and recreation areas. It is well-removed from both Kitimat and Kitamaat Village, which would reduce potential air quality, acoustic, and visual effects.

Northern Gateway said that, from a constructability standpoint, the underlying bedrock at Site 4 is at a shallow depth, which provides a suitable foundation for tanks and major structures, and would produce less excavated material requiring disposal. The site's elevation would allow gravity loading of tankers. Northern Gateway said that the harbour area provides a suitable turning basin diameter, while the shoreline provides a good approach for tankers.

Northern Gateway outlined other reasons why the three other alternative sites were not preferred. Sites 1 to 3 would require extended infrastructure (up to several kilometres in length) between the tanks and marine terminal. These sites are also closer to residential areas and adjacent to fish-bearing streams. Part of the terminal footprint at Site 3, in particular, would extend into a floodplain zoned for recreation.

Douglas Channel Watch asked about potential visual effects of the terminal at Site 4. Northern Gateway said that the site has been zoned for industrial development and it committed to follow the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations' landscape design guidelines. It also said that it would mitigate visual effects, including situating the majority of the facilities behind a ridge to shelter them from view.

Gitxaala Nation said that, although Northern Gateway provided information about alternative marine terminal sites, it did not assess the environmental effects of tankers transiting to and from those sites and the risks associated with those alternative tanker routes.

8.5.2 Eastern terminus location

General location

Northern Gateway said that the technical, economic, and environmental advantages of locating both pipelines in a single right-of-way supported having a single eastern terminus. It said that terminus siting was based primarily on two criteria: economic feasibility (providing oil receipt and condensate delivery locations that were acceptable to shippers); and technical feasibility (distance to other facilities and suitably-zoned land availability).

These factors led Northern Gateway to consider the Fort McMurray and Edmonton areas. It determined that the Edmonton area was preferable for two primary reasons. First, oil shippers had a preference for a terminus near the Edmonton hub. Second, condensate delivered by the project would need to reach blending terminals in the Edmonton and Hardisty areas.

Specific location

Northern Gateway evaluated two potential sites near Edmonton to site the terminus. One site was near the existing Enbridge Edmonton Terminal, on the east side of Edmonton. The other site was near the Stonefell Terminal near Bruderheim, approximately 10 kilometres beyond the northeast boundary of Edmonton.

Northern Gateway selected the site near Bruderheim based on a number of considerations, including access to markets, proximity to existing industrial infrastructure, industrial land availability, and access to potential pipeline corridors to the west. Northern Gateway said that using this site would reduce potential for land and resource use conflicts.

8.5.3 Intermediate pump station and valve locations

Northern Gateway said that it selected the general locations of the intermediate pump stations to optimize system hydraulics, while considering environmental, stakeholder, and lifecycle cost interests. It said that location refinements were based on:

  • the ability to co-locate oil and condensate pump stations;
  • proximity to existing roads and electric power;
  • site conditions such as topography, drainage, and soils;
  • environmental constraints such as sensitive habitat, proximity to water bodies and wetlands, and archaeological sites;
  • land ownership and use; and
  • proximity to residences.

Northern Gateway said that block valve locations and numbers were revised during the course of the proceeding. In particular, Route Revision U (January 2012) resulted in an additional 39 oil and 52 condensate valves being proposed to provide more protection to high-sensitivity-ranked fish-bearing watercourses. It also said that, although there were no changes to the total number of valves based on Route Revision V (December, 2012), the locations of some of the valves have changed in the Morice River and Fort St. James areas.

8.5.4 Pipeline routing

Northern Gateway's alternatives analysis focused on pipeline routing because both the Prince Rupert and Kitimat marine terminal locations were deemed suitable from the standpoint of feasibility and marine transport safety.

During the project's preliminary design phase, Northern Gateway considered various route alternatives to connect the Kitimat Terminal to the project's eastern terminus near Bruderheim (Figure 8.3). Northern Gateway selected its pre-liminary route based on several criteria, including:

  • avoidance of parks, protected areas, wildlife areas, archaeological or heritage sites, and other environmentally-sensitive areas;
  • avoidance of terrain subject to geotechnical issues;
  • limited potential adverse effects on communities, landowners, land users, Aboriginal groups, environmentally-sensitive areas, and culturally-sensitive areas;
  • provision of a safe and reliable route for pipeline construction and operations;
  • pipeline length;
  • provision of suitable locations for watercourse, highway, road, rail, and utility crossings;
  • provision of common locations for oil and condensate pump stations and valve sites; and
  • reduced lifecycle costs.
Eastern route segment alternative

Northern Gateway said that it chose its preliminary route over the lone eastern route segment alternative because the preliminary route follows existing rights-of-way between Edmonton and Grande Prairie. Northern Gateway said that the preliminary route has better road access for construction and maintenance equipment and avoids some areas with geotechnical concerns, particularly the Narraway River valley. It also avoids the Kakwa Wildland Provincial Park in Alberta and the Kakwa Provincial Park and Protected Area in British Columbia.

Western route segment alternatives

Northern Gateway said that it chose its preliminary route over the four western segment route alternatives because the preliminary route is significantly shorter than the more northerly alternatives. It would avoid crossing the Kitimat and lower Clore Rivers, the latter of which would require a long, challenging crossing. It would also avoid extensive areas on the east side of the lower Kitimat River valley that are underlain by sensitive marine clays and are prone to slope failure. In addition, the preliminary route would not cross the Sutherland River Park and Protected Area or the Tazdli Wyiez Bin/Burnie-Shea Provincial Park.

In the case of Alternative B, Northern Gateway said that, while there would be advantages in following part of the existing Pacific Northern Gas pipeline right-of-way, it assessed the geohazard risks along this alternative and found them to be too high, with no possibility of mitigating those risks.

Route revisions and refinements

Northern Gateway said that, as engineering and environmental studies and consultation progressed, it made revisions to its preliminary route at select locations prior to filing its application. Northern Gateway cited a variety of reasons for these changes, including establishing suitable watercourse crossing locations, addressing landowner and community concerns, making allowances for Aboriginal group land development plans, improving pipeline constructability and operability, and environmental mitigation. As an example, Northern Gateway said that it would traverse the Coast Mountains by way of the Clore and Hoult tunnels to address geotechnical issues and avoid the sensitive subalpine environment.

Northern Gateway filed various revisions to its applied-for route, including Route Revision V in late 2012 involving four pump station and five pipeline route relocations. One 52-kilometre-long section, relocated in response to requests and concerns of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, and other stakeholders, would avoid crossing 29 tributaries to the Morice River. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that it was encouraged that the revision could reduce risks and potential effects on highly-valued areas of fish habitat.

Intervenors and the Panel asked about Northern Gateway's routing through relatively undisturbed areas instead of along existing pipeline and highway corridors, including Highways 16 and 37.

Northern Gateway said that there are generally few areas along the route that can be considered undisturbed and that, only in cases where there is no feasible alternative, would the route traverse undisturbed areas. It said that approximately 69 per cent of the proposed corridor (as proposed in Route Revision V) is routed through disturbed areas or is parallel to linear features such as roads, pipelines, high voltage power lines, and seismic lines. Disturbed areas transited by the route are primarily cutblocks and some agricultural land in British Columbia and Alberta. In certain locations, the route would parallel infrastructure projects and rights-of-way, such as the Pacific Trails Pipeline project. From south of Houston to Kitimat, Northern Gateway said that the route would follow significant lengths of linear disturbance, including forest service roads.

In a letter of comment, an alternative route was suggested through Pine Pass. Pine Pass already includes road, rail, power line, and pipeline features. This letter said that this route would be less detrimental to wildlife populations, including grizzly bear and caribou, and that it would be more appropriate to concentrate all human-created industrial and transportation activities into a single corridor.

Figure 8.3 Alternative route locations

The alternative route segments Northern Gateway considered are shown in Figure 8.3 as Alternatives A through E. Northern Gateway categorized the alternative east of Fort St. James (A) as the eastern route segment alternative, and the four alternatives west of Fort St. James (B through E) as the western route segment alternatives.

Figure 8.3 Alternative route locations

8.5.5 Tanker approaches

In its evaluation of tanker approaches to the Kitimat Terminal, Northern Gateway considered, among other things, seasonal variation in navigability, existing traffic volume and frequency, and the presence of topographical features (e.g., shoal patches). Northern Gateway determined that tanker traffic would follow one of three routes to reach or depart the Kitimat Terminal (Figure 8.4).

  • northern approach – Tankers would pass Haida Gwaii through Dixon Entrance, and continue through Hecate Strait, Browning Entrance, Principe Channel, Nepean Sound, Otter Channel, Squally Channel, Lewis Passage, Wright Sound, and Douglas Channel.
  • southern approach (direct) – Tankers would pass through Queen Charlotte Sound, and continue through Hecate Strait, Caamaño Sound, Campania Sound, Squally Channel, Lewis Passage, Wright Sound, and Douglas Channel.
  • southern approach (via Principe Channel) – Tankers would pass through Hecate Strait, Browning Entrance, Principe Channel, Nepean Sound, Otter Channel, Squally Channel, Lewis Passage, Wright Sound, and Douglas Channel.

Northern Gateway said that each of the approach options is deep (often exceeding 365 metres) and wide (generally, several kilometres). The TERMPOL review process determined that all approaches were navigable and feasible for Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) transit. Northern Gateway said that the route taken would depend on the tanker origin or destination, as well as on weather conditions. It also said that, within the three approaches, other routing may be feasible. Should circumstances warrant it, and under pilot's advice, the shipmaster would have the option of using viable alternative routes. For example, Cridge Passage, on the northern side of Fin Island, is an alternative to the preferred route of Lewis Channel past Gil Island should Lewis Channel become blocked by fishing boats during a busy fishing season.

In Northern Gateway's TERMPOL Surveys and Studies, it identified the following alternate routes that were considered and determined to be less viable for tanker navigation:

  • Inner Passage (Grenville Channel), due to narrow width of the channels;
  • Whale Channel, due to navigation complexity (Lewis Passage would be a better option); and
  • Laredo Channel and Laredo Sound, due to increased navigation risk due to shoal patches.

In response to questions from the Coalition about using the above routes, Northern Gateway committed that tankers would not use the Inner Passage or Laredo Channel and Laredo Sound.

Figure 8.4 Kitimat Terminal and Tanker Routes

The proposed site for the terminal facility is on the northwest side of Kitimat Arm of Douglas Channel. Tankers could follow several possible routes to and from the terminal. The routes would pass through waters used by Aboriginal groups, commercial and recreational fisheries, sailors and kayakers, tourist vessels, ferries, and other shipping. Northern Gateway said that project-associated tankers would represent about 10 per cent of ship traffic in Wright Sound and about one-third of ship traffic in Douglas Channel leading to Kitimat.

Figure 8.4 Kitimat Terminal and Tanker Routes

8.5.6 Construction methods, timing, and mitigation

Northern Gateway said that it considered instances where alternative construction methods would reduce potential adverse environmental effects or the risk of malfunctions and accidents.

With respect to tunnelling, Northern Gateway said that blasting may create greater noise disturbance than boring machinery. It said that its environmental assessment was conservative because it was based on the assumption that the higher-effect method, blasting in this case, would be used. Northern Gateway said that both construction methods remain a possibility until detailed engineering is conducted.

Northern Gateway committed to consider alternate timing windows and to schedule certain project-related activities outside of sensitive periods. It proposed to conduct in-stream works within defined least risk periods to protect fish and fish habitat, and to blast outside of kidding seasons in mountain goat habitat. Northern Gateway said that timing constraints would reduce the potential for adverse environmental effects. It said that, if timing windows cannot be used as a primary mitigation mechanism, other site-specific measures can be applied, such as construction timing adjustments or micro-routing around sensitive sites.

8.5.7 Views of the Panel

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway provided sufficient information regarding the processes it used to evaluate alternative means of carrying out the project. It specified the criteria that it used to consider environmental and social concerns, cost, constructability, operability, system safety, and maintenance. In each case, Northern Gateway provided adequate justification for its preferred approach. In many cases, environmental protection and reduced disturbance were key factors.

Northern Gateway considered and incorporated stakeholder concerns in its design refinements. An example is the proposed pipeline re-route in the Morice River area in response to concerns raised about potential effects on fish habitat.

Overall, the Panel finds Northern Gateway's chosen means by which the project would be carried out to be acceptable. Below, the Panel provides its views on specific alternatives.

Eastern terminus location

The Panel notes that no parties raised concerns or questions regarding Northern Gateway's decision to locate the project's eastern terminus near Bruderheim.

The Panel finds that the eastern terminus location was largely influenced by shippers' needs and the availability of nearby infrastructure, such as pipelines and blending facilities, to allow the project to function as intended. The Bruderheim site already contains industrial development and the eastern terminus location would be located near the Stonefell Terminal.

Intermediate pump station and valve locations

Pump stations are a requirement for any liquids pipeline. Typically, the number of pump stations increases with route length. The Panel finds that locating pump stations along any pipeline is primarily a matter of optimizing system hydraulics. Northern Gateway said that other key considerations were related to ensuring that adequate access and power could be used. In addition to these key practicalities, Northern Gateway took environmental and social considerations into account when choosing pump station sites. For example, co-locating oil and condensate stations within the same sites reduces the project's environmental footprint.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's commitment to safety and environmental protection was evidenced by the addition of more block valves along the route. By adding 91 valves as part of Route Revision U, more valuable fish habitat would be protected in the event of a pipeline release.

Marine terminal location and Pipeline Routing

The Panel notes that Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada have ranked Kitimat (Northern Gateway's preferred location) as one of four Pacific Coast sites with the lowest vulnerability to the effects of a potential oil spill.

The Panel understands that pipeline access was one of the most critical considerations in Northern Gateway's selection of a terminal location. The Panel accepts Northern Gateway's reasoning for selecting Kitimat over the other short-listed location (Prince Rupert). From an environmental perspective, a route to Kitimat would be shorter and result in less disturbance than one to Prince Rupert. A route to Kitimat would also encounter fewer potential hazards and risks to pipeline safety.

The Panel finds Northern Gateway's justification for selecting Site 4 as the proposed Kitimat Terminal location is appropriate. In particular, the site's geological characteristics would reduce the amount of excavated material. Site 4 is zoned for industrial development.

Northern Gateway did not assess the environmental effects of tankers transiting to and from alternative marine terminal sites. The Panel finds that given the relatively small geographic area in which it would be feasible to site a marine terminal in the Kitimat area, potential tanker routes to that terminal are unlikely to vary so much that environmental effects would be materially different among the routes.

Northern Gateway identified that cost was one of the factors in its selection of Site 4. The Panel notes that, while cost is typically considered for business evaluation purposes, cost alone in a regulatory review is not an over-riding factor above safety, environmental, and socio-economic factors.

The Panel finds that any proposed project route would involve significant engineering, environmental, and social challenges. Northern Gateway provided sufficient and clearly-reasoned evidence to justify how and why it chose its preferred route between Kitimat and Bruderheim. The route chosen over the four western route segment alternatives would be significantly shorter and have fewer environmental effects and safety concerns. Northern Gateway attempted to avoid parks and protected areas. Nearly 69 per cent of the route would traverse disturbed areas or be parallel to linear features.

Northern Gateway considered risks to pipeline safety in choosing its preferred route. The proposed use of non-standard and, in the Panel's view, extraordinary measures, such as tunneling through the Coast Mountains, suggest a strong commitment on Northern Gateway's part to mitigate routing challenges.

No parties, including Northern Gateway, provided additional discussion regarding a Pine Pass routing alternative, as was suggested in a letter of comment. It is unclear whether such an option would raise new concerns or issues, especially given its location adjacent to a provincial park and the fact that a pipeline spill previously occurred in the area. The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's approach to routing was appropriate. The Panel does not find that a Pine Pass routing alternative assessment is required.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's studies to determine the combination of the best pipeline route and marine terminal location were scientifically thorough. The Panel accepts Northern Gateway's rationales for the selections it made.

Tanker approaches

Northern Gateway's primary focus in assessing the various means for tankers to reach and depart the Kitimat Terminal was tanker safety during navigation. This focus is appropriate as it reduces the likelihood of tanker accidents and spills.

The Panel finds that the preferred tanker approaches are the most appropriate for safe routine navigation. Alternative routing within the preferred approaches would be available when conditions reduce safety along the main routes. The Panel recognizes Northern Gateway's specific commitment to not have tankers use certain specific routes, including the Inner Passage – Grenville Channel, Laredo Channel, and Laredo Sound, which were determined to be less viable for navigation.

Construction methods, timing, and mitigation

Any single construction activity can potentially be completed using a variety of means. Pipelines have been constructed in Canada in a variety of terrains for many decades and, to a substantial degree, standard industrial practices have been developed to build them efficiently while minimizing effects on the environment.

Overall, Northern Gateway's consideration of alternative means related to construction methods, timing, and mitigation was reasonable. Northern Gateway provided an extensive amount of information to justify using the various means it has chosen.

If the project is approved, it is possible that other alternative means may be considered based, for example, on new information determined during field surveys and detailed engineering design. The Panel has set out a variety of conditions that require Northern Gateway to file information about such changes or contingencies in order to demonstrate that the measures considered can mitigate potential environmental effects or safety concerns.

8.6 Environmental assessment methods

8.6.1 Spatial and temporal boundaries

Northern Gateway defined spatial boundaries to assess potential project-specific and cumulative environmental effects. The boundaries were based on the probable geographical extent of effects on the valued ecosystem component or key indicator species under consideration and the type of environmental effect. Northern Gateway applied the following general spatial boundaries:

  • Project Development Area: The terrestrial Project Development Area includes the disturbed area of the pipelines, the area inside the Kitimat Terminal's security fence, and project-related infrastructure and facility sites, such as pump stations, associated roads and power lines, and camps. The marine Project Development Area consists of the disturbed land area of the marine terminal.
  • Project Effects Assessment Area: The maximum area where project-specific environmental effects can be predicted or measured with a reasonable degree of accuracy and confidence. This includes direct effects, such as habitat alteration, and indirect effects, such as deposition of air emissions, sensory disturbances, and wildlife avoidance. For the marine terminal, the Project Effects Assessment Area encompasses the Project Development Area plus the area potentially affected by the marine terminal's routine operations, including all of Kitimat Arm.
  • Regional Effects Assessment Area: The area within which cumulative environmental effects are likely to occur, depending on social, physical and biological conditions (e.g., seasonal range of wildlife movements), as well as on the type and location of other past, present, or reasonably foreseeable projects or activities.
  • Confined Channel Assessment Area: The portions of the northern and southern approaches that bring condensate and oil carriers near land and other resources, and where escort tugs would assist navigation to and from the marine terminal.
  • Open Water Area: The coastal waters between the Confined Channel Assessment Area and the limits of the territorial sea of Canada.

Northern Gateway applied the following temporal boundaries to assess potential environmental effects:

  • Baseline conditions: The environment's current biophysical characteristics, including all existing disturbances and past and present projects (i.e., certain to be built by 2015).
  • Construction period: From initial physical surface disturbance up to commissioning.
  • Operations period: From commissioning until the end of the project's operating life.
  • Decommissioning: The duration of project removal.

Part I of the Joint Review Panel Agreement's Terms of Reference defines the spatial boundaries for the marine transportation of oil and condensate as being within:

  • the Confined Channel Assessment Area, as defined by Northern Gateway, which includes the marine and shoreline area of Kitimat Arm, Douglas Channel to Caamaño Sound, and Principe Channel to Browning Entrance;
  • Hecate Strait; and
  • the proposed shipping routes to be used for the project that are within the 12-nautical-mile limit of the territorial sea of Canada.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency issued guidance on the scope of the factors for the project. This guidance suggested that temporal boundaries for the project's marine components should cover construction, operation, maintenance, and, where relevant, closure, decommissioning, and restoration of the sites affected by the project. It was suggested these boundaries should also consider seasonal and annual variations related to environmental components for all phases of the project, where appropriate. The guidance indicated that Northern Gateway should take into account the following elements in defining temporal boundaries:

  • the operational period's duration;
  • the engineered structures' design life; and
  • frequency and duration of natural events and human-induced environmental changes.

8.6.2 Valued ecosystem components and key indicator species

Northern Gateway defined valued ecosystem components as broad components of the biophysical and human environments, which, if altered by the project, would be of concern to regulators, participating Aboriginal groups, resource managers, scientists, and the public. Northern Gateway defined key indicator species as species, species groups, resources, or ecosystem functions that represent components of the broader valued ecosystem components.

Northern Gateway said that it used the following criteria to select valued ecosystem components:

  • components that represent a broad environmental, ecological, or human environment component that may be affected by the project;
  • components that are vulnerable to the environmental effects of the project and other activities in the region;
  • components that have been identified as important issues or concerns by participating Aboriginal groups or stakeholders, or in other effects assessments in the region; and
  • components that have been identified by responsible authorities or other federal authorities.

Northern Gateway's chosen key indicator species included species at risk (Species at Risk Act, Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, Red- or Blue-listed in British Columbia, at risk or may be at risk in Alberta), priority species in British Columbia's Conservation Framework, umbrella species, species of interest to Aboriginal groups, and species of socio-economic importance. It said that only those species likely to have an adverse interaction with the project, based on probable range, habitat use, and known occurrence, were included as key indicator species.

The Coalition said that Northern Gateway's selected key indicator species were chosen using subjective criteria, and were not derived from the entire assemblage of species for any specific geographic region. It said that it was not possible to know from the application the effectiveness of the chosen key indicator species in providing umbrella coverage of critical habitats, other than Northern Gateway's assurances that it was sufficient.

Terrestrial wildlife

To represent mammals, Northern Gateway selected three ungulates (woodland caribou, including all five local populations that might be affected by the project, moose, and mountain goat), two large carnivores (grizzly bear and wolverine), and two furbearers (American marten and fisher). To represent birds, Northern Gateway selected four forest-dependent species and one guild (a group that has similar habitat requirements), seven wetland-dependent species, and five grassland- and shrubland-dependent species. The coastal tailed frog and pond-dwelling amphibians represented amphibians.

Northern Gateway selected species designated as Threatened on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act as key indicator species or guilds. Northern Gateway identified three species in the Project Effects Assessment Area that are designated as Special Concern on Schedule 1 (band-tailed pigeon, long-billed curlew, and peregrine falcon), but did not select them as key indicator species. Northern Gateway said that peregrine falcon would have limited interaction with project activities since it is migratory through the Project Effects Assessment Area. Northern Gateway provided an assessment of project effects on band-tailed pigeon in response to a request from Environment Canada. Northern Gateway said that long-billed curlew was unlikely to nest in the Project Effects Assessment Area based on its known range. BC Nature and Nature Canada said that the long-billed curlew's range has expanded northward and it may be found in the Project Effects Assessment Area.

Various intervenors, including BC Nature and Nature Canada, Gitga'at First Nation, East Prairie Métis Settlement, Environment Canada, and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, questioned the key indicator species selected to represent terrestrial wildlife, and the methods used to select them. Parties said that Northern Gateway's selection method was neither rigorous nor systematic, and that it included species at risk, but not other species of conservation concern. Parties also said that Northern Gateway included an inappropriate range of key indicator species, and, in some cases, included invasive species. Concerns were also raised about the ability of chosen key indicator species to represent other wildlife species. Various intervenors recommended other species that should be included as key indicator species, or for which an assessment of project effects should be conducted.

Northern Gateway said that the proposed right-of-way crosses a wide range of ecosystems, each with complex faunal associations, and it is not feasible to assess all species indigenous to the Project Effects Assessment Area to a comparable degree. The key indicator species approach focuses the assessment of project effects on species of greater concern. It said that project effects on species not selected as key indicator species can be inferred from the assessment of project effects on key indicator species representative of those species by similar habitat or biophysical requirements, or by being likely to respond similarly to certain effects. Northern Gateway said that its proposed mitigation measures are typically applicable to a broad range of wildlife habitats and species rather than being species-specific. Northern Gateway committed to collaborate with government authorities, Aboriginal groups, and other stakeholders on the Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program's methodological details, including selecting additional key indicator species for further baseline information and monitoring.

Marine birds

Northern Gateway selected marine bird key indicator species based on:

  • occurrence and available habitat use in the Project Effects Assessment Area;
  • sensitivity to project effects;
  • importance to local communities and resource users;
  • national or international importance, including status under the Species at Risk Act;
  • value as indicators of environmental effects for related resources and broader systems; and
  • ecological importance.

Northern Gateway selected marbled murrelet, surf scoter, and bald eagle as key indicator species for marine terminal effects on marine birds. It selected marbled murrelet and surf scoter as key indicator species for marine transportation effects on marine birds. Northern Gateway observed peregrine falcon during marine bird surveys, but considered that it would not interact with the project since it is migratory through the project area. Northern Gateway did not select ancient murrelet since it considered that marine transportation effects on ancient murrelet would be similar to that for marbled murrelet.

Several parties, including Environment Canada, BC Nature and Nature Canada, Kitimat Valley Naturalists, Gitga'at First Nation, Coastal First Nations, and Haisla Nation, questioned the number of selected marine bird key indicator species and how those species represent other species. BC Nature and Nature Canada acknowledged that, given the large number of species expected to occur in the Confined Channel Assessment Area, it was not practical to undertake a detailed assessment of each species. It said that it is crucial that species selected as key indicator species are appropriate indicators to ensure effects can be adequately assessed. Various intervenors asked Northern Gateway to explain how certain selected key indicator species represent other marine bird species.

BC Nature and Nature Canada said that it fully supports using additional key indicator species to assess the project's effects on marine birds.

Northern Gateway acknowledged the concerns raised by parties and committed to discuss selecting additional marine bird species with the Canadian Wildlife Service, Aboriginal groups, and other affected stakeholders for further baseline and monitoring studies under the Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program.

Marine mammals

Northern Gateway said that, due to the high ecosystem diversity in the Confined Channel Assessment Area, it selected one key indicator species to represent all toothed whales (northern resident killer whale), all baleen whales (humpback whale), and seals and sea lions (Steller sea lion). Northern Gateway selected these species based on shared similarities of how the project may affect species within each grouping. It selected fin whales to represent the general biology and sensitivities of all marine mammal species in the Open Water Area.

Northern Gateway said that it was unreasonable to attempt to address all possible variations, and impractical to conduct a complete assessment of all marine mammal species that could occur in the Confined Channel Assessment Area and the Open Water Area, given a lack of available information concerning species differences. Northern Gateway said that marine mammals with a medium or high probability of occurring within these areas, and that were not selected as key indicator species, are adequately represented by the selected key indicator species.

Gitga'at First Nation and Coastal First Nations said that the selected key indicator species did not adequately represent all relevant species that could potentially be affected by the project. It argued that Northern Gateway used a sub-set of the species to generalize across the species as a whole, despite clear differences that would affect such assessment. For example, baleen and toothed whales may respond to project activities very differently between whale species, and even within a species. Coastal First Nations said that, in addition to northern resident killer whales, offshore and Bigg's transient killer whales could be affected by the project, but have different behavior, habitat, and prey than northern resident killer whales.

Coastal First Nations said that fin whales should have been assessed, in addition to humpback whales. Fisheries and Oceans Canada requested that Northern Gateway determine the potential effects of noise on fin whales and provide a list of proposed mitigation measures for identified effects. Northern Gateway responded that, based on available information, the humpback whale is an appropriate proxy to assess the effects of noise on fin whales' hearing and that its proposed mitigation measures for humpback whales would also apply to fin whales.

Marine Fish

Northern Gateway selected chum salmon, Pacific herring, rockfish, and eulachon as key indicator species to assess project effects on marine fish. It selected Pacific herring to represent acoustic specialists (having adaptations that enhance their hearing bandwidth and sensitivity) in the Project Effects Assessment Area. Rockfish was treated in the assessment as an acoustic specialist, and was also selected as a key indicator species to represent the demersal (near the deepest part of a body of water) fish community in the Project Effects Assessment Area.

Northern Gateway selected chum salmon and eulachon to represent species that are acoustic generalists (without specializations to enhance hearing). Eulachon was also selected because it is a culturally- and ecologically-important species in the region.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada recommended that Northern Gateway plan its project with the knowledge that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada could designate additional species, such as rockfish. Northern Gateway included rockfish in its initial selection of key indicator species.

Views of the Panel

The Panel heard a broad range of opinions from parties and from those who provided oral evidence and statements and letters of comment regarding Northern Gateway's selection of valued ecosystem components and key indicator species for its environmental assessment. No compelling evidence was filed on the record as to why Northern Gateway's selections might have led to an inadequate environmental assessment.

The purpose of valued ecosystem components and key indicator species in environmental assessment is not to be all inclusive, recognizing the practical impossibility of analyzing everything, but to look at potential project effects on representative components.

Using species at risk, among other indicators, introduces conservatism to the environmental assessment, which the Panel finds scientifically defensible. By taking the conservative approach of including species at risk as representative species, the Panel finds that Northern Gateway has applied a careful and precautionary approach to its environmental assessment.

Northern Gateway committed to include additional species in its further baseline studies and monitoring programs. It also committed to consult with government authorities, Aboriginal groups, and other stakeholders on the methodological details of those studies and programs, including selecting additional species as key indicator species for monitoring. The Panel believes that Northern Gateway's commitment to collect 3 years of further baseline data in the marine environment before starting project operations exceeds current regulatory requirements. The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's broadening of the species to be monitored is an exemplary approach to using real-time scientific information to best understand the environments and species potentially affected by the project to inform best mitigation practices.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's selection of valued ecosystem components and key indicator species meets all regulatory guidance provided for the environmental assessment. Further, the Panel finds that the approach of focusing on species at risk has resulted in a precautionary assessment that fully considers potential project pathways of effects.

8.6.3 Species at risk

Views of the Panel

Under the Species at Risk Act, “critical habitat” means the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species’ critical habitat in the recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species.

The Panel considered project effects on species listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act, as well as these species' critical habitat where it is identified in a recovery strategy or action plan. The Panel also considered what measures would be taken to lessen and monitor effects, and whether those measures are aligned with those of any applicable recovery strategies and action plans. In cases where a recovery strategy was not available, or where critical habitat (as defined by the Species at Risk Act) has not yet been identified, the Panel considered how species recovery may be impaired or enhanced by project effects. This included considering proposed mitigation, compensation, and compliance with the conditions the Panel has set out. In many cases, Northern Gateway considered listed species as valued ecosystem components or key indicator species.

The Panel notified Environment Canada, Parks Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada that the project may affect listed species, as per obligations under subsection 79(2) of the Species at Risk Act. The Panel also considered its duties under section 77, which imposes obligations in cases where a project may result in the destruction of any part of a listed wildlife species' critical habitat.

The Panel considered species of conservation concern and species that have been proposed for listing on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act when assessing potential project effects on listed species. Species of conservation concern include those designated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, Blue- and Red-listed species in British Columbia, and species considered to be At Risk, May Be At Risk, or Sensitive under the general status rankings of wild species in Alberta.

The Panel reviewed the submitted evidence to determine if there would be adverse effects from the project that would incrementally affect a species over and above the existing level of disturbance. The Panel's assessment of listed species in this context considered Northern Gateway's commitments, the implementation of industry best practices, and compliance with the conditions the Panel has set out. The Panel also considered Northern Gateway's commitments to conduct additional research and monitoring in collaboration with independent third parties.

Concerns about effects on listed species often stemmed from existing cumulative effects from other unrelated projects and activities. Landscape development and renewable and non-renewable resource use by a variety of industries, including agriculture, forestry, and oil and gas, has resulted in losses of suitable habitat. This has affected the viability of populations, and led to species being designated as at risk. Many of these existing effects have been developing for decades. Awareness of the importance of these effects is improving with advances in research and effects monitoring, although many uncertainties remain, as is the case with linear feature effects on woodland caribou, or the effects of marine vessel noise interfering with marine mammal communication. The Panel notes that species of concern also continue to be designated on an ongoing basis. For example, whitebark pine, found in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, was added to Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act in June 2012, during the Panel's process.

Species-specific discussions of project effects on listed species are provided in Section 8.7.

8.6.4 Methodology for environmental effects analysis and significance findings

Section 8.7 sets out the project's potential adverse environmental effects and potential cumulative effects that the Panel examined in detail. It also provides the Panel's recommendations on the significance of those effects.

Views of the Panel

on project effects methodology

Northern Gateway said that substantial baseline information was provided through Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge studies, including the importance and use of land, wildlife, and natural resources. Northern Gateway's Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge program is described in Chapter 9.

The Panel considered project effects (i.e., interactions between the project and the environment) resulting from likely potential pathways of effects. The discussion of these effects includes the residual environmental effects (effects remaining after mitigation) that would persist following the full implementation of Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation measures and compliance with the conditions the Panel has set out.

As noted in Chapter 1, the Panel has set out the conditions to be included in any certificates that authorize the project (Appendix 1). Any requirements for the project that the Panel notes in this chapter are addressed by the conditions. If the project is approved, and Northern Gateway decides to proceed, it would be required to comply with all conditions set out in the certificates. The National Energy Board would monitor and enforce compliance during the project's lifespan through audits, inspections, and other compliance and enforcement tools.

In assessing the project effects remaining after mitigation (i.e., residual effects), the Panel considered:

  • whether Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation would be effective in minimizing residual project effects to an acceptable level;
  • where Northern Gateway proposed compensation for residual project effects, whether the offsets would eliminate adverse effects; and
  • whether uncertainty about either residual project effects or mitigation effectiveness would impair the ability to understand either the effects or effect significance.

Northern Gateway and participant views

on cumulative effects methodology

Northern Gateway identified potential interactions of project effects remaining after mitigation with environmental effects of past, present, and reasonably foreseeable projects, activities, and actions.

Northern Gateway limited its cumulative environmental effects assessment to circumstances where there was a reasonable expectation that the project's contribution to cumulative environmental effects would affect the viability or sustainability of the resource or value. It characterized two aspects of cumulative environmental effects on a valued ecosystem component or key indicator species: the overall cumulative effect of all past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future projects and activities in combination with the environmental effects of the project; and the contribution of the project to overall cumulative effects.

In a letter of comment, the Dogwood Initiative said that the emphasis on incremental effects in current practices for cumulative effects assessment, which Northern Gateway followed, has led to a linear, sequential approach to cumulative effects assessment that cannot address integrated, ecosystem-level responses to stressors from multiple sources. Similarly, the Coalition argued that an ecosystem-based approach would consider synergistic interactions among activities in coming to conclusions about incremental effects.

Northern Gateway said that it did consider the interactions between valued ecosystem components in its environmental assessment. For example, it incorporated water quality changes into the fisheries analysis, while it considered changes in fisheries populations in the wildlife analysis. Effects on vegetation from altered air quality were also considered. Northern Gateway said synergistic effects are the most difficult to assess and the science on that is poor. Northern Gateway did consider combined effects of the project, cumulative effects, and combined cumulative effects on some valued ecosystem components. As an example, Northern Gateway considered the combined project effect on wildlife to be the sum or interaction of direct and indirect habitat loss, change in movement, and increased mortality risks. Combined cumulative effects reflected the interaction of these effects and those of past, present, or future projects within the Regional Effects Assessment Area. Northern Gateway said that combined effects are most important for those species for which at least one potential project effect is already important, even before others are considered. Nevertheless, Northern Gateway said that an integrated ecosystem-based approach to environmental assessment has not been used for major projects and is generally more appropriate for land use or conservation planning.

The Dogwood Initiative was also concerned that Northern Gateway assessed cumulative effects only if there was a reasonable expectation that the project's contribution to cumulative effects would affect the viability or sustainability of a resource.

Some participants said that Northern Gateway omitted from its cumulative environmental effects assessment some projects that could overlap spatially and temporally with the project effects remaining after mitigation. These omitted projects or activities included gas pipelines, industrial expansions, and liquefied natural gas plants and associated marine shipping traffic in northwestern British Columbia. Northern Gateway said that projects or activities that were not reasonably foreseeable at the time of the application would be subject to their own regulatory review and cumulative effects assessment, which would have to consider the environmental effects of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects methodology

The Panel had regard to the National Energy Board's Filing Manual guidance on the expectations for cumulative effects assessment. Cumulative effects assessment evaluates project effects remaining after mitigation that may interact with other projects and activities that exist or are reasonably foreseeable. Participants often cited cumulative effects as a concern, especially in the context of the effects of increased marine traffic on marine mammals, effects on air quality in the Kitimat area, and effects on a variety of wildlife species' habitat.

The Panel finds that, while it is standard practice to screen out project effects that are not likely to interact cumulatively with other projects or activities, the methods Northern Gateway used in its environmental effects assessment are unique in considering the project's contribution to cumulative effects only if it would affect the viability or sustainability of a resource. In general, the Panel does not accept this test for screening out the need to conduct a cumulative effects assessment. Doing so could screen out circumstances where cumulative effects are of concern despite the project's contribution not affecting the viability or sustainability of a resource or value. The Panel is satisfied, based on the evidence as a whole, that it has the information required to assess the cumulative effects for all relevant valued ecosystem components and key indicator species.

In other respects, the Panel finds that Northern Gateway conducted a cumulative effects assessment that was consistent with guidance in the National Energy Board's Filing Manual and under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.

The Panel's assessment of cumulative effects focused on the project effects remaining after applying mitigation that would interact with the effects of other existing, planned, or reasonably foreseeable projects or activities. Typically, future projects or activities are considered to be those for which formal plans or applications have been made.

In this chapter, the Panel does not provide a detailed discussion of cumulative effects where it found that project effects remaining after mitigation would be minor, localized, or acceptably mitigated through Northern Gateway's commitments and compliance with the conditions the Panel has set out, provided the Panel did not consider the evidence to suggest a detailed assessment of cumulative effects was otherwise required. In four cases, the Panel found that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects was warranted (atmospheric environment, woodland caribou, grizzly bear, and marine mammals). For all other effects, the Panel considered cumulative effects and provides a rationale for not including a detailed discussion of cumulative effects in its analysis.

Views of the Panel

Recommendations on significance methodology

In reaching its recommendations regarding the significance of adverse environmental effects, the Panel considered Northern Gateway's criteria and assessment of the significance of adverse environmental effects, as well as all other evidence and arguments, including the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge heard by the Panel. The Panel also considered the applicable thresholds that Northern Gateway identified, and information provided by parties that suggested alternate thresholds.

The Panel lays out its evaluation of the likely significance of adverse project effects using the following tabular format. Any positive effects are discussed in the text of the Panel's views.

In cases where the Panel found that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects was not required, it applied its judgement and made a recommendation on the significance of the project effects. In cases where the Panel found that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects was required, the Panel provides its recommendation on the significance of the project effects, including consideration of cumulative effects, rather than for the project effects alone. This is because the primary concern in such cases is the accumulation of effects from not only the project, but also from other past, present, and future projects.

Evaluation of adverse project effects after mitigation

Temporal extent

The Panel considers how frequently and for how long an effect would likely occur, taking into account the frequency of the activities that cause the effect, the duration of the effect after each activity, and whether or not the effect is reversible.

Spatial extent

The Panel considers over what area an effect would likely occur, taking into account the potential for local activities to have broader effects, such as for emissions to spread or for disturbances to affect broadly-ranging receptors.

Intensity

The Panel considers how serious or intense an effect would likely be, taking into account such issues as the magnitude of the effect, the vulnerability of the receptor, and the ecological context, as well as thresholds to assist in predicting responses.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Taking the above into account, as well as the certainty of effects and mitigation effectiveness, the Panel considers whether or not the adverse environmental effects on a valued ecosystem component or key indicator species are likely to be significant.

8.7 Environmental effects

8.7.1 Atmospheric environment

Northern Gateway assessed changes in the atmospheric environment, including a modelled assessment of criteria air contaminant, hazardous air pollutant, and greenhouse gas emissions. Its assessment focused on the marine terminal, although it also addressed emissions from pipeline construction. For criteria air contaminants associated with pipeline construction, Northern Gateway concluded that the potential effects would be short-term and localized.

Criteria air contaminants assessed by modelling included sulphur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide, and particulate matter. Hazardous air pollutants were also modelled and included total volatile organic compounds (VOCs), benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (combined, BTEX), as well as hydrogen fluoride.

The modelled assessment for the Kitimat Terminal included emissions associated with terminal operations, with the largest sources being vehicle traffic and hydrocarbon storage tanks. Northern Gateway used the conservative assumption of continuous ship berthing (using a fractional emission rate) in order to capture the worst case scenario of concurrent adverse meteorology and maximum potential emissions. From the model results, Northern Gateway predicted that sulphur dioxide associated with operating the Kitimat Terminal would exceed the provincial air quality objectives (Level A) for all time periods. This was due to the project interacting with nearby topographical features, where the largest sulphur dioxide emissions are from the marine vessels. The highest concentrations were predicted to occur infrequently and immediately adjacent to the terminal fence line.

Northern Gateway, Transport Canada, and the Heiltsuk First Nation discussed how air emissions associated with marine vessels berthed at the Kitimat Terminal would be subject to the reduced sulphur fuel requirements associated with the joint United States-Canada North American Emission Control Area. Based on this, marine fuel sulphur requirements permitted in Canadian coastal waters (200-nautical-mile limit) would be 1.0 per cent in 2012, reducing further to 0.1 per cent by 2015. Northern Gateway predicted that sulphur dioxide emissions from marine vessels should be approximately 96 per cent lower than modelled once these new international fuel standards take effect.

Northern Gateway also predicted exceedances of provincial air quality objectives in the area for carbon monoxide, particulate matter, hydrogen sulphide, and total reduced sulphur. These exceedances were modelled under the base case of existing sources and were not attributable to the Kitimat Terminal itself. Using the provincial emissions inventory from 2000 to characterize the existing industrial operations in Kitimat, Northern Gateway identified that the exceedances modelled would be due to baseline emissions from the existing industrial sources. No exceedances of hazardous air pollutant guidelines were predicted as a result of the project.

Northern Gateway considered greenhouse gas emissions for pipeline construction activities, as well as marine terminal and hydrocarbon storage tank operations. Overall, it concluded that total project carbon dioxide and equivalent emissions would be very low compared to provincial and national emissions. Northern Gateway also provided an assessment of indirect carbon dioxide emissions associated with vegetation loss, and concluded that the addition of direct and indirect carbon dioxide emissions associated with the project would not cause a significant effect.

Environment Canada said that Northern Gateway took appropriate measures in designing and siting its proposed facilities to minimize adverse effects on air quality. It acknowledged Northern Gateway's commitments to adopt best practices and to use economically-feasible best-available technologies in designing the Kitimat Terminal to minimize effects on air quality.

Northern Gateway committed to consult with Environment Canada, applicable provincial authorities, participating Aboriginal groups, and participating stakeholders, as appropriate, regarding ongoing and revised air quality assessments and dispersion modelling.

Mitigation measures

Northern Gateway committed to collaborating with stakeholders in designing and implementing its Air Quality and Emissions Management Plan.

Northern Gateway's proposed plan would include:

  1. annual reporting to governments and other stakeholders, as appropriate;
  2. adherence to Canada-wide standard principles (or best industry practices), including applying 'best available technology economically achievable' principles;
  3. ambient monitoring for contaminants of potential concern (i.e., sulphur dioxide); and
  4. emissions tracking for project sources in the Kitimat area.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to undertake an air quality program for the 6-month period before commissioning the Kitimat Terminal and at least 1 year after starting terminal operations.

Views of the Panel

By the Kitimat Terminal's proposed in-service date, there will have been significant changes to the number and magnitude of existing air emission sources since the provincial emission inventory of 2000 was compiled, and since Northern Gateway completed its modelling assessment. Regarding the sulphur emissions attributable to the terminal, marine vessel berthing would account for 97 per cent. Given that Northern Gateway used conservative assumptions regarding berthing in the modelling and that regulations coming into force regarding the sulphur content of marine fuels would further decrease predicted emissions, the Panel finds that the modelling results presented in the application and subsequent filings are not predictive of the realistic potential effects on local air quality.

Based on the filed information about sulphur dioxide emissions, the Panel is satisfied that new modelling based on the updated information would indicate that sulphur dioxide associated with the Kitimat Terminal's operations would not exceed provincial air quality objectives.

The Panel requires that further modelling, reflecting the current level of activity, equipment, and marine sources, must inform Northern Gateway's design of the Air Quality Emissions Management and Soil Monitoring Plan for the Kitimat Terminal. Updated modelling would be used to inform the monitoring program's design, as well as to help ensure that the monitors are placed effectively to monitor both human and environmental health.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on the atmospheric environment after mitigation

Temporal extent

Effects during pipeline and terminal construction would be temporary. Air emissions during terminal operations would continue throughout operations and may vary through changes in operational management. Effects would disperse as the emissions vary or cease and when the meteorology changes.

Spatial extent

Effects during construction would be localized. Modelling indicates that effects from emissions during terminal operations would be localized due to the complex topography surrounding the Kitimat Terminal.

Intensity

Effects during construction are expected to be short-term and localized. Initial modelling of effects during operations indicated the provincial sulphur dioxide regulatory levels may be met or very rarely exceeded under particularly adverse conditions. The Panel is satisfied that modelling based on the updated information about sulphur dioxide emissions would indicate that sulphur dioxide associated with the Kitimat Terminal's operations would not exceed provincial air quality objectives.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Because there would be adverse project effects remaining after mitigation that could combine with the effects of other past, present, and future projects, and because cumulative effects are of primary concern, the Panel's significance recommendation is given below in its analysis of cumulative effects.

Cumulative effects on the atmospheric environment

Northern Gateway said that, during the Kitimat Terminal's operations, tank maintenance and marine berthing would add a potential measureable contribution to regional cumulative environmental effects from air emissions. Northern Gateway incorporated the existing industrial sources in the Kitimat area in its modelling assessment, using the British Columbia Ministry of Environment's emissions inventory. At the time the modelling was run, the available emission estimates from 2000 were used to characterize the existing sources in the airshed. As noted above, over the course of the Panel's process, it heard of many changes to the industrial make-up of the Kitimat area since the 2000 emissions inventory was developed. Combining these with the predicted project emissions, the model results indicated predicted exceedances of regulatory thresholds for sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, hydrogen sulphide, and total reduced sulfur, though not at every averaging period. Northern Gateway said that, due to the existing large emission sources and the region's complex meteorology and topography, the exceedances are primarily attributable to the other industrial activities around Kitimat and not from the project itself.

Views of the Panel

The Panel finds that the emissions associated with the Kitimat Terminal's operation would be minimal compared to the existing sources presented. Although the modelled cumulative emissions exceeded many regulatory thresholds, the exceedances were predicted based on an out-of-date emissions inventory, and were predicted to occur prior to adding emissions from the project. Based on the information about sulphur dioxide emissions on the record, in addition to the modelling included in the application, the Panel is satisfied that new modelling based on updated information would indicate that sulphur dioxide associated with the Kitimat Terminal's operations would not contribute to an increased exceedance of provincial air quality objectives, either through limited emissions or berthing management to limit emissions in particularly adverse conditions.

Evaluation of adverse cumulative effects on the atmospheric environment after mitigation

Recommendation for significance of cumulative effects after mitigation

Project effects would generally be localized (limiting cumulative effects spatially) and would disperse as emissions vary or cease or when the meteorology changes (limiting cumulative effects temporally). There have been many changes to the industrial makeup of the Kitimat area since the 2000 emissions inventory that was used in the modelling, and anticipated marine fuel standards will reduce sulphur emissions from shipping. In addition, project effects would be minimal compared to the existing sources presented, and project mitigation would include monitoring and adaptive management.

The Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse cumulative effects with respect to the atmospheric environment.

8.7.2 Terrestrial vegetation and wetlands

8.7.2.1 Rare plants and rare ecological communities

Vegetation along the pipeline route varies in accordance with the six physiographic regions that would be crossed by the right-of-way.

Northern Gateway completed field surveys for rare plants and rare ecological communities in the Project Development Area from June to August 2006 and in July 2008. Additional surveys took place in June 2009 for the Kitimat Terminal terrestrial Project Development Area. During these surveys, Northern Gateway did not find any plant species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act or designated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Whitebark pine was listed later (in June 2012) on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act and was identified as potentially occurring in six hectares of the Project Development Area.

In its application, Northern Gateway said that seven plant species of concern can be found in the Project Development Area in Alberta (mostly in the Southern Alberta Uplands region) and two species of concern can be found in British Columbia. In British Columbia, 396 hectares of rare ecological communities considered to be of special concern are located in the Project Development Area, as well as 24 hectares of rare ecological communities considered to be extirpated, threatened, or endangered. No rare ecological communities were identified in Alberta.

Some participants said that Northern Gateway's efforts to collect baseline information on rare plants and rare ecological communities may have understated vegetation diversity because it did not survey the entire length of the pipeline route. They also said that the mapping tool used to describe ecosystems along the pipeline route was not detailed enough to detect rare ecological communities or sensitive ecosystems.

Swan River First Nation said that there were insufficient details regarding the results of field work to verify mapping and classification. Horse Lake First Nation and East Prairie Métis Settlement said that baseline information for rare plants should reflect any recent plant inclusions in the Alberta National Heritage Information Centre and Alberta Conservation Information Management System tracking list. Northern Gateway agreed to this recommendation, and said that it would consider the information included in the two tracking systems when conducting centreline surveys and before selecting the pipelines' final routing. Haisla Nation said that Northern Gateway could not determine whether its proposed mitigation measures would be feasible because it does not have a complete inventory of where rare plants and rare ecological communities are located.

Northern Gateway said that the surveys it conducted sampled only approximately 14 per cent of the total project footprint. Northern Gateway committed to file the results of all additional field surveys with the National Energy Board and to incorporate survey results, including rare plant and rare ecological community locations, in mitigation outlined on its environmental alignment sheets. Northern Gateway said that these additional surveys would increase its confidence in its rare plant and rare ecological community data.

Potential effects on rare plants and rare ecological communities could be caused by changes in ecosystems, plant communities, and species diversity resulting from construction (clearing, grubbing, grading, soil disturbance, and removal) and reclamation activities.

Northern Gateway said that it would take approximately 80 years until vegetation can return to its original ecosystem composition after being disturbed. It said that its assessment of the extent to which vegetation can re-grow and plant diversity can be re-established (reversibility) was based on post-project monitoring for other projects in similar physiographic regions. It said that 5 years are sufficient to restore plant diversity when aided with horticultural techniques, while approximately 80 years are required for vegetation to return to its original ecosystem composition naturally (i.e., without any human intervention). Northern Gateway committed to implement similar measures should the project proceed.

Northern Gateway committed to optimize reclamation and to enhance the ecological integrity of affected lands. Northern Gateway's updated Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan (EPMP), which it would file with the National Energy Board, would include Northern Gateway's reclamation objectives, measurable goals, and monitoring survey protocol for post-construction reclamation.

Horse Lake First Nation and East Prairie Métis Settlement did not agree with Northern Gateway that affected rare plants and rare ecological communities could be restored after being disturbed. Haisla Nation said that Northern Gateway's measure of reversibility to assess significance was misleading. While Northern Gateway said that effects on rare plants and rare ecological communities would be reversible, long-term effects would not actually be completely reversed until the permanent right-of-way is reclaimed after pipeline decommissioning or abandonment.

Northern Gateway said that any loss of a listed rare plant species or rare ecological community would be considered significant. Its preferred mitigation measure to prevent such loss would be avoidance because the re-establishment of rare plants and rare ecological communities is challenging and the timeframe under which it may happen is uncertain. Environmental and geotechnical constraints, and existing or planned linear features, may limit the feasibility of implementing route refinements at site-specific locations to avoid rare plants and rare ecological communities. Northern Gateway said that its commitment to parallel linear facilities and route the pipelines through disturbed areas to the extent possible would provide an opportunity to reduce its project's footprint.

Mitigation measures

In addition to Northern Gateway's committed-to project design measures and best management practices to reduce potential effects on vegetation, it committed to:

  • conduct additional rare plant and rare ecological community surveys after detailed routing has been determined, including power line easements and segments of the pipeline route that extend outside of the corridor assessed in the application;
  • avoid rare plants and rare ecological communities through exclusion fencing, routing refinements (such as right-of-way narrowing, re-routing, or micro-routing), drilling or boring underneath, or altering the construction schedule to the winter dormant period;
  • implement offset measures, such as transplantation or seed collection for regeneration in other sites, when avoidance is not possible due to environmental or geotechnical constraints;
  • implement post-construction vegetation reclamation measures, such as promoting soil stability; encouraging natural plant community re-establishment; and re-establishing drainage patterns, watercourses, and wetland communities;
  • use the Hoult and Clore tunnels to avoid sensitive alpine vegetation;
  • if cryptic paw is observed, include old growth forest sites in pre-construction field surveys and identify mitigation options and management strategies in consultation with federal and provincial authorities; and
  • with respect to whitebark pine, confirm stand distribution during centerline surveys and take site-specific measures to avoid adverse effects.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures implemented to protect rare plants and rare ecological communities. It would select and permanently mark sites containing groups or communities of rare plants. It would also collect data about species composition and number of species, health and vigor, site stability, and soil moisture and nutrient conditions. The monitoring program would take place over a 3- to 5-year period, until rare plants have recovered.

Views of the Panel

on project effects on rare plants and rare ecological communities

Some participants said that Northern Gateway's vegetation surveys have been limited with respect to assessing vegetation diversity and that there is limited information to conclude whether Northern Gateway's proposed primary mitigation measure, avoidance, would be feasible. The Panel accepts Northern Gateway's commitment to conduct additional surveys for rare plants and rare ecological communities before finalizing the pipelines' detailed routing. In order for these additional surveys to be appropriate for the vegetation that may be found along the right-of-way, the Panel requires Northern Gateway to undertake the field surveys in spring, summer, and fall, in the year prior to starting construction, in order to identify the presence of rare plants that flower in early spring or late fall.

Rare plants and rare ecological communities are protected by legislation because they have already been adversely affected and need specific protection. It is important that any further potential adverse effects be prevented, as much as possible, regardless of whether losses from any particular project are minor.

While some vegetation would be allowed to grow on the permanent right-of-way during operations, there is a need to maintain access for aerial and ground patrols to repair and maintain the pipelines. Therefore, there are limitations as to how much or the extent to which vegetation can be allowed to grow back until such time that the permanent right-of-way has been decommissioned or abandoned.

Northern Gateway committed to future surveys and mitigation development for rare plants. The Panel requires Northern Gateway to update its Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan to reflect the results of these additional pre-construction surveys, and any additional mitigation requirements to protect rare plants and rare ecological communities. The Panel finds that this would increase confidence in rare plant and rare ecological community data. It also finds that project effects on rare plants and rare ecological communities could be adequately reduced given that sufficient information on these elements would be available to be taken into consideration when finalizing detailed routing.

Several site-specific options for protecting vegetation, including rare vegetation, would be available as part of Northern Gateway's Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan. The Panel is satisfied that such mitigation options can be effective because they are based on standard industry operating procedures and the results of post-construction monitoring programs. Northern Gateway would include information on protecting rare vegetation resources on construction drawings and environmental alignment sheets. The Panel requires Northern Gateway to file with the National Energy Board information reflecting the results of pre-construction surveys and detailed mitigation measures to be implemented for rare plants and rare ecological communities potentially affected during construction.

Environmental and geotechnical constraints might limit the possibility of implementing routing refinements to avoid rare plants and rare ecological communities. Besides spatial avoidance, alternate construction methods (such as drilling or boring underneath) or temporal avoidance (such as constructing during the winter dormant season) could be used to avoid rare plants and rare ecological communities. Offset measures could also be applied, the details of which Northern Gateway would provide to the National Energy Board before starting construction.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on rare plants and rare ecological communities after mitigation

Temporal extent

Rare plants and rare ecological communities could be affected during site preparation work or reclamation. Vegetation diversity can likely be restored to its original ecosystem diversity within the project's lifespan for the temporary work areas, but likely not until beyond the project's lifespan (i.e., a number of years after decommissioning or abandonment) for the permanent right-of-way.

Spatial extent

Effects would be relatively local given that vegetation clearing would be limited to site preparation works and project infrastructure areas, and additional surveys would increase confidence that rare plants and rare ecological communities would be avoided.

Intensity

Any loss of a listed rare plant species or rare ecological community would be beyond the regulatory threshold. Mitigation would protect such species and communities through avoidance, as much as possible, and through re-establishment measures, and offsets where this is not possible.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

The additional pre-construction surveys would increase confidence that rare plants and rare ecological communities would be avoided, and that offsets would be applied where this is not possible. The Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to rare plants and rare ecological communities.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on rare plants and rare ecological communities

The Panel finds that the project would result in adverse effects on rare plants and rare ecological communities after applying mitigation. These effects would not be significant. Rare plants and rare ecological communities are generally found in localized, isolated areas (which reduces the potential for interacting with effects from other projects), and detailed route selection would allow for the project's contribution to cumulative effects to be mitigated, if not entirely avoided. For non-avoidable effects, the project's contribution to cumulative effects would diminish over time because vegetation can be restored to its original ecosystem diversity, either naturally or through reclamation techniques. The Panel finds that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects is not required for effects on rare plants and rare ecological communities.

8.7.2.2 Old growth forests

Northern Gateway estimated that 527 hectares of old growth forests could be disturbed within the Project Development Area, with the highest proportion (181 hectares) located in the Coast Mountains physiographic region. Northern Gateway committed to verify all currently-mapped old growth stands within the Project Development Area before starting construction. At that time, updates to the information would identify the various factors that may affect old growth forest distribution, including logging activities and the effects of mountain pine beetle.

Construction activities, including clearing, grading, and disturbing the surface vegetation and soil layers, could affect old growth forests and forest structure. Northern Gateway said that, until it finalizes the pipelines' routing and conducts centerline surveys, it is impossible to estimate the extent of old growth forests that cannot be avoided through route refinements. Because old growth forests are dispersed throughout the project area, Northern Gateway also said that it was unlikely that more than 10 per cent of old growth forests in the Project Effects Assessment Area would be lost after mitigation measures have been applied. The value of 10 per cent was not contested during the Panel's process.

Northern Gateway said that the effects of surface disturbance on vegetation diversity, including old growth forests, would be reversible and not significant. In response to questions from Natural Resources Canada, Northern Gateway said that the assessment of vegetation reversibility was based on extensive research and monitoring information conducted in Alberta and British Columbia. Results of these studies indicate that the vegetation diversity recovery in areas of disturbance from a right-of-way have been successful. Haisla Nation cautioned against relying on Northern Gateway's assessment of reversibility and duration for determining significance because old growth forest re-establishment would occur, if it does occur at all, beyond the project's lifespan. Northern Gateway said that its focus would be on avoiding adverse effects on old growth forests, rather than mitigating them.

Mitigation measures

In addition to Northern Gateway's committed-to project design measures and best management practices to reduce potential effects on vegetation, it committed to:

  • verify and update information on the location and extent of old growth forests after detailed routing has been determined;
  • avoid old growth forests through routing refinements, such as re-routing or micro-routing;
  • conduct additional pre-construction surveys to increase confidence that old growth forests can be avoided;
  • if temporary workspace is required, it would consult with government authorities to determine the most appropriate construction strategy; and
  • consult with the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia to prepare forest reforestation plans.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to measure the effects of routine operations along the proposed pipeline corridor, to confirm predictions made in its application with respect to terrestrial biota, and to assess the effectiveness of project design features and mitigation measures, such as enhanced reclamation and other protective measures for old growth forests, as part of the Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program.

Views of the Panel

on project effects on old growth forests

The project could alter, degrade, or cause a loss of portions of old growth forest stands within the Coast Mountains physiographic region of British Columbia. This region is where old growth forests are most abundant, and affected old growth forests may take a long time to recover, beyond the project's lifespan and, presumably, over multiple human generations. The Panel finds that the project's effects on old growth forests would be limited due to the relatively small area of old growth forests that could be disturbed.

Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation focusing on avoidance, and on reforestation using measures such as native seeds to support recovery if stands cannot be avoided, would effectively reduce the potential loss of old growth forests. Northern Gateway committed to re-establish ecological plant communities, which are associated with old growth forests. These communities develop as substrata under the old growth forest canopy by collecting seeds and root crowns of rare species. It also committed to plant seedlings on the disturbed portions of the right-of-way. Northern Gateway would monitor the species and undertake remedial measures, as needed. Transplanting seedlings would help address seed survival and emergence challenges, and adaptation to severe soil and specific climate conditions.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on old growth forests after mitigation

Temporal extent

Old growth forests affected by temporary work areas can begin restoration during the project's lifespan, whereas affected old growth forests on the permanent right-of-way would not begin restoration until after decommissioning or abandonment of the project.

Spatial extent

Vegetation clearing in old growth forests would be limited to the permanent right-of-way and to temporary work areas. Mitigation includes additional surveys and avoidance to reduce the area of old growth forests affected.

Intensity

Old growth forests are ecologically sensitive and important. The amount of old growth forests that would be affected is relatively small.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given Northern Gateway's mitigation, old growth forest losses remaining after mitigation would be localized, even in the Coast Mountains region, and ultimately reversible. The Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to old growth forests.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on old growth forests

The Panel finds that the project would result in adverse effects on old growth forests after applying mitigation. These effects would not be significant. Project effects on old growth forests are expected to be limited and localized, limiting the potential for cumulative effects. The Panel finds that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects is not required for effects on old growth forests.

8.7.2.3 Non-native weed species

Northern Gateway said that surface disturbances created during the project's site-clearing, construction, and reclamation phases may introduce and spread non-native weed species by providing a seedbed for invasion. Non-native weed species may also be carried by pipeline installation and operations equipment, or by natural dispersal mechanisms. Northern Gateway said that, in many cases, these species are resilient, adapted to disturbed habitats, and can reproduce rapidly. Their increased presence can affect the diversity of natural vegetation communities and reduce reclamation program effectiveness.

The goal of Northern Gateway's proposed Weed Management Plan would be to prescribe methods to prevent and control the spread of restricted, noxious, and invasive plants during all project phases. Northern Gateway said that its implementation of best management practices in constructing and reclaiming the right-of-way, as part of its proposed Weed Management Plan, would be effective in preventing and controlling the spread of non-native weed species.

Swan River First Nation and Driftpile Cree Nation asked to be involved in selecting native species seeds for use during reclamation. They made recommendations to avoid using herbicides in maintaining the right-of-way. Northern Gateway said, where practical, it would involve Aboriginal groups in reclamation and maintenance work on the right-of-way and would use native plant species. Horse Lake First Nation and East Prairie Métis Settlement supported completing weed surveys in advance of construction, and incorporating results in weed management planning and environmental alignment sheets.

Mitigation measures

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • conduct pre-disturbance reconnaissance surveys to confirm the presence of weed and invasive non-native species (particularly leafy spurge), and to identify mitigation measures to limit their spread;
  • implement a Weed Management Plan for construction and reclamation of the right-of-way, based on best management practices, to prevent and control the spread of weed and invasive non-native species; and
  • use mechanical and chemical control of weeds and non-native species, when required.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to conduct regular inspections to determine the aerial extent of weed problems and to gather the information needed to decide whether treatments are necessary, the best treatment options, and the best timing for treatments.

Views of the Panel

on project effects related to non-native weed species

The Panel finds that using best management practices and implementing the Weed Management Plan, which would be informed by the results of pre-construction weed surveys, would effectively reduce the potential for the project to introduce and spread non-native weed species. Such practices have proven successful in the past, and the Panel has confidence that those practices would be successful in this case.

Aboriginal groups expect to be engaged by Northern Gateway for reclamation and maintenance work along the right-of-way. The Panel requires Northern Gateway to demonstrate that it is consulting with potentially-affected Aboriginal groups about its proposed weed management measures. As part of its plan, Northern Gateway would include work to be done along the right-of-way to preserve ecological integrity to the extent possible and, where practical, give priority to protecting native plant species that are of interest to Aboriginal groups, as requested by Swan River First Nation and Driftpile Cree Nation.

Evaluation of adverse project effects related to non-native weed species after mitigation

Temporal extent

Non-native weed species may be introduced and spread as a result of construction and reclamation activities, and during pipeline operations. They may also arrive through natural dispersal into areas disturbed by these activities. Any weeds that are introduced would be controlled in the short term through measures in the Weed Management Plan.

Spatial extent

Weeds may occur primarily along the disturbed temporary workspaces and permanent right-of-way. Weed management should prevent any weeds that do establish from spreading further.

Intensity

Considering mitigation that would be applied, effects from weeds would be within the range of baseline conditions or natural variation.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given the standard mitigation available to address weeds, the Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects associated with non-native weed species.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects related to non-native weed species

The Panel finds that the project would result in adverse effects associated with non-native weed species after applying mitigation. These effects would not be significant. Standard construction practices and weed control measures would effectively reduce the potential introduction and spread of weeds that can be caused by surface disturbances, limiting the potential for cumulative effects. The Panel finds that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects is not required for effects associated with non-native weed species.

8.7.2.4 Soils

Northern Gateway assessed the effects of the project during all project phases, including site-clearing, soil stripping and stockpiling, construction, and acidifying emissions on agricultural and non-agricultural soils during operations. It determined that, in the absence of mitigation, construction activities could result in admixing, compaction, erosion, contamination, changes in soil moisture conditions, and soil loss. Surface soil deterioration and loss could result in short-term loss in agricultural land capability. Activities during operations could also cause compaction and soil contamination, and acidifying emissions from tankers berthed at the Kitimat Terminal could affect soil quality.

In response to questions from the Fort St James Sustainability Group about restoring agricultural soils, Northern Gateway said it would restore areas disturbed by the temporary and permanent right-of-ways to the capability that existed before the project was constructed, as required by provincial soil conservation and reclamation legislation

Northern Gateway said that a number of available mitigation measures that it proposes to implement have proven to be effective on previous projects to reduce the effect of physical disturbances on soils.

Northern Gateway said that soils in the area of the Kitimat Terminal have a high sensitivity to acidification and are susceptible to exceeding the critical threshold suggested for sensitive ecosystems. Northern Gateway also said that industry currently in the Kitimat area generates a large quantity of acid inputs that exceed critical thresholds. Northern Gateway estimated that the effect of the project alone, not acting within current baseline airshed emissions, would result in a very small contribution to acid deposition. Northern Gateway anticipated that acidifying emissions from tankers would be reduced by using low-sulphur marine fuel (discussed in Section 8.7.1), reducing associated effects on nearby soils.

Mitigation measures

In addition to Northern Gateway's committed-to project design measures and best management practices to reduce potential effects on soils, it committed to:

  • complete field assessment and soil mapping prior to construction, and to integrate the resulting information into its environmental alignment sheets, along with proposed site-specific mitigation measures;
  • implement a Soils Protection and Management Plan;
  • identify site-specific reclamation issues in an Enhanced Reclamation Plan to be developed in consultation with appropriate regulatory authorities, participating Aboriginal groups, and stakeholders; and
  • use low-sulphur fuel for the tankers calling on the Kitimat Terminal, in accordance with marine fuel and emissions regulations.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • confirm erosion control protection of soil stockpile sites during the first growing season after starting operations and to implement additional corrective erosion control until protection is deemed adequate;
  • assess the effectiveness of mitigation strategies to control soil loss and deterioration in the White Area of Alberta;
  • determine the effectiveness of reclamation measures, and to adjust mitigation measures as a result of monitoring results, as appropriate; and
  • evaluate changes in soil quality caused by inputs of acidifying emissions in the area of the Kitimat Terminal, and to verify that using low-sulphur fuels is effective in addressing soil acidification effects.

Views of the Panel

on project effects on soils

The Panel finds that the implementation of Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation measures and using standard construction practices would effectively reduce the potential for the loss of soil productivity and capability that can be caused by surface disturbances.

The limited contribution of the project's effects to atmospheric acid input levels in the area, after mitigation, can be effectively reduced by using low-sulphur fuels. Northern Gateway's soil monitoring program would address potential cumulative effects of acid emissions on soils and verify that using low-sulphur fuels has been effective in addressing soil acidification effects.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on soils after mitigation

Temporal extent

Emissions from tankers would continue as long as the Kitimat Terminal is operational and so effects on soil quality are expected to persist during all project phases and beyond the project's lifespan.

Spatial extent

Adverse effects would be limited to an area surrounding the Kitimat Terminal which already has acid-sensitive soils.

Intensity

Industry currently in the Kitimat area generates a large quantity of acid inputs that exceed critical thresholds. Low-sulphur standards for marine fuel would reduce acidifying emissions of tankers by approximately 96 per cent when they come into effect.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given the implementation of mitigation measures (including monitoring and follow-up) and the expected new marine fuel standards, the Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to soils.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on soils

The Panel finds that the project would result in adverse effects on soils after applying mitigation. These effects would not be significant. Standard construction practices would effectively reduce the potential for loss of soil productivity and capability that can be caused by surface disturbances, limiting the potential for cumulative effects. Effects of soil acidification would be addressed primarily by managing emissions to the atmospheric environment. Management of these cumulative emissions is addressed in Section 8.7.1. The Panel finds that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects is not required for effects on soils.

8.7.2.5 Wetlands

Northern Gateway estimated that the project could affect approximately 490 hectares of wetlands, mainly swamps and fens located in the Southern Alberta Uplands physiographic region and in the Interior Plateau physiographic region of British Columbia. Proposed power line easements could affect an additional 106 hectares of wetlands, mostly swamps located in the Coast Mountains physiographic region. Surface disturbance resulting from construction and reclamation could affect surface or shallow groundwater flow patterns, reduce wetland sizes, modify wetland types and classes, and, consequently, alter wetlands and wetland functions.

The Project Development Area would be located near the northern limit of the Prairie Pothole Region in Alberta, a wetland area that provides important breeding and staging habitat for several waterfowl species. Environment Canada said that the pipeline route may also affect areas where there has already been an extensive loss of wetlands and wetland function (for example, the White – i.e. settled – areas of Alberta). The effect after mitigation would not be long-term, with compensation for wetland loss. Environment Canada said that, in British Columbia, the right-of-way would cross areas defined as priority wetland conservation areas for migratory birds (between Houston and Prince George). Northern Gateway said that the project has the potential to affect ecological wetland communities listed under British Columbia's legislation.

In response to a request from Environment Canada, Northern Gateway filed a Wetland Function Assessment Framework, providing an assessment of the wetland functions likely to be adversely affected by the project. It also included information on how Northern Gateway proposed to monitor the effects of the project on wetlands and to compensate losses to wetlands and wetland functions, should effects be confirmed. Haisla Nation said that the information to be collected as part of Northern Gateway's proposed Wetland Function Assessment Plan should have been submitted to the Panel in order to justify Northern Gateway's conclusion that the project would not have any adverse environmental effects on wetlands. Northern Gateway said that the information provided in response to Environment Canada's request was based on the pipelines' current location in the centre of the applied-for 1-kilometre-wide corridor. It said that it would complete a detailed assessment prior to construction, after the pipelines' exact location is finalized during detailed engineering.

Northern Gateway said that it can effectively reduce effects on wetlands, including wetlands designated as ecologically important, through its proposed mitigation measures aimed at avoiding or maintaining buffers around wetlands, restoring natural hydrogeological regimes, and using subsurface drainage control measures.

Northern Gateway agreed with Environment Canada's recommendations to achieve a goal of no net loss of wetland functions. Northern Gateway committed to develop a Wetland Compensation Plan if effects on wetlands cannot be avoided, or where there are ongoing effects remaining after mitigation lasting longer than 5 years. This plan would assist in determining the loss of wetland extent and function, areas of replacement and their likelihood of success, involved parties and their responsibilities, maintenance provisions, adaptive management measures, and the provisions of financial assurances.

Northern Gateway's proposed compensation ratio would be 2:1 (area of wetland restored or created to original wetland area affected), except in areas where there has already been extensive loss of wetland and wetland function (for example, the White – i.e. settled – areas of Alberta), where it would implement a 3:1 ratio. These ratios are consistent with those recommended by Environment Canada. Northern Gateway said that lost wetland functions would preferably be compensated on-site or within the same watershed.

Northern Gateway said that project effects remaining after mitigation on wetlands and riparian areas (from surface or shallow groundwater flow pattern disruptions) would be relatively small and not significant and that wetland functions would not be threatened by the project.

Mitigation measures

In addition to Northern Gateway's committed-to project design measures and best management practices to reduce potential effects on wetlands, it committed to:

  • collect detailed information about wetlands (such as size, location, status, and function) prior to detailed routing to inform site-specific mitigation plans, and to include this information on environmental alignment sheets;
  • adopt a hierarchical preference of (1) wetland avoidance, (2) effects minimization, and (3) compensation of unavoidable effects. It would apply this hierarchy broadly to the project for wetlands and associated riparian areas that support Species at Risk Act-listed species or migratory bird breeding populations;
  • implement site-specific measures to maintain natural surface and groundwater flow patterns, such as limiting the use of extra temporary workspace, maintaining a buffer around wetlands, using drainage and erosion control measures, limiting grubbing to the ditch line, and using log corduroy alongside riparian areas;
  • implement additional site-specific measures as necessary (such as additional culverts, ditches, or berm breaks) should a decline in vegetation health occur from drainage alteration; and
  • develop a Wetland Compensation Plan in consultation with regulatory authorities, landowners, participating Aboriginal groups, and other stakeholders

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to monitor the effects of the project on wetland function in terms of changes in water levels, water quality, and species composition and distribution, and to collect data on the health and vigour of the vegetation species in and next to wetlands. It would monitor wetlands for a period necessary to confirm that the goal of no net loss in function is achieved, taking compensation into account (3 to 5 years until drainage systems have re-established)

Views of the Panel

on project effects on wetlands

Northern Gateway has committed to applying a hierarchical approach to mitigating the effects of the project on wetlands. Its preferred means of mitigation would be avoiding adverse effects, followed by means to reduce adverse effects and, if effects are unavoidable, means to compensate for adverse effects remaining after mitigation, preferably on-site or in the same watershed. The Panel is of the view that compensation has proven effective in other cases.

Prior to detailed routing, Northern Gateway would collect additional site-specific information on wetlands to supplement the information it provided during the Panel's process. It would use this additional information to inform mitigation plans, including how the overlap between the Project Development Area and wetlands can be adequately reduced. The Panel finds that these measures would increase confidence in wetland data and the effects of the project on wetlands would be adequately reduced, given that information regarding wetland distribution would be available at the time of construction.

The Panel is satisfied that it has sufficient information at this time on which to base its evaluation of the significance of project effects on wetlands. The Panel requires Northern Gateway to develop and file with the National Energy Board its Wetlands Functional Assessment Plan that reflects the results of additional pre-construction surveys, and addresses wetlands mitigation, monitoring, and compensation.

Particular attention should be given to limiting or reducing effects, to the greatest extent possible, on wetlands of provincial and federal conservation concern, or effects on wetlands that provide wildlife habitat, including for migratory birds or species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act. The Panel supports Northern Gateway's preference to compensate for lost wetland functions on-site or within the same watershed, while maintaining ecological integrity.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on wetlands after mitigation

Temporal extent

Effects on wetlands disturbed during site preparation or reclamation could extend throughout and beyond the project's lifespan.

Spatial extent

Effects remaining after mitigation would be relatively localized, and mitigation would include surveys, avoidance, and minimization to reduce the spatial extent of effects.

Intensity

Wetlands provide important ecological functions, and it is particularly important to maintain the wetland functions that have important conservation functions. Effects on wetlands would be limited through various mitigation measures, including avoidance and reduction. Offsets would be used for effects that cannot be avoided, with the goal of no net loss of overall wetland functions.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given mitigation to avoid and reduce effects, and offsets to compensate where effects cannot be avoided, the Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to wetlands.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on wetlands

The Panel finds that the project would result in adverse effects on wetlands after applying mitigation. These effects would not be significant. Effects on wetlands would be limited through avoidance, limiting the potential for cumulative effects. Effects on wetlands that cannot be avoided would be compensated at a ratio of 2:1 (area of wetland restored or created to original wetland area affected), except in areas where there has already been extensive loss of wetland and wetland function (for example, the White – i.e. settled – areas of Alberta) where a ratio of 3:1 would be implemented. The Panel finds that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects is not required for effects on wetlands.

8.7.3 Terrestrial wildlife and wildlife habitat

The proposed pipeline route would cross various types of terrestrial wildlife habitat, including coniferous and mixed-wood forests, forested wetlands, open water ponds and lakes, alpine meadows, rocky canyons, subalpine meadows and forests, agricultural croplands, and pasture.

Northern Gateway said that a wide variety of wildlife species or their signs were observed during route surveys, including:

  • Mammals such as woodland caribou, grizzly bear, moose, deer, elk, wolf, coyote, red fox, cougar, Canada lynx, snowshoe hare, mice, red squirrel, river otter, American marten, fisher, and wolverine. Of these, the boreal and southern mountain populations of woodland caribou are listed as Threatened on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act.
  • Birds such as songbirds, waterbirds, raptors, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds. Thirteen bird species listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act were either identified during surveys, selected as key indicator species, or are expected to occur in the project area and to interact with the project.
  • Seven species of amphibians, including coastal tailed frog, western toad, and northern leopard frog, all three of which are listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. Northern leopard frog is listed as Endangered, and both coastal tailed frog and western toad are listed as Special Concern.

The pipeline corridor would pass through the Burnie River Protected Area and the Herd Dome Special Resource Management Area. The Herd Dome area provides mountain goat and caribou habitat. The Burnie River Protected Area provides habitat for woodland caribou, grizzly bear, and mountain goat. British Columbia Parks provided allowances for the two pipelines to traverse the Burnie River Protected Area, if the project is approved.

Northern Gateway said that the Stuart, Tachie, and Middle Rivers Important Bird Area, located in the Regional Effects Assessment Area, is important for wintering trumpeter swan.

Northern Gateway identified key environmental effects on wildlife as: change in habitat availability (from vegetation clearing and increased sensory disturbance), change in movement (from creation of physical or sensory barriers and lessened wildlife connectivity), and change in mortality risk (from collisions with project vehicles or increased mortality from increased human or predator access). Northern Gateway also considered combined project effects in its assessment as the sum of, or interactions between, direct and indirect habitat loss, changes in movement, and increased mortality risks on wildlife.

Swan River First Nation and Driftpile Cree Nation discussed declines in furbearer populations, such as beaver, which are trapped by members of both Nations, and rabbit and muskrat, which are trapped by the Driftpile Cree Nation. These Nations were concerned about project effects on beaver mortality, movement, and habitat availability. In response to these concerns, Northern Gateway committed to identify beaver dams, ponds, and lodges during pre-construction centreline surveys. It also committed to implement wetland protection measures, including avoidance, year-round setbacks, and reporting to the project environmental inspector any interference with beaver dams, ponds, or lodges.

Various parties were concerned about the project's contribution to altered wildlife movement patterns, linear disturbance, and habitat fragmentation. They recommended that sensitive habitats be avoided and buffered from project activities, and that connectivity between larger habitat patches be maintained. The East Prairie Métis Settlement, Horse Lake First Nation, and Haisla Nation raised specific concerns about sensory disturbance effects on wildlife from blasting activities, and asked about Northern Gateway's plans to monitor wildlife movement patterns.

Northern Gateway acknowledged these concerns and said that avoidance is expected to be temporary and reversible since the most sensitive species, such as caribou, grizzly bear, mountain goat, and wolverine would temporarily avoid construction sites. Regarding disturbance related to blasting, Northern Gateway said that, at any particular point during pipeline construction, blasting would last from only 1 to 2 weeks. Northern Gateway would implement a Blasting Management Plan outlining timing restrictions and mitigation measures. Northern Gateway said that, if disruption of wildlife movement is identified as a concern during detailed routing, appropriate environmental effects monitoring programs would be implemented.

Various parties raised concerns about project effects on wildlife mortality and how the project would affect wildlife populations. Swan River First Nation asked how Northern Gateway would demonstrate that ecological diversity had successfully been re-established along the pipeline right-of-way after construction. Swan River First Nation asked what adaptive management plans would be ready should monitoring programs show an unanticipated negative result. In response, Northern Gateway proposed to conduct follow-up studies related to project effects on wildlife. These studies would include evaluating changes in hunting and trapping patterns, monitoring effectiveness of mitigation measures on wildlife features, tracking direct wildlife mortality, and monitoring the movement of hunted and trapped species through winter tracking and pellet surveys, and remote camera surveys.

Northern Gateway said that it would implement appropriate monitoring and follow-up programs. Its Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program would include monitoring to ensure that habitat restoration and removal of linear features are successful to mitigate effects within important habitat areas for key species. Northern Gateway would use data collected through this program as part of an adaptive management program to identify any required changes in pipeline operations or environmental management approaches and on-going monitoring strategies.

Northern Gateway committed to a number of plans under its Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan that would apply to species at risk, migratory birds, and wildlife in general, and that would include mitigation measures and adaptive management strategies. Site-specific mitigation would be summarized on environmental alignment sheets and the Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan's effectiveness would be monitored as part of the Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program.

Views of the Panel

on project effects on terrestrial wildlife and wildlife habitat

Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation measures would reduce project effects on wildlife habitat availability, change in movement, and mortality risk. The Panel has considered all of the evidence for all of the species discussed during the Panel's process, and provides a detailed discussion below on four key species that were the subject of debate.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's proposal to align the level of its monitoring efforts with the level of prediction confidence for project effects on wildlife is a reasonable approach. The nature and complexity of monitoring and follow-up programs in environmental assessment tend to be aligned with the scale of a project and the sensitivity and complexity of associated issues.

8.7.3.1 Woodland caribou

The proposed pipeline route overlaps with the Little Smoky boreal woodland caribou range at the range's extreme northern extent. It also overlaps with the Narraway, Quintette, Hart Ranges, and Telkwa southern mountain woodland caribou ranges (see Figure 8.5).

Both the boreal and southern mountain woodland caribou populations are listed as Threatened on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. In British Columbia, the Narraway, Quintette, and Telkwa herds are ranked as Blue-listed (special concern) and the Hart Ranges herd is Red-listed (endangered or threatened). The Narraway herd is listed as threatened in Alberta. The Little Smoky herd is declining in population and is considered at risk of extirpation. Environment Canada said that the Bearhole-Redwillow portion of the Narraway herd is also declining. Trends indicate that populations are increasing for the Hart Ranges herd, and are stable for the Quintette and Telkwa herds.

Environment Canada said that the Little Smoky herd was very unlikely to maintain a self-sustaining population over time, in the absence of management intervention, since 95 per cent of the habitat in its range is disturbed. Environment Canada's short-term goal (0 to 50 years) is stabilization of the Little Smoky herd. Critical habitat for the Little Smoky herd of boreal woodland caribou is identified in the boreal caribou recovery strategy as existing habitat that would contribute to at least 65 per cent undisturbed habitat over time. Critical habitat for the southern mountain caribou populations has yet to be determined in a recovery strategy.

Environment Canada said that habitat restoration, reduction of line of sight, access management, and mortality management can play a role in mitigating unavoidable effects of the project on caribou, which is optimally effective when combined with a monitoring and adaptive management approach. Where mitigation objectives and outcomes are not met in the short term, monitoring and adaptive management allow approaches to be modified to ensure success in the mid- to longer-terms.

Figure 8.5 Caribou Ranges

The proposed pipeline route crosses the ranges of the Little Smoky herd of of the boreal population of woodland caribou and the Hart Ranges, Telkwa, Narraway, and Quintette herds of the southern mountain population of woodland caribou.

Figure 8.5 Caribou Ranges

Habitat availability

Northern Gateway said that caribou habitat loss would result from direct clearing of habitat and also from sensory disturbance, which could result in a loss of habitat that is much greater than the physical disturbance of clearing itself.

Northern Gateway said that large decreases in winter habitat are predicted during construction, mainly due to sensory disturbance. Northern Gateway said that the sensory disturbance buffer most often extends 500 metres on either side of the Project Development Area, meaning the entire Project Effects Assessment Area is considered to be affected during construction.

Northern Gateway said that the Project Effects Assessment Area is less than or equal to 1.6 per cent of the total herd area for each of the 5 woodland caribou herds potentially affected by the project. Northern Gateway also said that the relative habitat loss in the Project Effects Assessment Area is a conservative estimate because it reflects habitat loss only within the 1-kilometre-wide corridor containing the pipeline, while most caribou would use larger areas of habitat outside of the Project Effects Assessment Area.

The Province of British Columbia questioned the project's effects on caribou calving areas and requested information from Northern Gateway on its plans to mitigate disturbance effects during critical seasonal periods outside of winter range occupation. Northern Gateway said that it would consult with the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resources Operations to identify sensitive areas and time periods, as well as actions to mitigate project effects.

Environment Canada questioned the location of the right-of-way relative to core caribou habitats. It said that, since large-scale reclamation of caribou habitat is undemonstrated and uncertain, and the time required for habitat restoration is long-term, habitat destruction should be avoided.

Northern Gateway said that the only place where there would be substantial new right-of-way is the area from Imperial Creek to the Missinka River, which overlaps the Hart Ranges caribou herd. Northern Gateway flagged the area as environmentally-sensitive and said that it would focus on access management measures to reduce human and predator use of the right-of-way. Northern Gateway said that it would apply line-of-sight mitigation (using terrain or right-of-way alignment or vegetation screens to reduce predator line-of-sight) and restore habitat elsewhere in the range.

Northern Gateway said that Route Revision V (December 2012) would be located further away from the wildlife habitat area proposed for the Telkwa caribou herd. Northern Gateway also said that the revised route offers fewer opportunities for the project to use existing rights-of-way, which may increase human access locally. Northern Gateway said that it would apply other methods to minimize linear feature density in this region and would implement additional measures to control access during construction and operations.

Northern Gateway committed to implement a caribou protection plan, a caribou habitat restoration plan (to demonstrate how and to what extent caribou habitat affected by the project would be restored), and a caribou habitat enhancement or offset measures plan (to compensate for effects after appropriate routing and all other mitigation is applied).

Northern Gateway had low to moderate confidence in the effectiveness of its proposed reclamation mitigation measures for habitat availability for woodland caribou. Northern Gateway said that, although it felt that sound reclamation techniques are being developed and tested as part of collaborative regional initiatives, successful large-scale re-establishment of a sustainable landscape has yet to be demonstrated for woodland caribou. Northern Gateway proposed to monitor the effectiveness of mitigation measures for habitat availability and to apply adaptive management measures if results of monitoring indicated that measures were not effective.

Change in movement

Northern Gateway said that, while the Hart Ranges, Telkwa, and Narraway herds migrate annually between winter and summer ranges, the Little Smoky herd is non-migratory. Some components of the Quintette herd make seasonal movements and there is a substantial component of the herd that is resident in higher-elevation areas. Though some herds may show migratory patterns (seasonal movement) and may use locally-important movement corridors, woodland caribou do not use well-defined migratory corridors. Northern Gateway said that, with human use of the pipeline right-of-way reduced through strict access control, caribou would not be deterred from crossing or using the pipeline right-of-way. Northern Gateway also said that caribou within the Narraway herd boundary do cross both intact and disturbed areas.

The Office of the Wet'suwet'en said that the right-of-way would bisect an important caribou migration route connecting the Telkwa range to the southern Bulkley and Tahtsa ranges, where local population abundance is diminished.

Northern Gateway said that it aligned the pipeline route, as much as possible, to be adjacent to or through disturbed areas, such as existing linear features and forestry cutblocks. Northern Gateway would implement mitigation measures, such as reducing line-of-sight along the right-of-way and access management measures (e.g., using large berms, coarse woody debris, re-vegetation, and vegetation screens), to minimize project effects on wildlife movement. Northern Gateway acknowledged that mitigation measures to restrict access may also restrict caribou movement.

Northern Gateway said that directional drilling of watercourses and minimizing riparian disturbance is a key mitigation measure that would reduce impacts on movement corridors for species such as caribou.

Northern Gateway had low to moderate confidence in the effectiveness of mitigation measures to reduce change in movement for woodland caribou during operations. As such, Northern Gateway proposed to develop a detailed monitoring program to gauge the effectiveness of mitigation measures to control access along the right-of-way, which would help to improve confidence in mitigation success.

Mortality risk

Northern Gateway did not expect mortality from direct causes, such as vehicle collisions with project-related traffic, to have a measurable effect on caribou. Northern Gateway said that the project would result in a change in risk of mortality for woodland caribou due to increased human or predator access from increased linear feature density (density of linear development types, such as roads and pipeline rights-of-way).

BC Nature and Nature Canada said that the project would pose a significant risk to the viability of caribou populations. BC Nature and Nature Canada said that most caribou mortality is in the summer and questioned why early- and late-winter habitat was the focus of the assessment on caribou mortality. It added that an assessment of project effects on summer range would likely show a significant risk to the viability of four of the five caribou populations. It said that the risk would be great for the Hart Ranges population range due to fragmentation of the road-less area between kilometre posts 588 and 615. Northern Gateway acknowledged that caribou are more susceptible to wolf predation during the summer than at other times of the year and this is particularly true for the Hart Ranges, Quintette, and Narraway herds. Northern Gateway said that early- and late-winter habitat was the focus of their assessment on habitat change because it is limiting for caribou. This was not used to assess mortality risk. Rather, Northern Gateway used linear feature density as the measurable parameter for mortality risk.

Northern Gateway proposed to route the pipelines through disturbed areas, including existing linear features and cutblocks, to lessen project effects on caribou. Northern Gateway proposed to align the pipeline route adjacent to a major existing pipeline corridor to minimize habitat destruction in the area. In response to Panel questioning, Northern Gateway said that approximately 69 per cent of the route (Route Revision V) would traverse disturbed areas or parallel linear features.

Environment Canada recommended mitigation measures consistent with the boreal woodland caribou recovery strategy, such as locating the pipeline in disturbed areas, avoiding a net gain in access, offsetting affected habitat in the Little Smoky range, and using an adaptive management approach to mitigation.

Northern Gateway had low confidence in the effectiveness of mitigation measures to reduce caribou mortality from increased linear feature density leading to increased access. Northern Gateway proposed to develop and implement a detailed monitoring program to gauge the effectiveness of its Access Management Plan and its Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan. Northern Gateway said that, if measures require improvement, they would be re-examined as necessary.

Mitigation measures

In addition to general mitigation measures outlined in its application, Northern Gateway committed to:

  • route the pipeline through disturbed areas including existing linear features and cutblocks;
  • develop and implement a Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan within sensitive wildlife areas, including caribou range, with a goal of no net gain in linear feature density within caribou range and a net decrease in linear feature density within Little Smoky population range;
  • develop and implement an Access Management Plan that would focus on controlling human and predator access to linear features;
  • develop and implement a Caribou Habitat Restoration Plan, an Offset Measures Plan, and a Caribou Protection Plan.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • collaborate with provincial wildlife authorities to support programs to monitor and conserve the five woodland caribou herds that could be affected by project activities. Northern Gateway proposed to join the alliance of the British Columbia Ministry of Forests and its industry partners to monitor caribou herds in the Omenica; and
  • conduct targeted winter tracking and aerial surveys of affected caribou herds during construction, and periodically during operations as part of its Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program.

Research

Northern Gateway said that it joined a public-private alliance to monitor woodland caribou and wolf interactions and proposed to fund a research chair to identify gaps in existing information, such as interactions between the Telkwa herd and wolves. Northern Gateway proposed to collaborate with the British Columbia Ministry of Environment on caribou habitat restoration and compensation with respect to linear features and wolf predation of the Telkwa herd. It also proposed to consider additional opportunities in Alberta and British Columbia to support caribou-wolf interaction studies.

Northern Gateway said that it would continue to look for opportunities to fund third party research for caribou studies to look at current and post-construction movement patterns to see if there have been alterations.

Views of the Panel

on project effects on woodland caribou

The Panel has taken into account the likely risk of project effects on each of boreal and southern mountain caribou populations from habitat loss, change in caribou movement, and mortality risk.

The Panel notes Northern Gateway's mitigation measures to reduce such effects, including access management measures to attempt to avoid increased human and predator access. Northern Gateway said that approximately 69 per cent of the corridor (as proposed in Route Revision V) is routed through disturbed areas or is parallel to linear features. As such, 31 per cent would be constructed through areas that are not already disturbed or that do not parallel existing linear features. Most concerns raised by parties about mortality risk were in relation to cumulative effects and are discussed further below in the Panel's views on cumulative effects.

There is uncertainty associated with the effectiveness of mitigation measures to reduce these effects. Although Northern Gateway has low (or low to moderate) confidence in the effectiveness of mitigation measures on habitat availability, change in movement, and risk of mortality for woodland caribou, it would conduct monitoring to gauge mitigation effectiveness. Northern Gateway said that, if measures require improvement, they would be re-examined as necessary and further actions and measures would be implemented, based on monitoring results.

The Panel finds that it was appropriate for Northern Gateway to use changes in early- and late-winter habitat as the focus for habitat change assessment, rather than for assessing mortality risk, which was considered using changes in linear feature density.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's mitigation measures for wildlife movement, such as reducing line-of-sight, are acceptable to reduce project effects on caribou movement.

As for the risk of mortality, while Northern Gateway's goal of no net gain in linear feature density within caribou range and a net decrease in linear feature density in Little Smoky range is admirable, the Panel notes Northern Gateway's low confidence in its mitigation and finds that the likelihood of success is uncertain.

The Panel is of the view that Northern Gateway's plans to support programs to monitor and conserve the five potentially-affected woodland caribou herds and to fund a research chair to identify gaps in existing information, such as wolf interactions with the Telkwa herd, would result in a benefit from the project.

The Panel requires Northern Gateway to prepare a pre-construction caribou habitat assessment, a caribou habitat restoration plan, an offset measures plan, and a caribou habitat restoration and offset measures monitoring program. The Panel also requires Northern Gateway to report on its caribou habitat restoration and offset measures monitoring, and to file its developed Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan with the National Energy Board.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on woodland caribou (habitat availability) after mitigation

Temporal extent

Direct habitat loss would extend for the duration of project operations because the permanent right-of-way would be maintained in a semi-cleared state. The right-of-way would be allowed to regrow after the project is decommissioned or abandoned.

Spatial extent

Thirty-one per cent of the right-of-way would be constructed through areas that are not already affected by other projects, or that do not parallel an existing linear disturbance. There would be a local loss of woodland caribou habitat on the right-of-way, and a broader zone of influence leading to effective habitat loss of approximately 500 metres on either side of new linear disturbances, and a potential influence at the herd's range level.

Intensity

There would be a relatively low level of effect on habitat availability where the proposed pipeline route crosses, or is adjacent to, an existing land disturbance. There would be a larger effect in areas where the route does not cross or parallel an existing land disturbance. Mitigation has been proposed, but confidence in the effectiveness of that mitigation is low to moderate.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Because there are project effects remaining after mitigation that could combine with the effects of other past, present, and future projects, and because cumulative effects on caribou are of primary concern, the Panel's significance recommendation is given below in its analysis of cumulative effects.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on woodland caribou (change in movement) after mitigation

Temporal extent

The project is likely to affect woodland caribou movement for the duration of project operations because the permanent right-of-way would be maintained in a semi-cleared state. The right-of-way would be allowed to regrow after the project is decommissioned or abandoned. Project effects on change in movement from sensory disturbance is greater during the construction phase, and would decrease through the operations phase, with less activity on the right-of-way.

Spatial extent

Effects on woodland caribou movement may be felt by caribou herds at the Regional Effects Assessment Area level.

Intensity

There would be little effect on the change in movement for the Little Smoky herd as it is non-migratory. The effect would be greater for the Hart Ranges, Telkwa, and Narraway herds, and some components of the Quintette herd, since these herds would be bisected more centrally by the pipeline route and they show seasonal migratory patterns.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Because there are project effects remaining after mitigation that could combine with the effects of other past, present, and future projects, and because cumulative effects on caribou are of primary concern, the Panel's significance recommendation is given below in its analysis of cumulative effects.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on woodland caribou (mortality risk) after mitigation

Temporal extent

Effects would last for the duration of project operations since the permanent right-of-way would be maintained in a semi-cleared state, which could allow for increased access by humans and predators. The right-of-way would be allowed to regrow after the project is decommissioned or abandoned.

Spatial extent

Increased mortality risk for caribou would be highest closest to the right-of-way, which could result in an influence at the range level if caribou mortality increases.

Intensity

There would be an increased risk of mortality to individuals. Northern Gateway has committed to substantial mitigation in an attempt to manage access through its Access Management Plan, although such mitigation may not be totally effective and some access would be required to allow for pipeline maintenance and repair.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Because there are project effects remaining after mitigation that could combine with the effects of other past, present, and future projects, and because cumulative effects on caribou are of primary concern, the Panel's significance recommendation is given below in its analysis of cumulative effects.

Cumulative effects on woodland caribou

Cumulative effects significance threshold (linear feature density metric)

Various parties questioned the metric that Northern Gateway used (a 1.8 kilometres per square kilometre measure of linear feature density) to determine significance of cumulative effects on woodland caribou mortality risk. Environment Canada said that a meta-analysis approach that accounts for total area of disturbance, rather than simply linear feature density, is a more appropriate approach.

Northern Gateway said that the linear feature density metric was selected from a study that summarized available information at that time related to landscape metrics for caribou populations and their persistence. Northern Gateway said that the data showed that herds declined with a linear density of 1.8 kilometres per square kilometre or greater, and showed stability at lower levels. Northern Gateway also said that the linear feature density metric it chose can be calculated with a fair degree of certainty using available data and at an appropriate scale for the assessing cumulative effects within the Regional Effects Assessment Area.

Northern Gateway said that, regardless of the threshold used to determine significance of cumulative effects on woodland caribou, linear feature density and associated effects on habitat use patterns and mortality risk are an issue for caribou in general in British Columbia and Alberta. It said that it is committed to managing project access aggressively within the ranges of the five woodland caribou herds that are potentially affected by the project. Northern Gateway would seek opportunities to achieve no net gain in linear feature density as part of its Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan. Northern Gateway committed to achieve a net decrease in linear feature density within the range of the Little Smoky herd.

Cumulative effects on woodland caribou

Northern Gateway said linear feature density can predict mortality risk to caribou from human-caused mortality or predator-related mortality. In this context, a new right-of-way would contribute to greater linear feature density, whereas a route that is alongside existing disturbance would add minimally to cumulative effects.

Northern Gateway said that the project right-of-way would follow an existing right-of-way through Little Smoky range. Similarly, Environment Canada acknowledged that Northern Gateway chose the alignment because it parallels a major existing pipeline corridor, minimizing linear density in the area. Northern Gateway committed to ongoing collaboration with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development regarding detailed pipeline routing in the Little Smoky range.

Environment Canada said that a final recovery Strategy has not yet been released for southern mountain caribou. If Northern Gateway was to decide on the detailed pipeline route prior to the southern mountain caribou recovery strategy being released, Environment Canada recommended that, in addition to managing linear feature density, the pipeline should be routed within or close to existing disturbed areas. It also recommended that Northern Gateway apply habitat offsets (creation of habitat for habitat destroyed) for the Bearhole-Redwillow population of the Narraway herd.

Swan River First Nation said that cumulative effects of fragmentation already appear to be considerable in the Little Smoky range. Although Environment Canada said that populations are increasing for the Hart Ranges herd, and stable for the Quintette and Telkwa herds, BC Nature and Nature Canada said that the project would exacerbate the current population declines for the Telkwa and Hart Ranges herds, as well as the Little Smoky and Narraway herds, through cumulative increased mortality.

Environment Canada recommended that Northern Gateway implement a 4:1 ratio of habitat restored to habitat destroyed within those ranges of boreal and southern mountain woodland caribou where habitat is relatively more disturbed. Northern Gateway said that the ratio for habitat restoration could be a specific objective in certain areas and committed to a net decrease in linear feature density by removing existing access based on a 4:1 ratio of new access created by the project in the Little Smoky range.

Northern Gateway said that habitat availability and mortality risk are interrelated. In the case of the Little Smoky herd, the combined cumulative effects of development are significant, although the project's contribution to cumulative risk of mortality for caribou is not significant. Using the linear density threshold of 1.8 kilometres per square kilometre, Northern Gateway said that the project would not result in a significant cumulative effect on woodland caribou, including for the Little Smoky herd, in combination with other projects.

Northern Gateway said that it intends to achieve no net gain in linear feature density in sensitive areas for southern mountain caribou and a net decrease in linear feature density in the Little Smoky range. This would be done by developing and applying the Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan. Northern Gateway said that its Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Plan would include monitoring to ensure that habitat restoration and removal of linear features is successful. If monitoring indicates that mitigation measures are not effective, Northern Gateway would consider developing other mitigation measures based on the monitoring results.

Northern Gateway said that it has low confidence in the effectiveness of mitigation measures to reduce caribou mortality from increased linear feature density. Northern Gateway said that it would gauge the effectiveness of its mitigation measures through a monitoring program.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on woodland caribou

The primary concern for cumulative effects on woodland caribou is the potential for increased risk of mortality due to additional access for predators and humans because of additional linear disturbance from the project, which would act cumulatively with other projects and activities.

The Panel notes that, regardless of the linear disturbance threshold used by Northern Gateway and whether it is exceeded, Northern Gateway would implement substantial mitigation measures, such as a no net gain in linear feature density for southern mountain caribou and a net decrease in linear feature density for Little Smoky range. The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's focus on reducing the project's contribution to new linear features in undisturbed areas and its commitment to reduce linear features on other rights-of-way are appropriate.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's proposed measures to mitigate project effects on boreal woodland caribou, which is a listed species under the Species at Risk Act, follow Environment Canada's recommendations with respect to the federal recovery strategy for boreal woodland caribou.

Northern Gateway committed to develop an Access Management Plan. This would include a Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan, which would have an underlying objective of no net gain in linear feature density in sensitive areas of the pipeline route. The Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan would also aim for a net decrease in linear feature density where the pipeline corridor overlaps the Little Smoky caribou herd range. Northern Gateway plans to implement a follow-up program to assess the effectiveness of its Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan. The follow-up program would include provisions to apply adaptive management principles when required.

The Panel notes Northern Gateway's substantial mitigation commitments, and also its low confidence in those mitigation measures to reduce caribou mortality from increased linear feature density. The Panel is uncertain if 'no net gain' and a 'net decrease' in linear feature density can be reasonably achieved in a reasonable period of time. The Panel is also uncertain whether the Access Management Plan would achieve its objectives, given that both predators and humans can be difficult to deter from using a linear disturbance and because some access to rights-of-way are required for safety and security reasons.

Evaluation of adverse cumulative effects on woodland caribou after mitigation

Recommendation for significance of cumulative effects after mitigation

Northern Gateway committed to substantial mitigation, including goals for no net gain and a net decrease in linear feature density. The addition of linear features is a key concern for these threatened woodland caribou populations, and there is uncertainty about the effectiveness of the proposed mitigation to control access and achieve the goal of no net gain or net decrease in linear feature density. As a result, the Panel has taken a precautionary approach and recommends that there would likely be significant cumulative adverse effects on the Little Smoky local population of boreal caribou and on the four populations of southern mountain caribou (Hart Ranges, Telkwa, Quintette, and Narraway).

Recommendation for justification of significant effects

The Panel recommends that there would likely be significant cumulative adverse effects on caribou that can be justified in the circumstances, as set out in Chapter 2.

8.7.3.2 Grizzly bear

The Project Effects Assessment Area overlaps with seven grizzly bear population units in British Columbia and two grizzly bear management areas in Alberta. Local declines have occurred in many grizzly bear population units and bear management areas due to increased mortality, habitat loss, and habitat fragmentation. Grizzly bear is of conservation concern in British Columbia and Alberta, and is considered to be of special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Habitat availability

Northern Gateway said that vegetation clearing and sensory disturbance could affect grizzly bears through direct removal of spring and fall feeding habitat, which are limiting habitats for grizzly bears. Northern Gateway said that summer and winter construction activity would avoid most of the spring feeding times. Early emerging vegetation on the rights-of-way during spring may offset some spring feeding habitat lost during construction. The summer construction schedule in some construction spreads could affect fall feeding habitat for grizzly bears due to temporal overlap of construction activities with grizzly bear habitat use. Northern Gateway said that the pipeline corridor outlined in Route Revision V (December 2012) would affect less grizzly bear core habitat.

Northern Gateway also said that human use of the right-of-way would indirectly affect habitat availability to grizzly bears since they avoid human facilities and linear disturbances.

Swan River First Nation said that Northern Gateway's plans to offset grizzly bear habitat loss along the pipeline right-of-way conflicted with Northern Gateway's plans to discourage grizzly bears from the right-of-way by planting non-palatable natural vegetation. Northern Gateway said that, in some areas, grizzly bear use of the right-of-way would be encouraged and, in other areas, such as adjacent to transportation corridors, grizzly bear use would be discouraged.

Michel First Nation said that Northern Gateway should conduct ongoing monitoring to address potential longer-term loss of grizzly bear habitat. Northern Gateway proposed to conduct grizzly bear monitoring during construction and operations, including monitoring grizzly bear activity levels in areas of known and predicted high-quality spring and fall habitat, using camera surveys.

Mortality risk

Northern Gateway said that grizzly bears are at low risk of direct mortality due to collisions with project-related traffic because they are able to evade site-clearing machinery during construction and would avoid areas of concentrated activity. To mitigate direct mortality on grizzly bear from vehicle collisions, Northern Gateway proposed to discourage bears from using rights-of-way located near transportation corridors by planting non-palatable vegetation. Northern Gateway also proposed to conduct pre-construction grizzly bear den surveys during the fall to prevent direct mortality of grizzly bears during construction.

Northern Gateway said that approximately 69 per cent of the route (Route Revision V) would cross disturbed areas or parallel linear features.

Mitigation measures

In addition to general mitigation measures outlined in its application, Northern Gateway committed to:

  • an Access Management Plan and a Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan, with a goal of no net increase in linear feature density in sensitive areas, such as grizzly bear habitat;
  • conduct pre-construction grizzly bear den surveys in the fall when bears are digging and entering their dens, identify key denning habitat and spring feeding areas on alignment sheets, and avoid those areas during use by grizzly bears; and
  • plant palatable vegetation in certain right-of-way areas, and discourage grizzly bears from using rights-of-way near transportation corridors by planting non-palatable vegetation.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • collaborate with provincial wildlife authorities, as well as universities and participating Aboriginal groups, to support grizzly bear monitoring and conservation programs. Collaborative monitoring efforts would be applied and could include programs to estimate population size and trends, and to evaluate the effectiveness of conservation measures;
  • conduct grizzly bear monitoring during construction and operations, including monitoring grizzly bear activity levels in areas of known and predicted high-quality spring and fall habitat, using camera surveys; and
  • implement a follow-up program to monitor and assess the effectiveness of its Access Management Plan, including the Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan. Linear feature management and linear feature removal would be addressed as separate components when assessing effectiveness.

Views of the Panel

on project effects on grizzly bear

The Panel finds the project would have effects remaining on habitat availability after applying mitigation. Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation measures to reduce these effects include a route revision that affects less grizzly bear core habitat, and selecting suitable locations along the right-of-way to encourage or discourage grizzly bear use.

The Panel finds the project would also have effects remaining after mitigation on mortality risk from potential vehicle strikes and from the potential increase in access for humans. Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation measures to reduce such effects include access management measures to attempt to avoid increased human access. Northern Gateway said that approximately 69 per cent of the proposed corridor (as proposed in Route Revision V) is routed through disturbed areas or parallel to linear features. As such, 31 per cent would be constructed through areas that are not already disturbed or that do not parallel existing linear features. Most concerns raised by parties about mortality risk were in relation to cumulative effects and are discussed further below in the Panel's views on cumulative effects.

Northern Gateway's plans for collaborative monitoring efforts, including programs to estimate grizzly bear population size and trends and to evaluate conservation measures, are consistent with Michel First Nation's interest in ongoing monitoring to address the longer-term loss of grizzly bear habitat.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on grizzly bear (habitat availability) after mitigation

Temporal extent

Construction activities would lead to direct habitat loss, and sensory disturbance could lead to effective habitat loss, although the latter would diminish when construction activities are completed. Habitat alteration would last for the duration of project operations as the permanent right-of-way would be maintained in a semi-cleared state. Effects would be of shorter duration for temporary work areas. The permanent right-of-way, if maintained with palatable species in some areas, could provide some forage habitat for grizzly bear.

Spatial extent

Effective loss of habitat from sensory disturbance during construction activities would be localized, while habitat alteration would occur along the right-of-way.

Intensity

Habitat alteration is one of the reported causes for some grizzly bear populations being in decline, and so further habitat loss is of concern. While effective habitat loss from sensory disturbance would decrease after construction is completed, habitat alteration on the permanent right-of-way would last for the duration of project operations, although grizzly bears may use areas of the right-of-way planted with palatable species.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Because there are project effects remaining after mitigation that could combine with the effects of other past, present, and future projects, and because cumulative effects on grizzly bear are of primary concern, the Panel's significance recommendation is given below in its analysis of cumulative effects.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on grizzly bear (mortality risk) after mitigation

Temporal extent

The risk of vehicle collisions, although low, would be reduced post-construction. Mortality risk due to increased access would last for the duration of project operations as the permanent right-of-way would remain in a semi-cleared state, allowing some level of access even with mitigation measures in place to reduce it.

Spatial extent

The risk of vehicle collisions during construction would be localized. Mortality risk due to increased access would extend along the right-of-way and, if mortality is increased, effects might be seen at the population level.

Intensity

The increased risk of mortality from vehicle collisions is expected to be low with the implementation of mitigation measures. Increases in grizzly bear mortality from additional access due to the project would be greater in those areas where the project is not in already-disturbed areas or parallel to existing linear features. Although effects from the project alone would not likely affect the population level, the primary concern here is cumulative effects, as discussed below.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Because there are project effects remaining after mitigation that could combine with the effects of other past, present, and future projects and, because cumulative effects on grizzly bear are of primary concern, the Panel's significance recommendation is given below in its analysis of cumulative effects.

Cumulative effects on grizzly bear

Northern Gateway considered linear feature creation, such as the pipeline right-of-way, across the landscape to be a key concern for grizzly bear mortality due to increased human access. Northern Gateway said that an adaptive management approach to refine mitigation measures, an integrated Access Management Plan, and a program to manage linear feature density (its Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan) would together provide the best possible tools to reduce grizzly bear mortality risk.

Northern Gateway said that the project would contribute to an already highly-developed landscape in much of the Regional Effects Assessment Area. In 7 of the 9 grizzly bear units that intersect the Regional Effects Assessment Area, the density of linear features is already above the threshold that Northern Gateway chose for cumulative effects (0.6 kilometres per square kilometre). Northern Gateway adapted this metric from the density threshold used by the Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan and the British Columbia wildlife management strategy for grizzly bears (for density of open roads at which grizzly bear populations can no longer sustain an increase in direct and indirect mortality).

Swan River First Nation said that cumulative effects of habitat fragmentation on grizzly bear already appear to be considerable. It questioned how Northern Gateway would ensure mitigation is effective in avoiding significant cumulative effects on grizzly bear mortality in Alberta. It also requested information on Northern Gateway's planned follow-up studies to assess the performance of proposed mitigation, and how follow-up programs would inform adaptive management plans. Northern Gateway said that it recognizes the importance of adaptive management, and those principles would be applied where appropriate (e.g., as part of its Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan and its Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program).

East Prairie Métis Settlement and Horse Lake First Nation questioned how Northern Gateway would work with affected stakeholders to ensure that there is no net gain in linear access in areas with grizzly bear populations. Northern Gateway proposed to engage with Aboriginal groups whose known or core traditional territories overlap the priority areas identified, and to seek and incorporate input from those Aboriginal groups into its Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan.

Swan River First Nation asked for a list of adaptive management options available to Northern Gateway to ensure the success of mitigation and reclamation in the event that monitoring shows unexpected effects. Northern Gateway referred to its Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program as part of an adaptive management program.

Northern Gateway was asked if its Access Management Plan were to identify a decline in grizzly bear population, what per cent decline would have to occur to trigger action by Northern Gateway. Northern Gateway said that, if measures intended to restrict or inhibit human access are found to be ineffective, Northern Gateway would correct those measures. It did not provide a specific per cent decline that would trigger adaptive management action.

Northern Gateway said that, if effects of other projects are responsible for an already unacceptable state of the resource, it considers the project to contribute incrementally to an already significant cumulative effect. In considering significance of cumulative effects on grizzly bear mortality, Northern Gateway determined that incremental project effects adding to already significant cumulative effects are significant only if the incremental project effects cannot be effectively reduced or mitigated. As a result, Northern Gateway said that, for the seven of nine grizzly bear population units already above the linear density threshold, the project's contribution to cumulative increased mortality risk is not significant. Northern Gateway said that the cumulative effects of other projects are already responsible for a significant effect on grizzly bear mortality in those grizzly bear population units, to which the project effects would contribute incrementally after application of mitigation measures.

Northern Gateway said that, in the Bulkley-Lakes Grizzly Bear Population Unit, the project would increase linear feature density above the linear density threshold. This would result in a significant contribution to cumulative effects on grizzly bear mortality in the absence of effective mitigation and compensation. Northern Gateway said that it does not believe there would be a decline in grizzly bear populations given its commitment to implement its Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan in sensitive areas such as the Bulkley-Lakes Grizzly Bear Population Unit. Nevertheless, Northern Gateway indicated that the residual cumulative effect (after mitigation) for the Bulkley-Lakes Grizzly Bear Population Unit exceeds the linear feature density threshold. Northern Gateway said that its plan would follow adaptive management principles and would include methods to evaluate the effectiveness of linear feature management and removal techniques in reducing human use in sensitive wildlife areas. Northern Gateway said that it would implement the plan in all nine grizzly bear population units.

Swan River First Nation said that, according to Northern Gateway's application, grizzly bear mortality in Alberta should not exceed 4 per cent of the province's population per year, and that the death of 1 grizzly bear could push the direct mortality rate over that threshold. Swan River First Nation asked what response actions Northern Gateway would implement if the mortality threshold is exceeded. Northern Gateway said that it is committed to mitigation measures aimed at minimizing project-related mortality risk for grizzly bears, such as den surveys. It said that it is also committed to reducing the project's contribution to linear feature density (which functions as an indicator of grizzly bear mortality risk). Northern Gateway said that the primary management tool to accomplish this is its Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan. If measures intended to restrict or inhibit human access require improvement, Northern Gateway would re-examine its mitigation measures.

Northern Gateway had low confidence in the effectiveness of its proposed mitigation measures to reduce grizzly bear mortality through access management because human use of the right-of-way is unpredictable. Northern Gateway proposed to monitor the effectiveness of its Access Management Plan and Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan, and to use an adaptive management approach to refine those plans, if required. If measures intended to restrict or inhibit human access (such as placing berms, large woody debris, slash or rock piles, and gates) are found to be ineffective, Northern Gateway would correct those mitigation measures.

Views of the Panel

Cumulative effects are already above the linear feature density threshold for seven of the nine grizzly bear population units, and the project is likely to increase linear density above the threshold for the Bulkley-Lakes Grizzly Bear Population Unit. The Panel finds that the project is not likely to increase the linear feature density measure above the threshold for the Parsnip Grizzly Bear Population Unit.

Northern Gateway made substantial commitments to reduce project effects on grizzly bear, including an Access Management Plan and a Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan, with a goal of no net increase in linear feature density in sensitive areas, such as grizzly bear habitat. Northern Gateway had low confidence in its proposed mitigation measures to reduce grizzly bear mortality risk. The Panel is likewise uncertain as to the likelihood of this mitigation's effectiveness, given that human use of a right-of-way is difficult to control and unpredictable, some access to rights-of-way is required for safety and security reasons, and because of the conceptual nature of the plans provided.

The Panel accepts that the identification of further actions and mitigation measures, as part of an adaptive management approach if monitoring indicates that mitigation measures are not working, would be based on the results of monitoring, and that further mitigation measures cannot always be identified until monitoring helps identify underlying problems. The Panel remains uncertain as to the potential effectiveness of adaptive management to identify and remedy shortcomings in the initial mitigation.

The Panel requires Northern Gateway to develop and implement its Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan that would include no net increase in linear feature density in sensitive areas, such as grizzly bear habitat. The Panel also requires Northern Gateway to develop and implement its Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program that would include Northern Gateway's monitoring of grizzly bear during construction and operations in collaboration with provincial wildlife authorities, participating Aboriginal groups, and research organizations.

The Panel requires Northern Gateway to develop and implement its Access Management Plan that would include a description of adaptive management measures available and the criteria that Northern Gateway would use to determine if and when adaptive management measures are warranted.

Evaluation of adverse cumulative effects on grizzly bear after mitigation

Recommendation for significance of cumulative effects after mitigation

Northern Gateway made substantial commitments to mitigate project effects on grizzly bear, which include a goal of no net increase in linear feature density in sensitive areas, such as grizzly bear habitat. Grizzly bear is a species of concern and increased access via additional linear disturbances is one of the causes of population declines. There is uncertainty over the effectiveness of Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation to control access and achieve the goal of no net gain in linear feature density. The Panel has taken a precautionary approach and recommends that there would likely be significant cumulative adverse effects on those eight grizzly bear populations that are, or would be over, the linear density threshold (i.e., all population units/management areas overlapped by the Project Effects Assessment Area other than the Parsnip Grizzly Bear Population Unit).

Recommendation for justification of significant effects

The Panel recommends that there would likely be significant cumulative adverse effects on grizzly bear that can be justified in the circumstances, as set out in Chapter 2.

8.7.3.3 Terrestrial birds

Table 8.1 Potentially-affected terrestrial bird species listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act

Species Status Critical Habitat / Recovery Strategy
Northern goshawk Threatened No recovery strategy, action plan, or management plan available.
Marbled murrelet* Threatened No recovery strategy, action plan, or management plan available.
Common nighthawk Threatened No recovery strategy, action plan, or management plan available.
Olive-sided flycatcher Threatened No recovery strategy, action plan, or management plan available.
Sprague's pipit Threatened Critical habitat is partially identified for Sprague's pipit in southeastern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan.
Canada warbler Threatened No recovery strategy, action plan, or management plan available.
Pacific great blue heron Special Concern No recovery strategy, action plan, or management plan available.
Yellow rail Special Concern No recovery strategy or action plan available. Management plan indicates that major threat to species is from loss and degradation of wetlands.
Long-billed curlew Special Concern No recovery strategy or action plan available. Management plan indicates that major threats to species include energy development, leading to habitat loss and fragmentation, and direct morality from collisions with vehicles.
Band-tailed pigeon Special Concern No recovery strategy, action plan, or management plan available.
Western screech owl Special Concern No recovery strategy, action plan, or management plan available.
Short-eared owl Special Concern No recovery strategy, action plan, or management plan available.
Rusty blackbird Special Concern No recovery strategy, action plan, or management plan available.

* Marbled murrelet considered terrestrial with respect to nesting habitat.

Northern Gateway said that project construction and operations could result in direct habitat loss from vegetation clearing, and indirect habitat loss from sensory disturbance and habitat fragmentation (subdividing continuous habitat into smaller pieces). Northern Gateway also said that the project could result in direct bird mortality from nest destruction and collisions with vehicles.

Northern Gateway said that the right-of-way would not prevent the overall movement of terrestrial birds, though it may temporarily deter movements of some forest birds. Sensory disturbance during construction may cause birds to avoid construction areas. Northern Gateway said that the effects would be short-term, since construction disturbances would last for a period of only days to weeks in a given area and birds would return after the disturbances cease.

Habitat availability

Various participants recommended that Northern Gateway avoid areas of suitable terrestrial bird habitat, to the extent possible, and that it clear vegetation outside of the migratory bird breeding season. Environment Canada recommended that Northern Gateway implement additional species-specific timing restrictions for provincially- and federally-listed bird species.

Environment Canada was concerned about project effects on marbled murrelet nesting habitat and recommended that Northern Gateway avoid clearing within wildlife habitat areas or old growth management areas in British Columbia. It also recommended that Northern Gateway avoid bisecting large tracts of undisturbed habitat suitable for marbled murrelet.

Environment Canada, East Prairie Métis Settlement, Horse Lake First Nation, and Driftpile Cree Nation recommended that Northern Gateway implement setbacks around nests. Environment Canada recommended that active nests be protected with a suitable buffer until the young have fledged. Environment Canada also recommended that, where very limited construction activities must proceed during the nesting season, a qualified avian biologist survey the habitat within 7 days before starting construction to ensure that nests would not be affected.

Northern Gateway committed to complete a pre-construction breeding bird survey, as well as site-specific surveys of bird habitat and use along the pipeline right-of-way as part of centreline surveys. Northern Gateway committed to prepare environmental alignment sheets that would detail location-specific mitigation measures, such as appropriate clearing windows. Northern Gateway said that it would avoid disturbing sensitive wildlife areas by siting the pipelines and other infrastructure in disturbed or less sensitive areas.

Mortality

Northern Gateway said that the greatest risk of mortality to terrestrial birds during construction is nest destruction and mortality of chicks and eggs associated with vegetation clearing. Sensory disturbance during project operations may also cause mortality of chicks and eggs through exposure if brooding birds abandon nests. Creation of edge habitat from right-of-way clearing may result in increased nest predation and parasitism by opportunistic species like brown-headed cowbird.

BC Nature and Nature Canada said that collisions with power lines are a cause of mortality for many bird species. Waterfowl, including ducks, geese, swans, cranes, and shorebirds, are most susceptible to collisions when power lines are located near wetlands.

Northern Gateway said that adherence to work windows, setback distances, and buffer zones around nests would prevent disturbance and protect terrestrial bird habitat until young are fledged. Northern Gateway also proposed to cover energized areas of power lines to prevent electrocution of birds.

Species at risk

Thirteen terrestrial bird species listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act could potentially be affected by the project (see Table 8.1). Critical habitat is identified in a recovery strategy for Sprague's pipit only. The identified habitat is located outside of the project area. Recovery strategies are not available for any other terrestrial bird species at risk.

Mitigation measures

In addition to the general mitigation measures outlined in its application, Northern Gateway committed to:

  • complete a pre-construction breeding bird survey, as well as site-specific surveys of bird habitat and use along the pipeline right-of-way as part of centreline surveys, and to prepare environmental alignment sheets that would detail location-specific mitigation measures, such as appropriate clearing windows and buffers around activity nests and broods;
  • develop a protocol with provincial and federal regulatory authorities to minimize risk to Species at Risk Act-listed and migratory nesting birds, if clearing must take place during critical nesting periods. The protocol would include pre-clearing nest searches, monitoring, and adherence to setback distances;
  • identify active and potentially-active marbled murrelet nest trees during pre-construction centerline surveys and pre-clearing surveys, if clearing must take place during its nesting period. A buffer zone of 200 metres of undisturbed vegetation would be established around the nest site until the young have fledged or are otherwise no longer present. Northern Gateway would consult with appropriate regulators if disturbance is unavoidable; and
  • cover energized surfaces of power lines with protective devices to protect birds from electrocution.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • conduct trumpeter swan aerial surveys before and after construction to determine occupancy of sites and implications for the effectiveness of mitigation measures, as part of its Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program.

Views of the Panel

on project effects on terrestrial birds

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation measures, including pre-construction surveys, setbacks from active nests, and least risk periods for clearing, would sufficiently reduce project effects on terrestrial bird habitat availability and mortality risk.

With respect to listed terrestrial bird species at risk, Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation measures would sufficiently reduce project effects on Species at Risk Act Schedule 1-listed bird species. The project would not adversely affect critical habitat for Sprague's pipit, as the project is sited outside of this species' identified critical habitat.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on terrestrial birds (habitat availability) after mitigation

Temporal extent

Sensory disturbance from construction would diminish quickly as construction proceeds along the right-of-way. Habitat loss would be of shorter duration on temporary work areas, but of longer duration (i.e., project lifespan) on the permanent right-of-way, although grasses and shrub vegetation would be allowed to grow on the right-of-way after construction.

Spatial extent

Both sensory disturbance and clearing would be local to the project area.

Intensity

Although habitat would be affected long-term on the right-of-way, mitigation includes siting the pipelines in disturbed or less sensitive areas to reduce effects. Overall bird movement is not expected to be affected post-construction.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given the relatively local spatial extent of effects and the mitigation measures that Northern Gateway would apply, the Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to terrestrial bird habitat availability.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on terrestrial birds (mortality risk) after mitigation

Temporal extent

The potential for mortality due to vegetation clearing is short-term as construction moves along the right-of-way. The potential for mortality due to edge effects from vegetation clearing leading to increased nest predation and parasitism, and from collisions with power lines, would last for the duration of project operations. Effects are likely to be reversible at the population level.

Spatial extent

Localized at sites of vegetation clearing and infrastructure.

Intensity

Mitigation, such as the pre-construction breeding bird survey, clearing windows, setback distances, buffer zones, and covering energized areas of power lines, would reduce effects. Effects remaining after mitigation would be on individuals and are not expected at the population level.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given the proposed mitigation, the relatively local effects remaining after mitigation, and the expectation that effects are not likely to affect the population level, the Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to mortality risk to terrestrial birds.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on terrestrial birds

The Panel finds that the project would result in adverse effects on terrestrial birds after applying mitigation. These effects would not be significant. Sensory disturbance, habitat clearing, and mortality would be localized to the right-of-way and project infrastructure sites, limiting the potential for cumulative effects. Standard mitigation would be applied and effects after mitigation are not expected at the population level. The Panel finds that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects is not required for effects on terrestrial birds.

8.7.3.4 Amphibians

Northern Gateway said that coastal tailed frog, western toad, and northern leopard frog may be found in the project area. Northern leopard frog and western toad are both pond-dwelling amphibians. All three species are listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. There are no recovery strategies, action plans, or management plans for either the western toad or coastal tailed frog. A management strategy for the northern leopard frog says threats to the species include filling and draining waterbodies.

Northern Gateway said that losses of individual amphibians or small groups of amphibians would occur, though those losses are not expected to affect the viability of amphibian populations.

East Prairie Métis Settlement and Horse Lake First Nation said that the project may increase amphibian mortality from vehicle collisions on access roads, contamination of wetlands and ponds from road runoff and spills, and from hydrology changes in wetlands and ponds. These parties said that western toads hibernate in the forest ecosystem under loose bark or leaf litter on the forest floor. East Prairie Métis Settlement and Horse Lake First Nation asked if there would be measures in place to protect amphibians hibernating on the forest floor from construction activities. They recommended day-lighting of culverts to prevent amphibians' use of roadways.

Northern Gateway said that, although there may be an effect remaining after mitigation on mortality risk associated with access roads, it expected this effect to be reduced during construction. Northern Gateway would accomplish this by identifying any site-specific issues, such as amphibian road-crossing points, and applying adaptive management practices, such as installing crossing structures and removing artificially-created habitat adjacent to roads.

Mitigation measures

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • conduct amphibian surveys as part of centerline surveys, and to target western toads, coastal tailed frog, and other amphibians of concern as part of its Wetland Function Assessment Plan;
  • work with provincial authorities to identify correct construction timing constraints for amphibians;
  • avoid disturbing wetlands by siting the pipelines and other infrastructure in disturbed or less sensitive areas;
  • place large, coarse woody debris on the right-of-way after construction adjacent to streams suitable as habitat for coastal tailed frog;
  • maintain setbacks at trenchless watercourse crossings and wetlands;
  • salvage and relocate egg masses, tadpoles, juveniles, and adults found in the right-of-way at trenched watercourse crossings; and
  • use culverts to avoid creating artificial breeding ponds near active access roads in order to reduce amphibian mortality.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • compliance monitoring by a project environmental inspector to confirm that mitigation measures are implemented; and
  • conduct surveys of streams into which coastal tailed frogs were relocated before construction.

Views of the Panel

on project effects on amphibians

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation measures would adequately reduce project effects on amphibian habitat availability and mortality risk. Its general mitigation measures and specific mitigation measures related to wetland habitat are reasonable in the absence of critical habitat identification in recovery strategies for any of the three amphibian species listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on (habitat availability) amphibians after mitigation

Temporal extent

For coastal tailed frog: Short-term sensory disturbance effects on aquatic habitat during construction activities. These watercourse crossings would be reclaimed after construction.

For pond-dwelling amphibians: Effects from removal of terrestrial habitat would last for the entire project lifespan, or for at least a few years until wetland compensation habitat reaches a functioning state.

Effects are expected to be reversible.

Spatial extent

For coastal tailed frog: Spatial extent is limited to local disturbance at trenched watercourse crossings.

For pond-dwelling amphibians: Direct disturbance would be local.

Intensity

For coastal tailed frog: Disturbance would be relatively minor given mitigation, such as amphibian surveys, avoidance of sensitive areas, and setbacks at trenchless crossings and wetlands.

For pond-dwelling amphibians: Wetlands would be affected by project activities, although they would be reclaimed, post-construction, to previous functioning. Unavoidable effects to wetlands would be compensated.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given the proposed mitigation and that effects would be localized and not likely to affect the sustainability of coastal tailed frog or pond-dwelling amphibians, the Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to amphibian habitat availability.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on amphibians (mortality risk) after mitigation

Temporal extent

Amphibian mortality would occur since some groups or individuals would be lost during construction. Coastal tailed frog and pond-dwelling amphibian mortality would likely be restricted to the construction phase. The right-of-way would be maintained after construction, although this is not likely to affect mortality of coastal tailed frog or pond-dwelling amphibians. Hibernating pond-dwelling amphibians are found under leaf litter which would not likely accumulate on the cleared right-of-way.

Spatial extent

Local at the project sites.

Intensity

Losses are expected to be relatively small given mitigation, such as salvage and relocation at trenched watercourse crossings. Losses are not expected to affect the viability of amphibian populations.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given proposed mitigation and that effects would be localized, the Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to amphibian mortality risk.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on amphibians

The Panel finds that the project would result in adverse effects on amphibians after applying mitigation. These effects would not be significant. Project effects would be localized to the project sites and relatively minor and are not likely to interact cumulatively with other projects. Watercourse crossings and wetlands would be reclaimed after construction to previous functioning. The Panel finds that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects is not required for effects on amphibians.

8.7.4 Freshwater fish and fish habitat

Background

The pipeline route would cross six major watershed drainages, including drainages of the North Saskat­chewan, Athabasca, Peace, Fraser, Skeena, and Kitimat Rivers (Figure 8.6). Within these drainages, there are nearly 1,000 defined watercourses that would be crossed by the pipeline right-of-way, temporary and permanent access roads, power lines, and the Kitimat Terminal. Larger watercourses flow year-round, while most of the smaller ones are seasonal.

The majority of watercourses that would be crossed support fish populations. Results from Northern Gateway's literature reviews and field programs indicate the occurrence of 58 fish species near the pipeline right-of-way. These include 27 species commonly targeted by recreational anglers, such as salmonids, walleye, sturgeon, sauger, and northern pike, as well as other large-bodied species that are not targeted for sport fishing, and small forage fish serving as prey items for larger fish.

Salmon is a regionally-important species that contributes to sport, commercial, and traditional use fisheries throughout coastal and interior British Columbia. All five Pacific salmon species (chinook, coho, sockeye, pink, and chum) and steelhead are found in the Skeena and Kitimat River drainages. Chinook, sockeye, and coho salmon are also present along the pipeline route within the Fraser drainage. The Morice River is a major fish-producing tributary of the Skeena River that supports important populations of salmon, trout, steelhead, and char species.

The white sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish in Canada. The Nechako River white sturgeon population is in a critical state of decline and is listed as Endangered on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act, making it illegal to kill, harm, harass, or capture individuals. Sturgeon habitat is protected from degradation, disruption, or destruction under the federal Fisheries Act. The Nechako River white sturgeon is present in the Stuart and Endako Rivers in British Columbia.

Watercourse crossing methods

Selecting a watercourse crossing method is an exercise in striking a balance among geo-technical, environmental, and economic considerations to derive the most practical solution. Two primary watercourse crossing methods are trenchless and trenched crossings.

Trenchless techniques require limited or no in-stream construction, and so cause little to no disturbance to the watercourse bed and banks. Trenchless techniques, such as drilling under a watercourse (Figure 8.7)or installing an aerial crossing above a watercourse, are designed to limit disturbance to the streambed and riparian area. These methods often require a longer time frame to complete.

Trenched techniques affect the watercourse bed and banks and are typically referred to as either "wet open-cut" or "isolation" techniques. During an open-cut installation, the pipe trench is excavated and backfilled using either a backhoe or dredging equipment in the stream channel. Wet open-cut crossings are undertaken in a flowing stream and typically result in some degree of short-term, increased sedimentation downstream. Isolation techniques, on the other hand, separate the construction activities from stream flow using high volume pumps, dams, culverts, or other methods to divert stream flow around the trench excavation and pipe installation.

Figure 8.6 Watershed Boundaries

The proposed pipeline route would cross six major watersheds between Alberta and the West Coast.

Figure 8.6 Watershed Boundaries

Figure 8.7 Horizontal Directional Drilling

Directional drilling or boring would avoid disturbing the bed and banks of fish-bearing watercourses.

Figure 8.7 Horizontal Directional Drilling

Baseline data

Northern Gateway completed standard baseline fish and fish habitat surveys for most of the proposed watercourse crossings. Additional habitat surveys to verify site-specific fish use information and spawning habitat potential were conducted at potential high-risk crossings (where in-stream activities were likely to result in a harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction to fish habitat) and at selected watercourse crossings with high habitat sensitivity. Where field data was not collected, Northern Gateway relied on published information or information extrapolated from public data for nearby sites. Where insufficient data existed to verify fish presence or absence, fish habitat was assumed to be present. Northern Gateway proposed completing field work at unsurveyed sites and potential compensation sites prior to the Fisheries Act permitting phase and project construction.

Several parties were concerned that the baseline data presented by Northern Gateway was inadequate. Haisla Nation requested baseline information on the timing and use of habitat by life stage of each fish species inhabiting the Kitimat River. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that incomplete or dated information is a key area of uncertainty, though Northern Gateway provided processes or methods to address this.

Northern Gateway said that the flow volumes during the proposed construction season for all crossing locations with no available survey or supplemental data were less than 0.5 cubic metres per second and rated as low-risk. Northern Gateway would survey unsurveyed watercourse crossings prior to submitting regulatory permitting applications and during detailed design.

Assessment approach

Northern Gateway said that interactions between fisheries resources and construction, operations, and decommissioning activities for pipelines, power lines, roads, and terminal development are well understood. Within all three project phases, there are activities with the potential to affect the productive capacity of fish habitat, fish mortality and health, and fish migration.

Northern Gateway followed Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Risk Management Framework to evaluate the project's potential for a harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat, based on habitat sensitivity and potential severity of adverse environmental effects.

The Coalition and the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union questioned Northern Gateway's application of a habitat-based assessment, rather than focusing on conservation units. Conservation units are defined as groups of wild salmon sufficiently isolated from other groups that, if lost, would be unlikely to re-colonize naturally within an acceptable time frame. The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union said that the proposed pipeline route would run through a number of salmon fisheries conservation units and many important spawning areas.

Northern Gateway responded that, while conservation unit status is an important consideration, the only way to have an adverse effect during construction and operations is through habitat alteration. Northern Gateway said that there would not be adverse effects to habitat as a result of the project and, therefore, there would not be effects on the fish.

Project effects

Northern Gateway said that potential effects of construction on fish habitat productive capacity include changes to habitat structure and cover, sediment concentrations, water temperature, nutrient concentrations, food supply, and in migration or access to habitats. The extent to which fish habitat productive capacity may be altered by the project's pipeline watercourse crossing construction activities depends on the crossing method, construction windows, duration of in-stream construction and habitat restoration, as well as the sensitivity of the habitat to disturbance (e.g., species sensitivity, habitat dependency and resiliency).

Freshwater fish habitat

Northern Gateway said that fish-bearing watercourses would be affected by power line, road, and pipeline crossings, and by construction of the Kitimat Terminal. Northern Gateway said that power line and road crossings can be completed without a harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat, by applying best management practices.

The Kitimat Terminal would require substantial modification or infilling of approximately 1,500 metres of the tributaries of Renegade Creek in the Douglas Channel watershed, resulting in a direct loss of fish habitat. Northern Gateway said that no fish were observed in either tributary, though there is connectivity to known fish-bearing reaches of Renegade Creek. The permanently lost sections of these two tributaries would be compensated for through Northern Gateway's Freshwater Fish and Fish Habitat Compensation Plan. The development would also result in flow reductions in Renegade Creek from these watercourses, resulting in reduced quality of habitat downstream.

Sediment concentrations

Northern Gateway predicted little to no effects at watercourse crossings where trenchless methods are used. Project effects would be greater at trenched crossings (isolated and open-cut), where construction activities would occur in or adjacent to active channels.

Of the potential identified effects at trenched crossings, Northern Gateway said that increased sediment concentrations pose the greatest risk to the productive capacity of watercourses to be crossed by the right-of-way. High levels of turbidity and suspended sediments can affect the ability to feed, increase susceptibility to predation, suppress immune function and reproduction, and, in extreme levels, cause the direct mortality of fish.

The Coalition said that salmon are highly sensitive to sedimentation increases, which can cause adverse effects ranging from increased mortality to changes in behavior. Northern Gateway said that sedimentation increases can be effectively mitigated using appropriate watercourse crossing techniques, avoiding crossings with unstable channel beds and banks, and re-vegetating channel banks after construction to increase bank stability.

Least risk periods

During certain time periods and seasons, effects of in-stream work and habitat alteration can be particularly harmful to fish egg incubation and fish growth and development. Northern Gateway characterized its preferred timing of in-stream works to avoid these times as "least risk periods." Northern Gateway's defined least risk periods are based on known or suspected fish species present in the stream or watershed. Northern Gateway committed to establish a provisional least risk period for streams with no established least risk period.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that least risk periods are a best management practice and are not specifically required. It also said that other mitigation measures may be applied to protect fish and fish habitat.

Northern Gateway said that 77 watercourses along the project route have no established least risk period due to overlapping spawning and incubation times of various salmon, trout, char, and whitefish in the watersheds. As a result, any in-stream works would pose potential risks to fish health and may result in increased mortality risk to spawning fish or developing embryos.

Horse Lake First Nation questioned Northern Gateway's ability and commitment to work within least risk periods. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that it expects the majority of in-stream works, particularly those in more sensitive and valuable fish habitats, to be scheduled during least risk periods. Fisheries and Oceans Canada recognized that, in some cases, this may not be possible. For this project, it acknowledged that Northern Gateway may apply other applicable mitigation measures to protect fish and fish habitat. Mitigation options include alternate crossing methods and other mitigation measures outlined in Northern Gateway's Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that it was generally satisfied with Northern Gateway's approach to selecting construction techniques and that the risk to fish and fish habitat in the freshwater environment could be managed by implementing appropriate mitigation and compensation measures, provided that Northern Gateway meets its commitments to mitigate and offset effects.

Northern Gateway made commitments with respect to the Nechako River white sturgeon population in the Stuart and Endako Rivers, including a commitment to use trenchless crossing methods for both rivers. Northern Gateway identified mitigation measures in its White Sturgeon Environmental Protection and Mitigation Plan.

Mitigation measures

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • primary and contingency watercourse crossing techniques based on sensitivity of the fish and fish habitat, channel size, and expected discharge at the proposed time of construction;
  • leave shrubs, stumps, and root systems in place within 16 metres of pipeline watercourse crossings. Riparian areas, banks, and in-stream habitats would be stabilized immediately, upon completion of work, to reduce erosion risks following construction;
  • mitigation measures with respect to watercourse crossings included in its preliminary Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan;
  • a White Sturgeon Environmental Protection and Mitigation Plan to minimize potential effects on the Nechako River white sturgeon population, and trenchless crossing methods for the Stuart and Endako Rivers, where white sturgeon are known to occur;
  • conduct in-stream works during the least risk periods that have been identified for each particular crossing or variance approved by federal and provincial fisheries authorities;
  • conduct additional site sampling on streams with no established least risk period to establish a provisional least risk period that reflects actual habitat use by fish during that period;
  • where adverse effects cannot be avoided or mitigated, develop a Freshwater Fish and Fish Habitat Compensation Plan in cooperation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, according to its policies and mandate, to offset the corresponding loss of habitat productive capacity. A final plan would be developed prior to construction and would be submitted as part of Northern Gateway's application for a subsection 35(2) Fisheries Act authorization for any harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat that might occur because of the project.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to provide full-time construction monitoring for in-stream works, or works that pose moderate- to high-risk to fish habitats. Monitoring commitments with respect to watercourse crossings are outlined in the preliminary Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan.

Northern Gateway did not propose a follow-up program for project effects on fish and fish habitat. It would undertake post-construction follow-up programs if Fisheries and Oceans Canada determines that a harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat would occur, or if an unanticipated environmental effect occurs.

Views of the Panel

on project effects on freshwater fish and fish habitat

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway has provided an adequate level of information to understand the likely effects of the project on fish and fish habitat, and whether project effects would be significant. Given the risk management approach undertaken by Northern Gateway, and its commitment to continued watercourse crossing refinements, the Panel is satisfied that Northern Gateway can manage risks to fish and fish habitat resulting from the project by applying appropriate mitigation measures. The Panel requires Northern Gateway to develop site-specific watercourse crossing plans to demonstrate that the potential adverse effects to fish and fish habitat can be kept sufficiently small.

Northern Gateway committed to work within established least risk periods. Limiting in-stream works to least risk periods reduces risks for some of the more vulnerable life stages of fish by avoiding times of spawning and egg incubation. Least risk periods are a best practice and not specifically required under the federal Fisheries Act. Northern Gateway may still apply other applicable mitigation measures if needed, such as alternate crossing methods, to protect fish and fish habitat in watercourses that do not have an established least risk period.

The Panel requires Northern Gateway to specify its provisional least risk period for each watercourse crossing without an established least risk period, the rationale for the provisional period, any additional mitigation measures to be applied, and a summary of its consultation on the provisional period and proposed mitigation measures.

Northern Gateway has used Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Risk Management Framework to evaluate the project's potential for a harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat. Northern Gateway's habitat-based approach is appropriate. Fisheries resources can be protected through appropriate mitigation and by protecting fish habitat, provided Northern Gateway meets its commitments to mitigate and offset adverse effects.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation measures, including its commitment to use trenchless crossings for the Stuart and Endako Rivers, which are habitat for the Nechako River white sturgeon population, are sound.

Pipeline construction pathways of effects on fish and fish habitat are well understood and standard mitigation measures can be used to minimize adverse effects to habitat. The Panel finds that the project would not result in a long-term adverse effect on fish populations.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on freshwater fish and fish habitat after mitigation

Temporal extent

Effects are anticipated to be limited to the construction season and predicted to be reversible for most crossings except two tributaries to Renegade Creek, which would be in-filled for terminal construction.

Spatial extent

Effects would be localized to each crossing and its zone of influence.

Intensity

Given the proposed mitigation (including appropriate crossing techniques, least risk periods, and stabilization to control erosion), no measureable reduction in numbers of any fish species is anticipated, and any serious harm to fish and fish habitat would be offset through the Freshwater Fish and Fish Habitat Compensation Plan.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given the proposed mitigation (including offsets) and the localized nature of effects, the Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to freshwater fish and fish habitat.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on freshwater fish and fish habitat

The Panel finds that the project would result in adverse effects on freshwater fish and fish habitat after applying mitigation. These effects would not be significant. Pipeline construction pathways of effects on fish and fish habitat are well understood, effects would be localized, and standard mitigation measures can be used to minimize adverse effects to habitat, limiting the potential for cumulative effects. The Panel finds that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects is not required for effects on freshwater fish and fish habitat.

8.7.5 Surface and groundwater resources

The primary concern about surface and groundwater resources is that the project could lead to increased acidity in runoff and seepage water by exposing rock that contains reactive sulphide minerals, such as pyrite.

The Office of the Wet'suwet'en were concerned about the exposure of potentially acid-generating rock at the Clore tunnel site because it is located upstream from high-value salmon habitats with pristine water quality.

Northern Gateway said that a priority for water management is avoiding mixing pristine waters with waters potentially affected by acid-generating material. Surface water can be diverted around exposed rock or drain pipes can be installed to drain groundwater. Under certain circumstances, drainage channels can be lined with limestone to provide added neutralization capacity.

Environment Canada was satisfied that the implementation of Northern Gateway's commitments would protect surface water quality from acid rock drainage. Environment Canada recommended that Northern Gateway engage appropriate regulatory authorities, including Environment Canada, in developing final acid rock management procedures and mitigation measures prior to construction.

Mitigation measures

In addition to the general mitigation measures outlined in its application, Northern Gateway committed to:

  • implement site-specific measures and mitigation strategies that would be developed after detailed design, as stated in the Acid Rock Management Plan that was submitted as part of the preliminary Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan;
  • complete annual aerial right-of-way reconnaissance to confirm the effectiveness of the drainage mitigation measures implemented during construction;
  • undertake annual groundwater quality monitoring at pump stations and the Kitimat Terminal during operations;
  • carry out blasting activities as outlined in the Blasting Management Plan, which includes identifying and collecting data from groundwater wells within 500 metres of blasting.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • monitor for acid rock drainage during construction, as outlined in its Acid Rock Drainage and Metal Leaching Field Investigation Report;
  • post-construction monitoring to confirm the potential effects on surface water and groundwater quality from exposure of potentially acid-generating rock, based on conditions identified during construction;
  • Northern Gateway proposed a follow-up program to determine the water quality of groundwater drainage from the portals of the Hoult and Clore tunnels.

Views of the Panel

on project effects on surface and groundwater resources

In the context of this project, acid rock drainage potential is a key water quality issue. The extent of potentially acid-generating rock has not been fully determined. Northern Gateway said that it would develop site-specific mitigation measures for acid rock drainage during detailed engineering and it committed to engaging appropriate regulatory authorities, including Environment Canada, in developing final acid rock management procedures and mitigation measures. The Panel finds that site-specific mitigation measures for acid rock drainage are sufficiently well-known and it is satisfied that effective site-specific mitigation can be developed.

Subsection 36(3) of the Fisheries Act prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances in water frequented by fish. The Fisheries Act defines a deleterious substance as any substance that, if added to water, makes the water deleterious to fish or fish habitat. Environment Canada is responsible for administering this subsection.

To prevent environmental degradation from acid rock drainage, the Panel requires Northern Gateway to develop and implement an acid rock drainage monitoring and follow-up program. This program would determine the post-construction water quality of groundwater drainage from the Hoult and Clore tunnel portals, all acid rock storage sites, and receiving water bodies.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on surface and groundwater resources after mitigation

Temporal extent

Hydrological effects are generally reversible, with the exception of groundwater drainage from the Hoult and Clore tunnels, which is expected to be permanent.

Spatial extent

Limited to areas of high potential for acid-generating rock, such as the Hoult and Clore tunnels.

Intensity

Only preliminary estimates of groundwater discharges from the Hoult and Clore tunnels are available. Appropriate mitigation measures are understood and would be implemented to prevent environmental degradation from acid rock drainage.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given that appropriate mitigation would be developed, the Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to surface and groundwater resources.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on surface and groundwater resources

The Panel finds that the project would result in adverse effects on surface and groundwater resources after applying mitigation. These effects would not be significant. Mitigation measures for acid-generating rock would effectively reduce the potential for effects on surface and groundwater resources and potential for interaction with effects of other projects is limited. The Panel finds that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects is not required for effects on surface and groundwater resources.

8.7.6 Marine mammals

Northern Gateway said that interactions between marine mammals and project-related marine transportation are expected to occur in the Confined Channel Assessment Area and Open Water Area during construction, operations, and decommissioning. Potential marine transportation issues that Northern Gateway identified in its application include physical injury or death from vessel strikes and behavioural effects due to underwater noise from vessels. Northern Gateway said that reporting traffic in Wright Sound can vary, but project-associated tankers would represent 10 per cent of reporting traffic. Project-associated tankers would represent approximately one-third of reporting traffic in Douglas Channel.

Baseline data

Northern Gateway said that there is limited knowledge concerning the abundance, distribution, and critical habitat of many marine mammal species, particularly for those that are rare or that inhabit remote, seldom-visited areas. Northern Gateway reviewed data sources for marine mammals from government documents, journal articles, regulatory sources, and personal communications. Northern Gateway also conducted surveys for marine mammals to inform its assessment of the environmental effects of the project by describing the presence, distribution, and relative abundance of marine mammals potentially affected by project-related marine transportation. Northern Gateway said that the amount and quality of baseline information it collected was appropriate for the purposes of its environmental assessment.

Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Coastal First Nations, North Coast Cetacean Society, and Gitga'at First Nation said that Northern Gateway's marine mammal surveys were technically inadequate to provide the necessary information about seasonal marine mammal densities and distribution to understand potential effects of the project. Intervenors said that more comprehensive marine mammal surveys should be conducted prior to making a decision on the project so that effects can be fully appreciated. For example, Raincoast Conservation Foundation said that baseline surveys should have provided population and density estimates for all species present in the project area to allow regional comparisons.

Northern Gateway committed to conducting additional marine mammal surveys of the Confined Channel Assessment Area, if the project is approved. Trained observers would complete additional surveys using appropriate survey techniques 6 to 12 times per year during the terminal construction period, and for a minimum of 3 years before starting terminal operations, and 3 years into operations. The purpose of these surveys would be to determine which species occur in the Confined Channel Assessment Area and approaches, how these species are using the habitat, the frequency of use, seasonality and timing of occurrence, density, and distribution. The presence of any marine mammal species, whether the species was selected as key indicator species or not, would be recorded during monitoring surveys as part of the Marine Mammal Protection Plan. In addition, Northern Gateway committed to undertaking a cooperative marine mammal research initiative and broad-scale regional assessment program in collaboration with other interested parties to fill gaps in baseline information and increase confidence in significance predictions. Northern Gateway said that the results of its additional marine mammals surveys, and research conducted by a collaborative marine research program, would inform its Marine Mammal Protection Plan and the plan would be adapted as needed to reflect the results.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that Northern Gateway's completed baseline surveys were inadequate to be able to currently assess the risk of serious injury or mortality to whales from vessel strikes. Northern Gateway said that it could not begin its proposed quantitative vessel strike risk analysis until it completed additional marine mammal surveys and more complete baseline information for marine mammal densities was available post-approval. Fisheries and Oceans Canada agreed with Northern Gateway's proposal to design and implement a post-approval study that better describes the spatial and seasonal occurrence and densities of marine mammals in the Confined Channel Assessment Area. It said that, although there is uncertainty regarding the potential effects of the project, they can be managed through research, monitoring, mitigation, as well as adaptive management, where additional measures can be implemented to avoid effects.

North Coast Cetacean Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation filed detailed marine mammal survey evidence regarding seasonal abundance and marine mammal distribution in the Confined Channel Assessment Area. Northern Gateway said that it wanted to work with these and other parties with expertise and information to fill remaining data gaps. It said that it is in discussions with Raincoast Conservation Foundation to develop, finalize, and implement Marine Mammal Protection Plans. North Coast Cetacean Society said that it does not intend to participate in marine mammal surveys or research initiated and funded by Northern Gateway.

Views of the Panel

on marine mammal baseline data

Northern Gateway has collected only a limited amount of baseline data for the purpose of predicting and mitigating adverse effects on marine mammals, but it said that it is committed to conducting additional marine mammal surveys, if the project is approved. A cooperative marine mammal research initiative could have value in bringing together multiple partners to conduct resource-intensive research on marine mammals and filling existing data gaps to mitigate the effects of shipping in the region, from the project and otherwise.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's voluntary commitments to gather further baseline data, and to implement mitigation and monitoring to reduce its contribution to the effects of shipping on marine mammals, are above and beyond industry standards. Requiring Northern Gateway to conduct comprehensive marine mammal surveys, to the extent and intensity suggested by some participants, before knowing whether the project was allowed to proceed, would place an undue burden on a single prospective shipper. Despite Northern Gateway's plan to delay additional marine mammal surveys until after any approval, the Panel finds that Northern Gateway's overall approach remains careful and precautionary in the face of uncertainty. Its marine mammal surveys would provide important information on which to base refinements of mitigation and monitoring measures in Northern Gateway's Marine Mammal Protection Plan for use during project operations. It would also fill existing data gaps that would benefit current and prospective shippers in the region.

The Panel requires Northern Gateway to develop Marine Mammal Protection Plans for construction and operations in accordance with its proposed plan framework. The required plans would identify mitigation to be implemented during each phase, as well as details regarding survey design and analysis, and how ongoing monitoring and research results will be, and have been, incorporated into the plans. The Panel also requires Northern Gateway to report on its monitoring and research results, and how it is adaptively managing effects on marine mammals, for the project's operational life.

As part of its plan development, the Panel requires Northern Gateway to consult with stakeholders, regulatory authorities, and Aboriginal groups. Robust survey design and analysis, developed through consultation with marine mammal experts, would allow collected data to be used with as much statistical certainty as possible. It would also help reduce adverse effects to the greatest extent possible through informed mitigation and adaptive management.

By communicating and reporting on the results of its marine mammal mitigation and monitoring activities, the project would also contribute to increased knowledge about marine mammals along the northwestern coast of British Columbia. This could potentially improve mitigation measures for a variety of marine users in the area, resulting in improved species protection.

Given the current limited knowledge about marine mammals, the Panel has confidence that Northern Gateway's commitments to monitoring and research would provide valuable information to allow it to develop additional mitigation, if needed, based on the results.

Species at risk

Throughout the Panel's process, including in letters of comments and oral statements, many participants expressed concern about the potential effects of tanker traffic on threatened or endangered marine mammals and their habitat. Table 8.2 identifies species listed under the Species at Risk Act that occur in the project area.

Northern Gateway said that it conducted its assessment of marine mammal species at risk occurring in the project area to the best of its abilities, given available science. While no critical habitat under the Species at Risk Act had been formally designated for marine mammals in the project area at the time of the Panel's review, the Panel heard evidence on important habitat areas that may be considered for critical habitat status.

Northern Gateway's assessment identified northern resident killer whales (toothed whales), humpback whales (baleen whales in the Confined Channel Assessment Area), fin whales (baleen whales in the Open Water Area), and Steller sea lions (seals and sea lions) as key indicator species for marine mammals. Northern Gateway selected these species based on shared similarities of how the project may affect species within each grouping.

Northern Gateway assessed the risk of vessel strikes on the viability of the entire North Pacific population of humpback whales, as a representative of all baleen whales. Humpback whale numbers have been increasing and, in 2011, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada proposed to downgrade the humpback whales' status from Threatened to Special Concern. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has requested that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada re-assess its proposal to downgrade the status of the species. It said that, while the Species at Risk Act recognizes a single North Pacific humpback whale population, new information from ongoing research shows the possibility that discrete sub-populations of humpback whales may exist in British Columbia waters.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that the formal designation of critical habitat for humpback whales, which would include the biophysical features and attributes necessary for the species to carry out specific functions associated with its life processes, was imminent with the finalization of the recovery strategy for the North Pacific humpback whale population. Designated critical habitat would become legally-protected under the Species at Risk Act once a final recovery strategy is released. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that any project activity that could interfere with a species' foraging efficiency, or cause displacement from important feeding sites as a result of disturbance, would be considered as affecting designated critical habitat in a harmful manner. It said that it is difficult to quantify what constitutes habitat destruction.

Views of the Panel

on species at risk

The Panel's analysis considered effects on all of the marine mammal species listed under the Species at Risk Act that occur in the project area. Where specific details about a particular species are relevant, they are discussed in this chapter. The analysis that follows with respect to the significance of adverse effects on marine mammals is relevant to all of the listed species identified above.

Table 8.2 Marine mammal Species listed under the Species at Risk Act that occur in the project area

Species

Schedule 1 Status

Harbour porpoise

Special Concern

Northern resident killer whale

Threatened

Transient (Bigg's) killer whale

Threatened

Offshore killer whale

Threatened

Humpback whale

Threatened

Gray whale

Special Concern

Fin whale

Threatened

Blue whale

Endangered

Sei whale

Endangered

North Pacific right whale

Endangered

Project effects of vessel strikes on marine mammals

Northern Gateway said that it is not possible to completely eliminate the risk of marine mammals being struck by vessels and potentially injured or killed. Implementing mitigation measures would reduce the likelihood of strikes occurring. Northern Gateway said that, along the coast of British Columbia, humpback whales are the most commonly struck whale species reported in Fisheries and Oceans Canada's marine mammal vessel strike database. Fourteen confirmed strikes were reported between 2003 and 2008 along the coast of British Columbia; an average of approximately three per year. Fisheries and Oceans Canada's database is not corrected for effort and likely underestimates actual strikes due to a general lack of reporting. Northern Gateway said that, in the Confined Channel Assessment Area, baleen humpback and fin whales would be the species most likely to be struck. Northern Gateway said that whale strikes have been reported in the Confined Channel Assessment Area (Wright Sound and Estevan Sound). It said that toothed whales, seals, and sea lions are rarely struck by vessels since these marine mammals are fast swimming and agile, enabling them to avoid approaching vessels. While it is unknown how many individuals could actually be struck, Northern Gateway said that the likelihood and frequency of this happening would be low. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that humpback and fin whales are more vulnerable to vessel strikes because they are found closer to shorelines where shipping is concentrated.

Figure 8.8 Northern Gateway’s defined core humpback whale area within the Confined Channel Assessment Area

Figure 8.8 Northern Gateway’s defined core humpback whale area within the Confined Channel Assessment Area

Northern Gateway said that modelling of British Columbia waters has predicted areas where vessel strikes are most likely to occur, based on current vessel traffic patterns and a systematic cetacean survey of the Inside Passage. This modelling cannot estimate how many strikes might occur. A study cited by Northern Gateway predicted that Dixon Entrance and areas coincidental with elevated vessel movement patterns in Hecate Strait were areas of relatively high-risk for vessel strikes of fin and humpback whales. The same study reported that, between 1998 and 2000, there were 8 fin whale strikes (all fatal) and 10 killer whale strikes (5 fatal) in British Columbia and Washington waters.

The increase in vessel strikes of whales resulting from the project is unknown. Northern Gateway committed to conducting a quantitative vessel strike risk analysis. The risk analysis would predict the likelihood and frequency of vessel strikes in both the approach lanes and the Confined Channel Assessment Area, the potential effects of vessel strikes on marine mammal populations, and the best mitigation measures to reduce the risk of strikes. A working group of technical experts would guide the study, and would include participation from various stakeholders, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Aboriginal groups, third party marine mammal experts, and other shippers.

Gitga'at First Nation said that the quantitative vessel strike risk analysis should have been completed and submitted as part of the Panel's assessment, prior to project approval.

Northern Gateway committed to developing a Marine Mammal Protection Plan in consultation with interested stakeholders. It said that it would adhere to it during the life of the project and modify it to address unanticipated effects or ineffective mitigation measures, if monitoring shows that it is needed. It would include mitigation measures identified as a result of the quantitative vessel strike risk analysis in its Marine Mammal Protection Plan.

Northern Gateway would adapt its proposed mitigation measures to the area where tankers are navigating and the time of year. For example, in the core humpback area (Figure 8.8), which Northern Gateway defined based on Fisheries and Oceans Canada's proposed (2010) approximate boundaries of candidate critical habitat for humpback whale, Northern Gateway proposed implementing specific vessel speed restrictions. It also proposed using a dedicated whale monitoring vessel to survey the area before tanker passage. As part of an adaptive management approach, the boundaries of the core humpback area could change as a result of future monitoring results. Additional areas could be defined for other species.

Northern Gateway's marine voluntary commitments would require tankers to modify their speed in the areas through which they would navigate to reduce the risk of marine mammal strikes. Northern Gateway said that serious or lethal vessel strikes of whales are infrequent at vessel speeds of less than 14 knots and are rare at speeds of less than 10 knots. The speed restrictions would take into consideration seasonal variations in habitat use, such as migrating and feeding season.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that 23 per cent of all internationally-confirmed vessel strikes causing death or serious injury to whales took place at speeds of 10 knots or less. It said that slowing vessel speeds would prolong marine mammal exposure to noise, albeit at a lower level, and potential effects such as noise masking may not be fully mitigated. It said that not enough is known about the behavioral responses of whales to vessels at different speeds, and that there is uncertainty as to what extent speed limits reduce the vulnerability of the animals to be struck.

Gitga'at First Nation said that lethal strikes increase significantly from 10 to 14 knots and suggested that 10 knots would be a more appropriate speed limit to reduce the incidence and severity of vessel strikes of baleen whales. It said that speed limits should be applied year-round since marine mammals, including listed species, are present during the winter months, although in lesser numbers. It also said that toothed whales are also vulnerable to vessel strikes and that killer whales should be included in mitigation plans.

Northern Gateway's commitments to speed restrictions are outlined in the table of mitigation measures at the end of this section. Northern Gateway said that its commitment to a focused marine mammal monitoring and survey program is unprecedented in Canada. It said that other large vessels moving through the area travel at speeds of 14 to 18 knots, and that cruise ships travel at speeds as high as 22 knots. ForestEthics said that it would be beneficial if all operators adopted the same mitigation measures that Northern Gateway committed to.

Northern Gateway committed to using remote detection technology to detect the presence of vocal marine mammals during conditions of poor visibility. North Coast Cetacean Society said that Northern Gateway's commitment to use passive acoustic monitoring to monitor the seasonal presence and vocal characterizations of marine mammals in the Confined Channel Assessment Area would be of limited value as a mitigation measure. This was due to the lack of vocalizations of some species and the uncertainty regarding the actual location of the whale whose sound was detected. As an example of remote detection technology effectiveness, Northern Gateway presented one case study where a real-time passive acoustic monitoring system informed vessel operators of whale presence in order to reduce the risk of a vessel strike.

Northern Gateway said that large vessel traffic has been occurring along the British Columbia coast for many years, and marine mammals continue to be commonly observed. Some species numbers, such as humpback whales, are increasing. Northern Gateway offered information from other parts of the world where shipping traffic is high to demonstrate that mitigation measures can be effective in reducing lethal vessel strikes. For example, Northern Gateway said that mitigation has been successful for effects of shipping (from vessel strikes and noise) on the endangered North Atlantic right whale population in Boston harbour, where shipping traffic is 10 to 20 times higher than all current and proposed tanker traffic in the region of this project. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that it has been participating in studies to better understand what mitigation measures work best to reduce lethal vessel strikes of North Atlantic right whales.

Coastal First Nations, Gitga'at First Nation, and North Coast Cetacean Society questioned the proven effectiveness of Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation, and the lack of detail and preliminary nature of its proposed Marine Mammal Protection Plan regarding vessel strike mitigation measures. For example, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Gitga'at First Nation said that tankers may not be able to adjust their routes to avoid marine mammals when navigating in confined inlets and channels, and that this would increase the risk of marine mammal vessel strikes in these confined areas.

Northern Gateway filed a summary of key literature sources for relevant scientific studies to show how its proposed mitigation measures have been implemented elsewhere to minimize or prevent environmental effects on marine mammal populations in proximity to industrial activities caused by underwater noise and vessel traffic comparable to that predicted for the project. It also provided examples of other projects and regulatory authorities that have adopted these strategies. Northern Gateway said that it would use the results of its proposed marine mammal monitoring to assess the effectiveness of its measures and, if required, it would adaptively modify mitigation measures or implement new measures to address unanticipated effects.

Northern Gateway said that the effects of injury or mortality from vessel strikes would be within the range of baseline or natural variation and would not have a significant effect on marine mammal populations, given the implementation of its proposed mitigation measures. Some intervenors said that Northern Gateway has not quantified or substantiated this conclusion. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that it also could not accurately predict what the ship strike risk was because of a lack of high resolution spatial information for the Confined Channel Assessment Area. Northern Gateway said that identifying project effects with statistical significance is often not possible due to the multiple natural and anthropogenic factors that may influence marine mammal species density and distribution. Northern Gateway said that it was interested in collaborating with stakeholders on study designs and methodologies that would allow for statistically-significant monitoring of project effects.

Northern Gateway said that the potential effect of vessel strikes, after mitigation, would be not significant in both the Confined Channel Assessment Area and the Open Water Area. Northern Gateway defined a significant environmental effect remaining after mitigation as one that would affect the long-term viability of a species' population or delay its recovery. Northern Gateway said that an environmental effect on an individual or group within a species (or its habitat) in a manner similar to natural variation would not be considered significant. It also concluded that, even if some marine mammals are struck and killed by project-related vessels, these mortalities would not affect the recovery or survival of threatened or endangered species. Northern Gateway did not support this conclusion with data. It said that it would not conduct a quantitative analysis of the risks of vessel strikes until post-approval.

Some participants said that even a single individual marine mammal being injured or killed by a vessel strike should be considered a significant effect.

Mitigation measures

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • conduct a quantitative vessel strike risk analysis in both the approach lanes and the Confined Channel Assessment Area in collaboration with interested stakeholders;
  • adapt the spatial extent of tanker approach lanes and vessel speeds, based on results of the quantitative vessel risk analysis;
  • avoid candidate humpback whale critical habitat through the preferential use of the Northern approach;
  • from 1 May to 1 November, use observers on a dedicated whale monitoring vessel to survey the core humpback area before tanker passage and to recommend site-specific tanker route adjustments, depending on the number of whales present, to be followed unless otherwise required for safe navigation;
  • require tankers and tugs to adhere to the following vessel speeds:
  • in the core humpback area – 8 to 10 knots from 1 May to 1 November;
  • in the core humpback area – 10 to 12 knots for the remainder of the year;
  • in the Confined Channel Assessment Area – 10 to 12 knots year-round;
  • in the approach lanes to the Confined Channel Assessment Area – less than 14 knots from 1 May to 1 November; and
  • in the approach lanes to the Confined Channel Assessment Area – 14 to 16 knots for the remainder of the year; and
  • use remote detection technology, such as passive acoustic monitoring, to detect the presence of vocal marine mammals during conditions of poor visibility.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • implement a follow-up program to verify predictions made in its assessment of potential effects on marine mammals and to determine mitigation measure effectiveness, including untested ones, such as the use of a whale monitoring vessel;
  • have trained observers conduct monitoring surveys using appropriate survey techniques, 6 to 12 times per year through the terminal construction period, and for a minimum of 3 years prior to starting terminal operations, and 3 years into operations; and
  • conduct a passive acoustic monitoring study to monitor the seasonal presence and vocal characterizations of marine mammals in the Confined Channel Assessment Area for 2 years before starting marine terminal operations and 2 years after starting operations, with the option of additional years, if required.

Research

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • conduct research on remote detection technology effectiveness; and
  • undertake cooperative marine mammal research initiatives and a broad-scale regional assessment program in collaboration with other interested parties to fill gaps in baseline information and increase confidence in effects prediction.

Views of the Panel

on project effects of vessel strikes on marine mammals

The Panel finds that vessel strikes, from both project-related tankers or from any other tankers or vessels navigating through the region at the present time or in the future, cannot be completely avoided. Some individual marine mammals may be injured or killed if struck by project-related vessels. Large vessel traffic has been occurring along the British Columbia coast for many years and marine mammals continue to be commonly observed. Some species numbers, such as humpback whales, are increasing.

Northern Gateway has voluntarily committed to a number of mitigation measures that would reduce, but not eliminate, the potential for vessel strikes along the tanker routes. It said that these measures are unprecedented in Canada. For example, Northern Gateway committed to using remote detection technology during conditions of poor visibility, marine mammal observers in the core humpback area, and speed limits along tanker routes. Given that these commitments go beyond what is industry standard for the rest of shipping along the British Columbia coast, the Panel finds that these voluntary commitments are commendable.

The Gitga'at First Nation disagreed with the speed limits Northern Gateway proposed for tankers and tugs. The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's proposed speed limits are appropriate, given their basis on currently-available science, the relative decrease in speed compared to other marine traffic, and the ability to adaptively manage speed limits based on the outcomes of future research, monitoring, and follow-up.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway's assessment of the risk of vessel strikes to affect the viability of the North Pacific population of humpback whales, as a whole, may not adequately capture the effects of the project on humpback whales present in Canadian waters. Fisheries and Oceans Canada raised the possibility that there might be distinct sub-populations of humpback whales along the coast of British Columbia. It would be more appropriate from a precautionary perspective to specifically assess the risk of vessel strikes to affect the viability of British Columbia's humpback whale populations. Northern Gateway should implement measures, such as those it has already identified, that would decrease the risk of strikes from project-related vessels to the greatest extent possible, with the goal of preventing significant population-level adverse effects along the coast of British Columbia.

Northern Gateway would determine additional areas where it would apply mitigation as it develops its final Marine Mammal Protection Plan post-approval, in collaboration with stakeholders. Northern Gateway committed to modifying the boundaries of the core humpback area, or identifying new important areas, as more information was collected post-approval. Required annual reporting to the National Energy Board for the first 5 years of operations would describe the studies conducted on the distribution and abundance of marine mammals in the project area and any adaptations to the core humpback area.

The core humpback area's boundaries were based on the distribution of candidate critical habitat areas, as they were defined by Fisheries and Oceans Canada at the time of the project application. The Panel requires Northern Gateway to adjust these boundaries and associated mitigation measures to reflect critical habitat areas once they are formally designated under the recovery strategy process of the Species at Risk Act.

The Panel requires Northern Gateway to develop a Marine Mammal Protection Plan describing mitigation for vessel strikes. This plan would include how the results of the quantitative vessel strike risk analysis have informed these measures. The Panel also requires Northern Gateway to report on the monitoring results and its adaptive management for the project's operational life.

Even with a robust monitoring program, it would be difficult for Northern Gateway to determine project effects as distinct from natural variability of populations in the marine environment. Vessel strikes are often undetected or, if detected, unreported. As a result, mitigation measure effectiveness may be difficult to monitor. The Panel requires Northern Gateway to develop a plan for reporting any marine mammals struck, injured, or killed during construction and operations.

Northern Gateway would not be operating the vessels that call at the Kitimat Terminal, but Northern Gateway would require tankers transporting condensate and oil to and from the Kitimat Terminal to operate in an environmentally responsible manner. This would include requiring tankers, through implementation of the Tanker Acceptance Program and Northern Gateway's marine voluntary commitments, to modify their speed according to location and time of year to reduce the risks of marine mammal strikes. The National Energy Board has no regulatory authority over the enforcement of vessel speeds to prevent marine mammal strikes, except through oversight of the execution of Northern Gateway's Tanker Acceptance Program and compliance with Northern Gateway's marine voluntary commitments.

Evaluation of adverse project effects (vessel strikes) on marine mammals after mitigation

Temporal extent

Vessel strikes could occur throughout the time that the marine terminal is operational with tankers travelling to and from it.

Spatial extent

Vessel strikes could occur along the marine transportation routes. Impacts on individuals would occur in that localized area, resulting in a potential impact on a population with a larger range.

Intensity

Vessel strikes may be fatal to a marine mammal, or an individual may recover. Mitigation (such as speed limits, avoiding candidate critical habitat, and using a dedicated whale monitoring vessel) should reduce the number of vessel strikes. Although vessel strikes are expected to be restricted to a small number of individuals, there are uncertainties in predicting how many strikes would occur. The species most likely to be struck include humpback whale and fin whale, which are both listed as Threatened under the Species at Risk Act.

Large vessel traffic has been occurring along the British Columbia coast for many years and marine mammals continue to be commonly observed. Some marine mammal numbers are increasing. Project-related tankers would make up approximately one-third of reporting traffic in Douglas Channel and Kitimat Arm, where the project would result in the greatest relative increase in shipping traffic. Project-related tankers would implement mitigation that is not currently in use for other shipping.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Because there are adverse project effects remaining after mitigation that could combine with the effects of other past, present, and future projects, and because cumulative effects are of primary concern, the Panel's significance recommendation is given below in its analysis of cumulative effects.

Project effects of underwater vessel noise on marine mammals

Marine mammals produce and use underwater sounds for spatial orientation, migration, communication, predator and prey detection, and mating. Based on its acoustic modelling, Northern Gateway determined that underwater noise produced by the project would not cause physical injury to marine mammals, but their behavior could potentially be affected. Examples of potential behavioral effects as a result of underwater noise include habitat avoidance, herding, reduced foraging efficiency, increased energy expenditure, reduced survival, and reduced reproduction.

In its application, Northern Gateway said that vessel-based underwater sound typically increases with speed; the greater the vessel speed, the greater the propeller cavitation noise. It said that there is a reduced underwater noise decibel level with a reduction in speed.

Northern Gateway said that the individual- and population-level consequences to marine mammals from potential behavioral effects of underwater noise are difficult to determine. Fisheries and Oceans Canada also said that there is uncertainty about what effects underwater noise could have on marine mammals because not enough is known about how marine mammals use sound.

While small behavioural changes can be expected as a result of underwater sound, Northern Gateway said that these changes would not likely affect the long-term viability of any populations of marine mammals because:

  • noise from transiting vessels would be restricted to limited areas of the Confined Channel Assessment Area and approach lanes at any given time;
  • the amount of time that a whale may be exposed to levels capable of inducing behavioural change would be limited (from minutes to hours of a passing vessel); and
  • it is assumed that whales detect an approaching vessel and move away from it, thereby limiting the duration of exposure.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that it would be important to consider the effects on individual whales from noise and mitigate them to the greatest extent possible, rather than only focusing on population-level effects. Northern Gateway said that its proposed Marine Mammal Protection Plan would outline mitigation measures to reduce potential behavioural changes in individuals within the Confined Channel Assessment Area and approach lanes due to underwater noise from project-related vessels.

Northern Gateway said that environmental effects of underwater noise from project-related vessels remaining after mitigation may lead to changes in the distribution and abundance of some marine mammals within the Confined Channel Assessment Area or approach lanes, but that permanent displacement of whales would be unlikely. Northern Gateway provided examples of other locations with high amounts of vessel traffic that have not been abandoned by marine mammals, such as the North Atlantic right whales in Boston harbour. It said that vessels have been operating in northern British Columbia waters for extensive periods of time, traffic volumes have varied considerably during this time, and whales are still commonly observed in Prince Rupert and in southern British Columbia where traffic is more frequent.

Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Gitga'at First Nation disagreed with Northern Gateway's view that marine mammals would not be permanently displaced due to disturbance from vessel noise. They provided examples of marine mammals abandoning habitat due to noise disturbance from commercial shipping or cruise ships. This included gray whales abandoning breeding lagoons at Laguna Guerra Negro between 1957 and the early 1970s, and humpback whales using Glacier Bay (Alaska) less.

In addition to the above-noted potential effects of underwater noise on marine mammals, Gitga'at First Nation said that almost no information is available in literature on sound-induced stress in marine mammals, on its potential (alone or in combination with other stressors) to affect the long-term reproductive success of marine mammals, or about effects of chronic noise on baleen whales. Raincoast Conservation Foundation said that marine mammals that remain in noisy habitat can also suffer significant adverse effects, including chronic stress and impaired communication, navigation, orientation, feeding, and predator detection.

Northern Gateway said that effects of underwater noise remaining after mitigation may elicit temporary behavioural response and communication masking in baleen whales, such as humpback whales. Northern Gateway said that potential underwater project-related noise effects on individual humpback whale behaviour and habitat use in the Confined Channel Assessment Area or Open Water Area would not affect the viability of the broader North Pacific humpback whale population (given its large size), or delay the continuing recovery of the Canadian portion of this population. It said that the North Pacific population of humpback whale is recovering well and affected individuals would not impair the recovery or survival of the species. North Coast Cetacean Society said that, due to humpback whales' strong site-fidelity to regional areas along the coast of British Columbia, they would likely be hesitant to inhabit new locations if displaced. It said that anthropogenic effects, such as those that may result from the project, could affect the recovery of the population within British Columbia waters.

With respect to the northern resident killer whale, Northern Gateway said that its population is small, threatened, and potentially limited by prey, and that the amount of potential critical habitat for this species in the Confined Channel Assessment Area is not known. Given these uncertainties, and the potential for behavioural changes from underwater noise to limit prey availability (a threat identified in the species' national recovery strategy), Northern Gateway determined that using a precautionary approach was merited. It said that a confident determination of significance for residual effects was not possible.

Northern Gateway committed to monitoring, marine mammal surveys, and ongoing work with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to refine monitoring and mitigation programs, as well as to conduct studies on underwater noise. Northern Gateway also committed to further collaborative research with stakeholders on northern resident killer whales post-project approval to fill information gaps and increase confidence in significance predictions. North Coast Cetacean Society said that Northern Gateway's commitment to fill these gaps post-approval contradicted the purpose of environmental assessment and did not allow, prior to the project being approved, a determination of whether the risks to northern resident killer whale are acceptable.

Mitigation measures

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • incorporate best commercially-available technology at the time of tug design and construction;
  • ensure, through the Tanker Acceptance Program, propeller maintenance, avoidance of unnecessary rapid acceleration, and the use of specified vessel transit approaches so that noise disturbances are restricted to similar and predictable areas during marine transportation;
  • from 1 May to 1 November, use observers on a dedicated whale monitoring vessel to survey the core humpback area before tanker passage and to recommend site-specific adjustments to tanker routes, depending on the number of whales present, unless otherwise required for safe navigation; and
  • require tankers and tugs to adhere to vessel speed restrictions, as described previously under the mitigation measures for project effects on marine mammals from vessel strikes.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • the monitoring and follow-up measures described previously for project effects on marine mammals from vessel strikes, and cooperative marine mammal research initiatives, including collecting observations of behavioural reactions upon exposure to tanker sound; and
  • conduct field studies of underwater noise levels.

Research

Northern Gateway committed to undertaking cooperative marine mammal research initiatives and a broad-scale regional assessment program in collaboration with other interested parties to fill gaps in baseline information and increase confidence in effects

Views of the Panel

on effects of underwater vessel noise on marine mammals

The Panel finds that noise from project-related tankers or from any other tankers or vessels navigating through the region at the present time or in the future cannot be completely mitigated. Large vessel traffic has been occurring along the British Columbia coast for many years and marine mammals continue to be present. Some species numbers are increasing.

Both Northern Gateway and participants have expressed uncertainties as to how underwater noise generated by the project may affect marine mammals. Positions expressed by Northern Gateway and participants about the extent to which noise could affect marine mammals were not well-supported by evidence on the record.

In the face of this uncertainty, Northern Gateway applied a careful and precautionary approach: it has anticipated potential harmful environmental effects by committing to designing and operating the project in a way that avoids these adverse effects to the greatest extent possible. For example, Northern Gateway committed to numerous measures to fill knowledge gaps and mitigate effects from noise adaptively, including conducting noise modelling, using a whale monitoring vessel, and implementing an extensive, multi-party research program. The Panel requires Northern Gateway to develop Marine Mammal Protection Plans describing its marine mammal mitigation during construction and operations, and to report on its monitoring results and adaptive management for the project's operational life.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway stands out among shippers by committing to these types of measures, many of which go beyond established industry standards. These include, for example, establishing a core humpback area, implementing speed restrictions, and research commitments. The results of many of these initiatives would be available publicly and could contribute to a greater understanding of how shipping noise may affect marine mammals on the north coast of British Columbia.

Similar to the mitigation for vessel strikes, the Panel requires that Northern Gateway's Tanker Acceptance Program ensures that all tanker operators adhere to all of Northern Gateway's marine mammal mitigation measures with respect to reducing underwater noise. The Panel requires Northern Gateway to implement, or cause to implement, all of its voluntary commitments related to marine tanker traffic before loading or unloading any oil or condensate tanker at the Kitimat Terminal.

With the implementation of these mitigation measures, the Panel finds that noise from the project-related vessels could lead to short-term displacement or behavioral changes. The Panel also finds that, with mitigation and considering the success of other ports in mitigating effects, displacement is unlikely. If displacement did occur, it is likely that whales would move to other feeding areas in other locations along British Columbia.

Feeding humpback whales occur in other locations along the coast of British Columbia and feeding habitat is available to individuals potentially displaced from the project area. The Panel finds that there is uncertainty as to whether those individuals may remain displaced or return to the area when the noise disturbance has passed.

Evaluation of adverse project effects (underwater vessel noise) on marine mammals after mitigation

Temporal extent

Individuals would encounter underwater vessel noise on a regular basis along the tanker routes as one or two vessels would be transiting every day throughout the project's lifespan, although the noise would be temporary as the vessel passes. There is uncertainty as to how quickly behaviour would return to baseline.

Spatial extent

Most underwater noise would be limited to the area within the corridors used by the tankers.

Intensity

It is uncertain how noise may affect marine mammal behaviour. Large vessel traffic has been occurring along the British Columbia coast for many years and marine mammals continue to be commonly observed. Some marine mammal numbers are increasing. Project-related tankers would make up approximately one-third of reporting traffic in Douglas Channel and Kitimat Arm, where the project would result in the greatest relative increase in shipping traffic. Project-related tankers would implement mitigation that is not currently in use for other shipping.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Because there are adverse project effects remaining after mitigation that could combine with the effects of other past, present, and future projects, and because cumulative effects are of primary concern, the Panel's significance recommendation is given below in its analysis of cumulative effects

Cumulative effects on marine mammals

Vessel strikes

Northern Gateway said that the residual environmental effect of physical injury to humpback whales would be sufficiently low to conclude that the contribution of marine transportation to the cumulative environmental effects would not reasonably affect the viability or recovery of the North Pacific humpback whale population. Northern Gateway said that its proposed quantitative vessel strike risk analysis would take into consideration vessel traffic from other operators to determine the risk of vessel strikes on marine mammals.

Raincoast Conservation Foundation said that growing shipping traffic is increasing the risk of vessel strikes on whales and other marine mammals. It said that, by 2020, container traffic travelling to Asia from British Columbia is expected to increase by 300 per cent from 2007 levels. It said that marine mammal populations along the coast of British Columbia could be adversely affected by incremental and combined effects of vessel strikes and vessel noise, incidental catch from fishing gear, depletion of prey from overfishing, chemical pollution, introduced species and diseases, and increased carbon dioxide inputs. North Coast Cetacean Society said that Northern Gateway did not incorporate cumulative effects of other proposed projects into its assessment of effects on marine mammals.

Underwater vessel noise

Northern Gateway said that interference of underwater noise with marine mammal behavior, including hearing and communication (known as masking), is possible over large areas of the Confined Channel Assessment Area and Open Water Area due to cumulative noise effects from project-related vessels and other current and future vessels travelling through these areas. Northern Gateway said that it is not currently possible to determine a threshold sound level at which masking may begin, or how such masking may affect individuals or populations of marine mammals. It said that it was beyond the scope of its application to undertake a large-scale cumulative underwater noise modelling exercise for all vessels in the Confined Channel Assessment Area and Open Water Area to determine what such a threshold might be. Northern Gateway said that, if the project is approved, it is open to collaborating with other shippers and noise-producing industries to study cumulative underwater noise and its potential effects on marine mammals through its proposed marine research program.

Raincoast Conservation Foundation said that the current levels of traffic along the coast of British Columbia are already degrading the communication space of humpback and killer whales, including through masking, and may be having an effect on other marine mammal species. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that it cannot say with any certainty the noise levels beyond which whale critical habitat may be affected, or marine mammal species may be displaced, due to the cumulative effects of marine shipping and noise. Nevertheless, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that most marine mammals are able to adapt to a certain level of underwater noise because it is constantly present in most of the world's oceans today. Fisheries and Oceans Canada research about the potential effects of commercial vessel traffic on marine mammals along the coast of British Columbia is ongoing.

Northern Gateway said that potential cumulative noise effects on individual humpback whale behaviour and habitat use in the Confined Channel Assessment Area would not affect the viability of the broader North Pacific humpback whale population (given its large size), or delay the continuing recovery of the Canadian portion of this population.

Northern Gateway said that it is not known whether the cumulative behavioural effect on northern resident killer whales from all shipping traffic would affect the long-term viability of a pod of northern resident killer whales, or the recovery of this population. It said that the northern resident killer whale population is small, threatened, and potentially limited by prey availability. Based on scientific uncertainty, Northern Gateway did not make a prediction of significance and said that a precautionary approach in evaluating the significance of cumulative vessel-based underwater noise effects on northern resident killer whales was merited. Raincoast Conservation Foundation said that increased tanker traffic from all operators in coastal waters could affect the ability of killer whales to forage and, ultimately, affect their reproduction and recovery.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on marine mammals

Vessel strikes

The Panel finds that vessel strikes on individuals, from both project-related tankers or from any other tankers or vessels navigating through the region at the present time or in the future, cannot be completely avoided. Northern Gateway has committed to a number of measures intended to limit vessel strikes that exceed industry standards. It would be beneficial if all tankers operating in the region adopted similar mitigation to that committed to by Northern Gateway to reduce the cumulative risk of vessel strikes. The Panel encourages further research, in general, on the issue and potential innovations for addressing it.

Underwater vessel noise

The Panel finds that, in the context of underwater vessel noise, the effect of increasing unmitigated shipping traffic, combined with Northern Gateway's mitigated shipping traffic, is unknown, particularly in confined inlets. The Panel notes that large vessel traffic has been occurring along the British Columbia Coast for many years and marine mammals continue to be commonly observed, and that some species numbers are increasing.

Evaluation of adverse cumulative effects on marine mammals after mitigation

Recommendation for significance of cumulative effects after mitigation

Multiple vessel strikes are likely to occur from a combination of mitigated project-related vessels and unmitigated non-project-related vessels. In addition, individuals would encounter underwater vessel noise on a regular basis from these sources. Such effects would occur for as long as vessels use the areas in question.

While there has been vessel traffic in this area for many years and marine mammals have continued their presence, there are multiple unknowns, such as the number of ship strikes in the past and expected in the future, and how quickly marine mammal behaviour returns to baseline after vessel noise passes by. The severity of behavioral changes (short-term or long-term) from cumulative underwater shipping noise, and its effect on the reproduction of individuals and the viability of populations along the coast of British Columbia, is uncertain.

Large vessel traffic is ongoing and anticipated to increase along the coast of British Columbia. Northern Gateway stands out among shippers through its commitments to mitigate the effects of project-related ships, and to improve the information available concerning marine mammal populations, effects of shipping, and mitigation effectiveness. Northern Gateway would invest substantially in these efforts relative to its potential contribution to the effects of shipping. Increased knowledge from Northern Gateway's efforts could be beneficial in managing the effects of shipping, in general, on marine mammal populations. The Panel finds that Northern Gateway is taking a precautionary approach related to marine mammals, which are important to all Canadians.

The Panel views the risk to marine mammals from cumulative effects as manageable, particularly with the benefit of additional knowledge about marine mammals and effects mitigation that would be gained and available for use broadly if the project were to proceed.

The Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse cumulative effects with respect to marine mammals.

8.7.7 Marine fish and fish habitat

Background

The Queen Charlotte Basin area provides habitat for several commercial species and invertebrates. Coves, estuaries, and other nearshore areas provide rearing habitat for larval and juvenile fish, and serve as a transition zone and holding area for anadromous fish travelling in and out of rivers. Freshwater spawning species, such as salmon and eulachon, travel through Douglas Channel en route to freshwater spawning channels in the Kitimat River, Gardner Channel, and Kildala Arm. Several fish species within Kitimat Arm are important commercially and recreationally and are used for food, and social and ceremonial purposes. Fish species commonly harvested include chum, coho, chinook, and pink salmon; steelhead; eulachon; and herring.

Species diversity within Kitimat Arm's rocky intertidal community is generally low. Barnacles, mussels, periwinkles, and limpets can be found on rocky substrate. Sea urchins, moon snails, sea anemones, sea stars, and sea cucumbers are in shallow subtidal areas. Sandy areas are inhabited by commercially-harvested bivalves such as butter clams and cockles.

There are no Species at Risk Act-listed fish species within the Project Effects Assessment Area. The bocaccio (a rockfish species found in Douglas Channel) is currently under review for potential designation as Threatened on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. In May 2011, eulachon were designated as Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada because of its limited range and long-term declines. Within the Confined Channel Assessment Area, Species at Risk Act-listed northern abalone and green sturgeon are suspected to occur.

Baseline data

Northern Gateway completed baseline surveys in the Project Development Area and Project Effects Assessment Area over a period of 5 years (2005 to 2009) to supplement existing information on marine fish and fish habitat. Surveys included intertidal and subtidal habitat characterizations, nearshore fish surveys, and a nearshore crab survey. It also conducted a literature review and data search to determine fish species potential in the Project Effects Assessment Area and the Confined Channel Assessment Area.

Several participants said that the quality and scope of Northern Gateway's completed baseline surveys were insufficient to fully characterize benthic invertebrates within Kitimat Arm and to assess the status of fish populations in the Project Effects Assessment Area. Haisla Nation said that determining baseline conditions of a dynamic system, such as the upper Kitimat Arm, can require long periods of data collection in order to capture natural variability. Fisheries and Oceans Canada recommended that future surveys cover a greater depth range and be conducted at several different times of year.

Northern Gateway said that there is good historical information about the marine environment within the Project Effects Assessment Area and that it conducted surveys only to address knowledge gaps that were relevant to its assessment of effects on the marine environment. It did not complete field surveys if sufficient information was already available. In response to a Fisheries and Oceans Canada request for further information on sponge abundance and distribution in Kitimat Arm, Northern Gateway undertook additional subtidal surveys in May 2011. Northern Gateway committed to sampling for 3 years prior to beginning project operations, and 3 years of sampling after operations start, as part of its Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that Northern Gateway provided a comprehensive list of construction activities and correctly linked them to pathways of effects for fish and fish habitat. It said that Northern Gateway has provided sufficient information for this portion of the department's Habitat Risk Management Framework.

Figure 8.9 Sediment Plume Dispersion Modelling for Dredging at Marine Terminal Sites in Kitimat Arm

Figure 8.9 Sediment Plume Dispersion Modelling for Dredging at Marine Terminal Sites in Kitimat Arm

Project effects on changes in habitat quality

Northern Gateway said that dredging and blasting for marine terminal construction would result in a sediment plume that would extend over an area of 70,000 square metres for the duration of blasting activities.

Approximately 400 square metres of the assessed area of the marine terminal is expected to receive more than 1 centimetre of sediment deposition due to dredging. Outside of this area, typical sediment deposition levels alongshore where sediment is widely dispersed (a band approximately 4 kilometres long and 400 metres wide) are very low; in the range of 0.001 to 0.1 centimetres (Figure 8.9). Dredging and blasting activities are expected to occur over a period of approximately 18 weeks. Northern Gateway expected most of the sediment plume created by construction activities to be minor in relation to natural background levels.

Northern Gateway said that physical effects from suspended sediment on marine fish and invertebrates could include abrasion and clogging of filtration mechanisms, which can interfere with ingestion and respiration. In extreme cases, effects could include smothering, burial, and mortality to fish and invertebrates. Direct chemical-related effects of suspended sediment on organisms, including reduced growth and survival, can also occur as a result of the uptake of contaminants re-suspended by project construction activities, such as dredging and blasting, and as a result of storm events, tides, and currents.

Haisla Nation and Raincoast Conservation Foundation questioned Northern Gateway's sediment and circulation model and its evidence related to contaminated sediment re-suspension at the terminal site. Both parties said that the sediment model was applied for the spring, when the increase in total suspended solids would be negligible compared to background values. In the event of delays, blasting and dredging would likely occur at other times of the year when effects would likely be higher, and these scenarios were not modelled.

Northern Gateway said that tolerance for periods of high sediment loads is a trait essential for fish to survive in naturally-fluctuating environments such as the Kitimat Arm. As a result, exposure to a temporary and localized sediment plume is not expected to hinder access by marine fish (e.g., for anadromous fish such as eulachon and salmon) to upper Kitimat Arm and its associated rivers. Because of the uncertainty in scientific data and the cultural importance of eulachon to coastal Aboriginal groups, Northern Gateway committed to undertaking a 3-year follow-up program to track potential project effects on eulachon populations.

Northern Gateway would use bubble curtains to reduce pressure and acoustic effects of blasting, and silt curtains to reduce the effect of sedimentation from dredging. It said that bubble curtains are used extensively for other activities, such as pile driving, to reduce the effect of high pressure pulses that can cause injury to fish. It added that bubble curtains have been tested extensively with blasts, and literature shows they are effective.

Project effects on changes in habitat availability

Northern Gateway said that construction, operations, and decommissioning of the marine terminal would result in both permanent and temporary alteration of marine fish habitat. Dredging and blasting, and installing physical structures in the water column for the marine terminal would permanently alter marine fish habitat. Based on the current terminal design, in-water site preparation would result in the physical alteration of approximately 1.6 hectares of subtidal marine habitat and 0.38 hectares of intertidal marine habitat. Northern Gateway expected approximately 353 square metres of subtidal marine habitat and 29 square metres of intertidal habitat to be permanently lost. This habitat would be compensated for by marine habitat offsets.

Northern Gateway said that dredging and blasting would also result in the physical alteration of subtidal habitat. Specifically, the removing soft sediment overburden and the creating rock benches would expose vertical and horizontal rock faces, increasing the amount of bare rock in the Project Development Area. The project's in-water vertical structures that would support the mooring and berthing structures could create new habitat, offsetting potential adverse effects. The structures may act as artificial reefs, providing marine fish habitat, food, and protection from predation. Although organisms currently inhabiting the work area would be killed, the exposed bedrock would be available for colonization as soon as the physical works are completed.

Project effects on acoustic disturbance

Northern Gateway said that ambient background noise levels in the marine environment are composed of the noise produced by natural physical processes (e.g., winds, waves, rainfall, seismic activity), biological activities (marine organisms, such as whales), and human activities (e.g., shipping, industrial activities). The main source of human-generated noise in the Confined Channel Assessment Area is vessel traffic, which is highest in summer.

Northern Gateway said that the ability of fish to hear and discriminate among the sounds in the marine environment is important to fish survival because fish must distinguish between sounds of predators and those of prey. Adding anthropogenic sounds to the background noise can make the environment so loud that fish are not able to detect important signals because of masking.

Acoustic disturbance from marine terminal

During marine terminal construction, operations, and decommissioning, underwater acoustic emissions would be produced by various activities: blasting, dredging, pile installation, and project-related vessel noise. During operations, berthed vessels at the marine terminal and tanker traffic would be the primary source of acoustic disturbance from the project.

Northern Gateway said that, although construction activities would not likely induce a physical effect on marine fish, fish may avoid the immediate area of the marine terminal. Based on known information on rockfish responses to construction noise and blasting, it is likely that rockfish would move out of the area during peak periods of acoustic disturbance and construction activity. Since rockfish show high habitat fidelity and often stay within one defined home range for most of their lives, it is expected that displaced individuals would return to their home ranges after disturbance. Northern Gateway committed to conducting follow-up surveys to confirm that rockfish re-inhabit the terminal site after loud construction activities and during regular vessel noise.

For most project activities, Northern Gateway expects acoustic emissions to dissipate to tolerable levels within several hundred metres. In response to questions from the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union, Northern Gateway said that the perceived noise level from dredging on the other side of Douglas Channel, an area through which Pacific herring migrates, would not be significantly above natural sounds present from wind and wave energy. It said that it is unlikely this would have any effect on Pacific herring.

Acoustic disturbance from marine transportation

While marine fish would be able to detect, and may have a behavioural response to, underwater noise from marine transportation, Northern Gateway said that the zone of influence for such effects would be limited both spatially and temporally. Temporal overlap would be limited to tens of minutes every 1 to 2 days, the time during which tankers would transit in any one location. Marine fish would be expected to return to and use affected areas shortly after the noise disturbance has ceased. Northern Gateway said that the environmental effect of acoustic disturbances from marine transportation on marine fish populations would not be significant.

Coastal First Nations were concerned about the effect of underwater noise from large vessels on fish during migration and that the significance of such an effect may have been underestimated. It disagreed with Northern Gateway's conclusion that, because vessel transits are transitory, effects from project-related traffic, including in combination with other sources of traffic, would be site-specific, short-term, and reversible. It said that an increase in acoustic disturbance caused by added project-related traffic could cause a displacement or other behavioural effect in fish.

Northern Gateway said that it was important to view vessel traffic and its potential associated effects in the context of existing traffic. Large numbers of commercial and government vessels have been operating within the North Central Coast region for an extensive period of time. Northern Gateway said that studies of sounds produced by large ocean-going vessels found some evidence of localized avoidance and changes in school structure and swim depth. It said that there is no evidence that vessel traffic interferes with the migratory behavior of fish. It said that, although viability of fish populations may not be affected, changes in fish stock distribution could alter catch success at certain locations.

Mitigation measures

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • select a dredging system, such as a clamshell dredge, that limits sediment release, and to using silt curtains to reduce the dispersion and duration of suspended sediments;
  • use bubble curtains during marine construction, where practical, to limit underwater noise propagation;
  • dredge and blast within timing windows determined in consultation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, where practical, to avoid sensitive seasonal periods;
  • further develop its Blasting Management Plan and Sediment Monitoring Plan in consultation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and other appropriate parties;
  • maintain and regularly inspect propellers of all construction support vessels for damage since poorly-maintained propellers are known to increase underwater noise; and
  • implement habitat restoration, enhancement, or creation where marine habitat loss related to the Kitimat Terminal's construction cannot be avoided, to compensate for any harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of marine fish habitat, as required under subsection 35(2) of the Fisheries Act. Northern Gateway filed a conceptual Marine Habitat Compensation Plan in July 2012 that quantified the areal extent of habitat expected to be affected by project activities and described options for physical works that could be undertaken for compensation. Northern Gateway would develop the final plan in consultation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, participating Aboriginal groups, and potentially-affected stakeholders.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • monitor the sediment plume in the marine environment during dredging and blasting as part of its Water Quality and Substrate Composition Monitoring Plan; and
  • 3 years of sampling before beginning project operations, and 3 years of sampling after starting operations, as part of the Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program;
  • undertake a 3-year follow-up program to track potential project effects on eulachon populations; and
  • conduct follow-up surveys to confirm that rockfish re-inhabit the terminal site after loud construction activities and during regular vessel noise.

Views of the Panel

on project effects on marine fish and fish habitat

Northern Gateway provided a general description of the baseline setting related to marine fish and invertebrates and assessment of potential effects. The Panel finds that the level of information provided at this time is sufficient.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not identify any high-risk activities associated with the project's construction and routine terminal operations. It considered that dredging, blasting, and pile driving would be low- to moderate-risk activities. Increases in suspended sediment can cause a wide range of potential effects and the Panel is encouraged by Northern Gateway's commitment to continue to work with Fisheries and Oceans Canada in developing its Blasting Management Plan and Sediment Monitoring Plan. Where habitat loss is unavoidable, Northern Gateway has committed to offset losses through restoration, enhancement, or compensation of marine fish habitat.

There are two types of vessel traffic associated with the project: barge traffic associated with terminal construction, and tanker traffic associated with its operations. Marine transportation has a historic presence in the Confined Channel Assessment Area and marine fish are known to use the area despite being exposed to acoustic disturbance. The overlap of fish and acoustic disturbance by transiting vessels would be limited to tens of minutes every 1 to 2 days. Although behavioural responses of marine fish are not well understood, adverse effects of existing vessel traffic on marine fish in the Confined Channel Assessment Area have not been documented.

The Panel finds that effects to fish and fish habitat in the marine environment can be managed by implementing appropriate mitigation and offset measures, provided Northern Gateway meets its commitments to mitigate and offset any effects remaining after mitigation. Northern Gateway has committed to developing a long-term monitoring plan to measure the effects of project activities and mitigation measure effectiveness, and to develop an appropriate response should adverse effects be identified.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on marine fish and fish habitat (habitat quality and availability) after mitigation

Temporal extent

Effects such as increased sedimentation during construction, dredging and blasting would be temporary (expected for approximately 8 to 9 weeks during construction) and would revert to pre-project conditions once construction is complete. Alteration of the seabed and foreshore areas at the Kitimat Terminal would be permanent.

Spatial extent

Given mitigation, elevated suspended sediment would be confined to a limited area surrounding construction activities. Permanent habitat loss would be limited within the terminal area.

Intensity

Most of the sediment plume is expected to be minor in relation to natural background levels. Permanent loss of habitat is relatively small and would be compensated for by marine habitat offsets.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Due to the relatively localized and minor effects, together with offsets for permanent losses, the Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to marine fish and fish habitat (quality and availability).

Evaluation of adverse project effects on marine fish and fish habitat (acoustic disturbance) after mitigation

Temporal extent

Acoustic disturbance during construction would be temporary and effects are expected to be reversible. Although acoustic disturbance from marine transportation would continue throughout the project's lifespan, these effects would be limited to tens of minutes every 1 to 2 days (i.e., the time during which tankers would transit in any one location). Marine fish are expected to return to and use affected areas shortly after the noise disturbance has ceased.

Spatial extent

Given mitigation, acoustic disturbance from construction is expected to be localized. Acoustic disturbance from tankers would occur along the marine transportation routes.

Intensity

The intensity of acoustic disturbance is expected to be relatively low.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given the temporary and reversible nature of acoustic disturbance during construction, and the transitory and low-intensity effects from shipping for any one location along the marine transportation routes, the Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to marine fish and fish habitat (acoustic disturbance).

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on marine fish and fish habitat

The Panel finds that the project would result in adverse effects on marine fish and fish habitat after applying mitigation. These effects would not be significant. Large numbers of commercial and government vessels have been operating within the North Central Coast region for an extensive period of time. Project effects on marine fish and fish habitat related to acoustic disturbance from marine traffic and during marine terminal construction are expected to be minor and temporary. Sedimentation from marine terminal construction would also be temporary and can be mitigated with standard and established mitigation measures. The Panel finds that the nature of expected project effects after mitigation limits the potential for cumulative effects and a detailed discussion of cumulative effects is not required for effects on marine fish and fish habitat.

8.7.8 Marine water and sediment quality

Background

Sediment quality in the marine environment is important because sediment provides habitat for benthic aquatic organisms. Northern Gateway's baseline data for the area immediately surrounding the marine terminal indicated some contamination of water, sediments, and benthic organisms from previous industrial activity. Industrial activities in the Kitimat area have released contaminants through air emissions and effluent discharges since the 1960s. Sources of contaminants to Kitimat Arm include effluent from a municipal wastewater treatment plant, the Alcan smelter, Methanex Corporation's methanol plant, and the Eurocan pulpmill, as well as storm water runoff from these operations and the municipality.

Sediment influx in the Project Effects Assessment Area is largely controlled by natural outflow from the Kitimat River with suspended sediment levels being highest during peak river runoff (May to July, and October) and lowest during winter. Storm events, tides, and currents can also suspend sediments. Levels of total suspended solids fluctuate seasonally and in response to climatic variations, but are generally highest during the summer. Commercial and recreational vessels currently operating in the area may increase suspended solids by creating water turbulence that disturbs sediments.

Project effects on marine water and sediment quality

Northern Gateway said that, as with any industrial operation taking place near water, small quantities of grease and oil (i.e., less than 15 parts per million, as a regulatory standard) could be released into the marine environment as a result of surface runoff from the Kitimat Terminal. These would be associated with the normal operation of industrial equipment (e.g., operation and maintenance of motor vehicles, hydraulic equipment, or the very small releases associated with normally functioning oil-water separators). Environment Canada and Gitga'at First Nation were concerned about maritime oil pollution resulting from frequent, but typically small, oil discharges at the marine terminal.

Northern Gateway said that its contribution to oiling from routine operations would be negligible, given that its vetting process and operating requirements for shippers (as discussed in Chapter 7) would minimize risks of oil releases during marine transportation and that terminal operations and design would also limit such releases. Regular water and sediment quality monitoring would allow for detection of small oil releases. If detected, Northern Gateway would implement changes to operational procedures to eliminate the release causes.

Northern Gateway said that it would comply with applicable regulations with respect to water quality, such as the Petroleum Storage and Distribution Facilities Storm Water Regulation, the Ballast Water Control and Management Regulations under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, the Waste Management Act, and the Special Waste Regulation.

Mitigation measures

In addition to complying with applicable regulations, Northern Gateway committed to:

  • direct surface water runoff from the terminal tank and manifold areas to the impoundment reservoir. Before being released to the marine environment, excess water from the impoundment reservoir would be tested; and
  • use tanker and platform drip trays at the terminal to minimize the risk of oil releases.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway would conduct monitoring during construction to verify the predicted effects on sediment and water quality for both contaminants and total suspended solids, and to determine the effectiveness of mitigation measures used to limit sediment and contaminant release during dredging.

Views of the Panel

on project effects on marine water and sediment quality

Given the current sediment contamination levels and the limited area over which sedimentation from construction activities would be expected to disperse, the Panel finds that the risk posed by disturbed contaminated sediment is low. Northern Gateway has committed to monitoring during construction to verify the predicted effects on sediment and water quality for both contaminants and total suspended solids.

Appropriate regulations are in place governing the handling and verification of ballast water.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on marine water and sediment quality after mitigation

Temporal extent

Changes in water and sediment quality in the Project Development Area may occur during dredging and construction, but suspended particles would settle within a few days. Minor contamination could occur from routine activities throughout the project's lifespan.

Spatial extent

Site-specific.

Intensity

Because of the small amount of contaminated sediment that could be released, there is not expected to be a measureable increase in the amount of contaminants dissolved in seawater. And contamination from routine activities is expected to be minor.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given the short duration of localized and low-intensity effects, the Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to marine water and sediment quality.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on marine water and sediment quality

The Panel finds that the project would result in adverse effects on marine water and sediment quality after applying mitigation. These effects would not be significant. Project effects on marine water and sediment quality at the marine terminal site would be temporary, site-specific, and minor, limiting the potential for cumulative effects. The Panel finds that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects is not required for effects on marine water and sediment quality.

8.7.9 Marine vegetation

Relatively undisturbed marine riparian vegetation runs continuously along the shorelines of the Confined Channel Assessment Area, except for the more developed areas in Kitimat Arm. Marine riparian vegetation (e.g., shrubs, trees, grasses, forbs) grows at the interface between terrestrial and marine environments on land bordering tidewater. Northern Gateway said that the marine riparian zone adjacent to the marine terminal is densely populated with western hemlock, western red cedar, Amabilis fir, Sitka spruce, and some Douglas fir.

The nearshore benthic habitat of the Confined Channel Assessment Area is characterized by a range of coastal features including primarily rocky shores. There are also sandy beaches (11.75 per cent) and estuaries (3.73 per cent). The species diversity of the rocky intertidal community is generally lower in inland waters than along the Pacific coast, where kelp and other species can also be present. In Kitimat Arm, rockweed and sea lettuce are the dominant seaweeds while red algal turf and sparse kelp cover comprise the lower intertidal flora.

The soft bottom estuaries of Kitimat Arm are dominated by eelgrass, a marine vascular plant that provides important habitat for many juvenile fish and invertebrates. Eelgrass is deemed a "sensitive habitat" by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and is threatened by coastal development worldwide. The steep and rocky characteristics of the shorelines at the marine terminal hinder eelgrass growth within the Project Development Area.

Northern Gateway said that subtidal surveys indicated that sponge reefs are not present in the Project Effects Assessment Area and that routine effects from transportation would not affect glass sponges.

Project effects on marine vegetation

Northern Gateway said that the construction of the marine terminal and the installation of associated infrastructure would result in the loss of up to 1.8 hectares of marine riparian vegetation and approximately 3.8 hectares of suitable habitat for marine algal species such as rockweed. Northern Gateway does not expect altered habitat to affect the survival of rockweed populations or the species that use rockweed as habitat. The installation of berthing structures would create additional hard substrate at suitable depth and light conditions for colonization by some algal species. Northern Gateway said that most of this area, with the exception of areas that would be in direct contact with vessels, would be suitable for colonization.

Winds blow over greater distances in Hecate Strait than inland and, coupled with storm-force winds, can produce waves of 6 to 8 metres in height. In contrast, at the south end of Kitimat Arm, wave heights are generally less than half a metre. Maximum wave heights have been recorded in this area up to 2 metres.

Northern Gateway examined the wake effects of very large crude carriers and escort tugs and concluded that wave heights for normal escort speeds between 8 and 12 knots would be minimal at the shorelines because of the relatively deep and open waters of the Northern and Southern Approaches. Natural Resources Canada expressed concern that the initial predicted wake wave heights were too low and requested that Northern Gateway verify calculated results. Gitga'at First Nation questioned the validity of the simplified wake wave analysis undertaken and requested a more sophisticated analysis be done. In response to the concerns expressed, Northern Gateway provided a second tanker wake study which verified the results presented in the application. The wind-wave modelling results showed that wind-waves of similar height occur about one order of magnitude more frequently than the vessel generated waves.

Douglas Channel Watch expressed concern regarding the effects of vessel wake on shorelines and marine vegetation of marine parks and conservancies within the Confined Channel Assessment Area. Northern Gateway said that the wake produced by the very large crude carriers and escort tugs, as well as other vessels, would be well within the natural range of wave heights in the area. The increase in vessel traffic as a result of project-related marine transportation would not alter the present wave motion characteristics sufficiently to alter the present distribution or growth of the marine vegetation that inhabits intertidal areas, where wave effects would be greatest.

Mitigation measures

Northern Gateway committed to the following:

  • given that marine vegetation provides important habitat for nearshore fish and migratory juvenile salmon, Northern Gateway's conceptual Marine Habitat Compensation Plan outlined potential mitigation measures to reduce potential effects of the project on marine vegetation loss in the Project Effects Assessment Area. Options presented included transplanting eelgrass from healthy donor beds to a suitable restoration site to create valuable habitat for invertebrates and juvenile fish species. A final plan would be developed prior to construction through discussions with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, participating Aboriginal organizations and potentially-affected stakeholders.
  • vessels would transit the confined channel at reduced speeds between 8 and 12 knots, limiting wake effects to the shoreline.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to sampling for 3 years prior to beginning project operations, and 3 years of sampling following initiation of operations, as part of the Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program. Data collected through the Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program would be used as part of an adaptive management program to identify any changes needed in operations or environmental management approaches and ongoing monitoring strategies.

Views of the Panel

on project effects on marine vegetation

The Panel accepts Northern Gateway's conclusion that the marine terminal area would be suitable for recolonization post-construction.

Marine riparian habitat loss can be mitigated through compensation, as would be set out in Northern Gateway's Marine Habitat Compensation Plan.

The Panel finds that the effects of the wake produced by the very large crude carriers and escort tugs, as well as other vessels are not significant because the waves generated are within the range of naturally occurring waves in the marine transportation area and are not expected to cause adverse effects. Northern Gateway provided a second tanker wake study which verified the results presented in the application.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on marine vegetation after mitigation

Temporal extent

Clearing of vegetation for the marine terminal would persist for the life of the project and would not be reversible until after reclamation of the site.

Spatial extent

Site specific: the construction of the marine terminal and the installation of associated infrastructure would result in the loss of up to 1.8 hectares of marine riparian vegetation and approximately 3.8 hectares of suitable habitat for marine algal species such as rockweed.

Intensity

Although vegetation would be cleared for the terminal site, it is a relatively small area, recolonization is expected, and Northern Gateway plans to compensate for vegetation loss.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given the localized effects and compensation, the Panel recommends that the project is not likely to result in significant adverse effects on marine vegetation.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on marine vegetation

The Panel finds that the project would result in adverse effects on marine vegetation after application of mitigation. These effects would not be significant. The Panel finds that effects on marine vegetation would be localized to the marine terminal site and marine vegetation affected by project would be compensated for by offsets, limiting the potential for cumulative effects. The Panel finds that a detailed discussion of cumulative effects is not required for effects on marine vegetation.

8.7.10 Marine birds

There are 2 designated Important Bird Areas, 2 ecological reserves, 12 conservancies, and 5 provincial parks located in or adjacent to the Project Effects Assessment Area and the Confined Channel Assessment Area. A total of 124 marine and coastal bird species are known to occur in the Confined Channel Assessment Area and Open Water Area. Large flocks of ducks and geese frequent the estuarine areas during fall and spring migrations, while the many small channel estuaries provide habitat for wintering, migrating, and breeding waterfowl.

During surveys, Northern Gateway observed 14 marine bird species of conservation concern, including great blue heron, Peale's peregrine falcon, marbled murrelet, and ancient murrelet, all 4 of which are listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. Marine bird species not observed, but that are expected in the project area, include two species listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act: short-tailed albatross (Threatened) and black-footed albatross (Special Concern), both of which would inhabit offshore open waters. There are no associated recovery strategies, action plans, or management plans available for any of the observed or expected species at risk, except for the short-tailed albatross. Critical habitat is not defined in the short-tailed albatross' recovery strategy.

Baseline data for marine birds

Several parties questioned Northern Gateway's survey methods and the baseline data collected for marine birds. Environment Canada said that data collected on marine birds did not provide a sufficient baseline, and it requested that Northern Gateway collect a comprehensive set of biological baseline information prior to operations. It said that, ideally, the baseline should be completed over a minimum of 3 years prior to construction. Gitga'at First Nation said that the level of survey intensity was inadequate. Kitimat Valley Naturalists said that the survey results did not accurately represent marine birds found in the vicinity of the Kitimat estuary.

Northern Gateway committed to develop and implement a Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program collaboratively with participating Aboriginal groups, government authorities, and other stakeholders. As part of the program, Northern Gateway would conduct marine bird surveys for 3 years prior to starting project operations and up to 3 years after beginning operations. It would conduct the surveys in the Confined Channel Assessment Area and some of the Open Water Area, such as approaches to the Confined Channel Assessment Area and important habitat areas.

Environment Canada said that the Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program framework forms a good foundation for developing a rigorous monitoring program for marine birds.

Project effects on marine birds

Northern Gateway said that marine terminal construction could result in a change in marbled murrelet breeding habitat and loss of breeding sites. It said that sensory disturbance to marine birds could result from in-air and underwater noise, site clearing, land and marine blasting, dredging, artificial lighting at night, transiting and presence of ships, marine terminal operations, and wave turbulence from moving vessels.

Northern Gateway did not assess direct mortality of marine birds from routine marine transportation activities because it predicted that only a small number of individuals (single to tens of birds per year) would be killed in any 1 year. Northern Gateway did assess direct mortality risk to marine birds from nest destruction and collisions with power lines and lights.

Northern Gateway said that project effects on marbled murrelet breeding habitat, loss of breeding sites, and avoidance of industrial activities during construction would be limited to areas where project activities overlap with preferred nesting habitat within 70 kilometres of the coast. Although the project would affect approximately 1,000 metres of shoreline habitat, none of the habitat would include that used by prey species important to marbled murrelet.

Coastal First Nations and BC Nature and Nature Canada were concerned about sensory disturbance to marbled murrelet from tanker traffic, and the extent to which interactions with tankers might ultimately affect marbled murrelet populations. The Council of Haida Nation also said that some species of colonial marine birds are highly susceptible to human-related disturbances. Coastal First Nations said that Northern Gateway did not adequately consider stress increases or changes in foraging behaviour of marine birds.

Northern Gateway said that effects of sensory disturbance on marine birds, in general, would be localized and short-term. It said that, although it expects individual birds to be affected, once vessels pass, birds are expected to resume their normal behaviour. Northern Gateway said that there is little evidence of a strong effect of vessel traffic on marbled murrelet, except where sudden and rapid increases in vessel traffic might occur, which is not predicted to occur as a result of the project.

BC Nature and Nature Canada said that the negative effects of artificial lights on marine birds are well-documented, and effects could include increased energetic costs, deviation from normal migratory pathways, delayed migration, collisions with lighted structures, and disorientation. It said that red light is attractive to marine birds and causes disorientation. It also said that artificial light could increase the risk of predation of nocturnal species at breeding colonies and at sea since the proposed shipping route for the project passes in close proximity to significant marine bird breeding colonies.

Northern Gateway said that lighting from the marine terminal, vessels, or other infrastructure would result in a negligible amount of avian disorientation and mortality for short periods of time. It would limit night lighting, to the extent practical, to reduce the risk of marine bird disorientation or collisions associated with light disturbance.

Northern Gateway said that the marine terminal may contribute to marine bird mortality through collisions with overhead power lines and infrastructure. It said that electrocution poses a threat to bird safety when power lines are used as perches. Nesting platforms and wires can pose collision hazards. Northern Gateway committed to mitigation measures to minimize electrocution risk to marine birds.

Environment Canada said that potential effects from ship lighting, or disturbance effects from ship traffic, would not be likely to cause population level effects.

Mitigation measures

In addition to general mitigation measures outlined in the application, Northern Gateway committed to:

  • limit night lighting – use of lighting at night would be limited, as practical. Where permissible under safety and navigation requirements, outdoor lights would be upward shielded to reduce attraction by birds in flight. All unnecessary outside lights would be extinguished at night. Indoor lights would be blocked by blackout blinds. Work periods would be scheduled during daylight hours whenever possible to limit the need for staging lights.
  • protection on power lines – energized surfaces would be covered with protective devices manufactured for wires, conductors, power line insulators and power line bushings.

Monitoring and follow-up

Northern Gateway committed to:

  • develop and implement a Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program for the marine terminal and marine transportation, in advance of terminal operations, to assess mitigation effectiveness and to adapt as necessary; and
  • undertake, as part of its Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program, continued marine bird surveys in the Confined Channel Assessment Area and some of the Open Water Area, such as approaches to the Confined Channel Assessment Area and key habitat areas. It would conduct marine bird surveys in accordance with Canadian Wildlife Service standards and they would take into consideration the ecology of the specific indicator species.

The Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program would be a follow-up program. Northern Gateway would use data collected through the Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program as part of an adaptive management program to identify any required changes in project operations, or environment management approaches and ongoing monitoring strategies.

Research

Northern Gateway committed to undertake further research and monitoring, and to fund independent third party research on disturbance and developing measures to minimize vessel effects on marine wildlife, including marine birds.

Views of the Panel

on baseline data and on project effects on marine birds

Considering Northern Gateway's commitment to conduct further baseline and monitoring studies, the Panel finds that appropriate information would be available for the purposes of assessing mitigation and, if required, adaptive management.

The Panel requires Northern Gateway to develop its Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program that would include marine bird sampling for 3 years before starting project operations and up to 3 years after beginning operations. Environment Canada said that the program framework was a good foundation for developing a rigorous monitoring program.

The Panel notes Environment Canada's view that potential effects from ship lighting or disturbance effects from ship traffic would not be likely to cause population-level effects on marine birds. The Panel finds that, given Northern Gateway's commitments to reduce sensory disturbance through vessel propeller maintenance and vessel speed restrictions, as well as to apply light disturbance mitigation, the project is likely to have little effect on direct mortality of marine birds from project construction and routine operations.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on marine birds (habitat availability) after mitigation

Temporal extent

Direct loss of habitat from terminal construction would last for the duration of project operations. There would be short-term sensory disturbance from blasting and dredging during construction. Sensory disturbance from vessel operations would continue throughout the project lifespan, although each event would be of short duration.

Spatial extent

Habitat loss and sensory disturbance from construction would be limited to the project area, while sensory disturbance from vessels would be along the marine transportation routes.

Intensity

Marine birds do not substantially rely on the habitat within and near the Project Development Area, and sensory disturbance from vessels is expected to have a negligible to low effect on marine bird populations.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Given the low intensity of effects, the Panel recommends that project construction and routine operation are not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to habitat availability for marine birds.

Evaluation of adverse project effects on marine birds (mortality risk) after mitigation

Temporal extent

Mortality risk related to nest destruction would be limited to the marine terminal's construction period. Mortality risk from collisions with power lines and lights (and from routine transportation activities) would last for the duration marine terminal operations.

Spatial extent

Generally localized (the marine terminal area).

Intensity

Mortality events due to routing transportation activities, nest destruction, and collisions with power lines and lights are expected to be rare and have a small effect on marine bird populations.

Recommendation for significance of project effects after mitigation

Considering the low intensity of effects, together with planned surveys, mitigation, and monitoring, the Panel recommends that project construction and routine operation are not likely to result in significant adverse effects with respect to mortality risk to marine birds.

Views of the Panel

on cumulative effects on marine birds

The Panel finds that the project would result in adverse effects on marine bird habitat availability and mortality risk after applying mitigation. These effects would not be significant. These effects would be localized and population-level effects are not expected. Direct mortality of marine birds from vessels is expected to be rare. The proposed mitigation measures for direct mortality of marine birds from nest destruction and electrocution risk are standard. The Panel finds that the nature of expected project effects after mitigation limits the potential for cumulative effects and a detailed discussion of cumulative effects is not required for effects on marine birds.

8.8 Capacity of renewable resources

The Panel's environmental assessment included consideration of the capacity of renewable resources that are likely to be significantly affected by the project to meet the needs of the present and those of the future.

The Panel identifies those elements of the biophysical environment that, as renewable resources, have either an existing or anticipated use by the public and Aboriginal groups (both consumptive and non-consumptive use) and that can be replaced or replenished on an ongoing basis by natural or human actions. In Chapter 9, Panel considerations include effects on the human environment from project-related changes to the biophysical environment.

During its evaluation of significance for each of the environmental effects identified, Northern Gateway examined the capacity of renewable resources likely to be significantly affected by the project to meet the needs of the present and those of the future. It did so by considering whether the resource would be able to sustain itself, should the project proceed. Northern Gateway analyzed environmental effects on biophysical renewable resources, including atmospheric environment, water resources, freshwater and marine fish, marine mammals, vegetation, wetlands, and terrestrial wildlife. It also identified and analyzed effects of the project on land and resource use.

Other parties commented on specific project effects on environmental components addressed in this chapter. Limited comments were made by other parties specifically with respect to the capacity of renewable resources that are likely to be significantly affected by the project to meet the needs of the present and those of the future. The United Fisherman and Allied Workers Union said that one of the renewable resources that would be significantly affected by the project is the fisheries resource. It said that the determination of the effects of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project on the capacity of the fisheries resource to meet the needs of Canada's fishing industry and future seafood markets is key.

Views of the Panel

on capacity of renewable resources

The Panel considered renewable resources that have the potential to be significantly affected by the project, and whether the ecosystems of which these renewable resources are a part would be able to maintain the processes on which these renewable resources depend, should the project be built.

Various sections of this chapter provide consideration of whether significant adverse effects to the capacity of those resources to meet the needs of the present and those of the future are likely to occur. The nature of potential effects on the capacity of renewable resources was considered along with criteria for evaluating significance, such as the length of time for recovery.

For the majority of the effects considered in this report, the Panel is of the view that, given the mitigation measures to be implemented and Northern Gateway's compliance with the conditions that Panel has set out, the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on renewable resources.

In the cases where the Panel recommends that effects are likely to be significant (related to cumulative effects on woodland caribou and grizzly bears), careful management of the cumulative effects from all projects is important if the use of such renewable resources is to be maintained for present and future generations.

For the terrestrial portion of the project, once the pipelines are decommissioned or abandoned, the land would be available for former uses, further reducing any residual effects to the capacity of renewable resources. For the marine and freshwater portions of the project, should the project cause losses to fishery resources, one option would be compensation.

8.9 Environmental protection

Northern Gateway submitted a preliminary Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan that includes mitigation and monitoring commitments aimed at avoiding potential adverse effects during the project's construction phase, or minimizing them when they cannot be avoided. The plan would be the primary reference to document Northern Gateway's environmental protection commitments and requirements for contractors, environmental inspectors, and project personnel. Northern Gateway would track the implementation of all of its environmental obligations and requirements during construction using tools such as environmental alignment sheets, a compliance database, and an environmental issues tracking database.

Northern Gateway said that its final Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan, which it would file with the National Energy Board for approval before construction begins, would outline protection measures for environmental components that were identified through the environmental assessment process and in consultation with regulators, participating Aboriginal groups, resource managers, scientists, and the public, including members of the Community Advisory Boards. It said that input received from participating Aboriginal groups was assessed and incorporated where appropriate into its preliminary plan, and that input from Aboriginal groups would continue to be collected and incorporated into the final plan, as appropriate.

Northern Gateway proposed a number of environmental management plans as part of its Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan. Northern Gateway said that it would include contingency plans in the Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan that would outline proposed responses to exceptional or unexpected events such as:

  • routine spills (including fuel, hydraulic fluid, or chemical releases);
  • fires;
  • environmental damage shutdown or work modification (e.g., if heavy rains or unexpected thawing of frozen soils lead to rutting, which may damage the soil structure or result in admixing, work may have to be suspended until conditions improve);
  • weather event siltation (including unanticipated storm water management);
  • unplanned heritage resources discoveries;
  • personnel-wildlife interactions; and
  • horizontal directional drilling failures.

During the project Panel's review, Northern Gateway identified other environmental management plans, including:

  • Air Quality Emissions Management and Soil Monitoring Plan
  • Caribou Habitat Offsets Measures Plan
  • Caribou Habitat Restoration Plan
  • Caribou Protection Plan
  • Environmental Management and Protection Plan for Nechako Sturgeon
  • Freshwater Fish and Fish Habitat Compensation Plan
  • Linear Feature Management and Removal Plan
  • Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Plan
  • Marine Habitat Compensation Plan
  • Marine Mammal Protection Plan
  • Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Plan
  • Quality Management Plan
  • Sediment Monitoring Plan
  • Watercourse Crossing Contingency Plans
  • Wetlands Function Assessment Plan

Northern Gateway included commitments to environmental inspections and audits in its preliminary Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan. Environmental inspections would involve monitoring compliance with environmental commitments, undertakings and conditions of authorizations, applicable environmental regulations, and Northern Gateway's own policies, procedures, and specifications. Environmental audits would assess the effectiveness of the Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan's implementation and would examine conformance to environmental protection plans and commitments, and consistency among all aspects of the environmental inspection programs. Northern Gateway envisioned environmental inspectors to be either employees or contractors of Northern Gateway. It said that it would specify in the Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program whether environmental audits would be conducted by an environmental inspector or by a third party.

The Coalition said that third party inspections and audits, as opposed to those conducted by employees or contractors of Northern Gateway, would be preferable from an accountability and transparency point of view. Northern Gateway said that its approach to compliance verification, through inspections and audits, would be integrated within its overall environmental management system and quality assurance practices. In response to questions from the Fort St. James Sustainability Group, Northern Gateway said that it has not yet confirmed the details of its auditing program.

Views of the Panel

on environmental protection

It would be necessary for Northern Gateway's activities to be subject to a series of environmental protection measures to ensure compliance with environmental commitments and requirements, in order to avoid significant adverse environmental effects.

The Panel requires Northern Gateway to develop its final Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan. The plan would encompass a comprehensive compilation of all environmental protection procedures, mitigation measures, and monitoring commitments, as set out in the project application, subsequent filings, evidence collected during the Panel's process, or that Northern Gateway otherwise committed to during questioning or in its related submissions during the review. The Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan must include the contingency plans and environmental management plans, as outlined in the preliminary Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan.

If the project is approved, and Northern Gateway decides to proceed, Northern Gateway would be required to comply with all conditions that are set out in the certificates. The National Energy Board would monitor and enforce compliance during the project's lifespan through audits, inspections, and other compliance and enforcement tools.

8.10 Follow-up and monitoring

In addition to the various follow-up programs noted throughout Section 8.7 of this report, Northern Gateway said that it would meet its commitments related to follow-up and monitoring through its implementation of the following broad programs:

  • the Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program, the purpose of which would be to describe the current status of terrestrial and freshwater biota and their habitat, and any potential change in species diversity, abundance and distribution, and habitat quality in the Project Effects Assessment Area due to direct effects of routine project activities or potential oil spills; and
  • the Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program, the purpose of which would be to describe the current status of marine biota and their habitat, and any potential change in species diversity, abundance and distribution, and habitat quality in the Project Effects Assessment Area, Confined Channel Assessment Area, and Open Water Area due to direct effects of routine project activities or potential oil spills.

Data collected through each of these programs would be used as part of an adaptive management program to identify any required changes in project operations, or environmental management approaches and ongoing monitoring strategies.

Northern Gateway said that the project environmental inspector would conduct compliance monitoring to determine whether project activities adhere to proposed mitigation measures. Northern Gateway would monitor mitigation measure effectiveness as needed to confirm that they are effective, implementing adjustments as necessary, as part of adaptive management.

The Coalition asked, with respect to monitoring project effects, who would "monitor the monitors." Northern Gateway said that it has outlined detailed plans for environmental inspection during construction, and verification by third parties that all components of the final Construction Environmental Protection and Management Plan are being considered and implemented. It would file its monitoring plans with the National Energy Board.

Northern Gateway said that it would implement follow-up measures in situations where it has a low to moderate certainty level regarding its predictions of environmental effects, and a low confidence level in the effectiveness of its proposed mitigation measures. It would also apply follow-up measures in instances where proposed mitigation measures have not been fully tested.

Northern Gateway committed to an adaptive management approach by which it would implement alternate or additional mitigation measures if the results of its proposed follow-up programs showed that effects were greater than expected, or if mitigation was not achieving the anticipated results.

Some participants, including the Coalition, characterised Northern Gateway's proposed follow-up programs as late attempts to identify environmental effects and mitigation measures; a process that should have occurred during the course of the review process, instead of post-approval. Coastal First Nations concurred and said that, in the case of marine mammals for example, Northern Gateway's commitment to conduct monitoring and follow-up post-approval to gather additional information cannot adequately inform the Panel's recommendation as to whether the project should be approved or not. Similarly, Haisla Nation said that Northern Gateway's reliance on follow-up and monitoring to determine significance of adverse effects or effectiveness of mitigation would prevent the Panel from effectively making significance determinations for potential environmental effects.

Northern Gateway said that using follow-up programs does not render the environmental assessment incomplete or insufficient. Instead, it makes the environmental assessment adaptable. For example, Northern Gateway said that the purpose of the Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program would be to refine its project with respect to mitigation, timing for least risk periods, and for obtaining pre-construction baseline information. The proposed program reflects the moderate level of certainty that Northern Gateway has in terms of its predictions and would help it determine its proposed mitigation measures' effectiveness. It is not meant to provide more information to inform the environmental assessment.

Northern Gateway reiterated, in final argument, that its proposed follow-up commitments are consistent with the purpose of follow-up programs under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. This was notably with respect to modifying or implementing new measures where warranted by follow-up results, supporting the implementation of adaptive management measures, addressing previously-unanticipated adverse environmental effects, and supporting environmental management systems used to manage the environmental effects.

Views of the Panel

on follow-up and monitoring

Northern Gateway committed to the specific follow-up and monitoring measures outlined in this chapter for each assessed valued ecosystem component.

The Panel has considered the need for, and requirements of, follow-up as part of its environmental assessment. Should the project be approved, follow-up programs should be implemented for valued ecosystem components for which there is uncertainty or low confidence in how the project may adversely interact with them, or if there is uncertainty or low confidence in the effectiveness of the proposed mitigation measures. Follow-up programs may also be appropriate when new or unproven technologies are being considered to bring adverse environmental effects below a significance threshold. Finally, the Panel took into consideration that the National Energy Board has regulatory oversight throughout the entire project lifespan. Through conditions, the Panel requires Northern Gateway to file the results of these follow-up programs with the National Energy Board.

Some participants considered Northern Gateway's proposed follow-up programs as a late attempt to identify environmental effects and mitigation measures and that its environmental assessment was incomplete.

The Panel finds that the information to be collected as part of the follow-up programs is intended to provide a more comprehensive baseline upon which to determine if the predictions made in the environmental assessment are accurate and to verify mitigation measure effectiveness. The Panel does not view collecting further baseline information under the follow-up programs as an attempt to fill a gap in baseline information for the environmental assessment. The Panel finds that the follow-up programs that Northern Gateway proposed fit the intent of a follow-up program under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.

The Panel requires Northern Gateway to develop and describe its proposed environmental component-specific follow-up programs, such as for linear feature management and removal, and acid rock drainage. The Panel also requires Northern Gateway to develop its final Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program and Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program.

8.11 Summary views of the Panel

In this chapter, the Panel looked at the environmental effects of routine project activities, including marine transportation, on the biophysical environment. The Panel considered all of the evidence in coming to its recommendations as to whether the project's predicted adverse environmental effects would likely be significant.

Some participants questioned whether sufficient evidence had been provided and argued that certain surveys, plans, or analyses that Northern Gateway proposed undertaking or developing in the post-approval stage should have been provided before or during the environmental assessment. The Panel concluded that it had all evidence required to make its recommendations on all matters relevant to the environmental assessment of the project. In particular, the Panel finds that all relevant pathways of effects were adequately considered, that appropriate key indicator species were chosen, and that sufficient evidence on the likely effectiveness of mitigation and adaptive management was provided to allow the Panel to understand the current state of knowledge. The Panel accepts Northern Gateway's environmental assessment as sufficient for the purposes for which it was intended.

The Panel considers that Northern Gateway's mitigation measures would provide environmental protection to species present in the project area, whether they are terrestrial, freshwater, or marine species. The degree of protection afforded by mitigation measures would increase if a species is already at risk. The Panel finds that Northern Gateway generally took a precautionary approach and has made commitments related to additional research that could result in benefits.

The Panel is of the view that, even when considering Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation measures and its compliance with the conditions the Panel has set out, the project would cause adverse environmental effects, after mitigation, on a number of valued ecosystem components. These include the atmospheric environment, rare plants and rare ecological communities, old-growth forests, soils, wetlands, woodland caribou, grizzly bear, terrestrial birds, amphibians, freshwater fish and fish habitat, surface and groundwater resources, marine mammals, marine fish and fish habitat, marine water and sediment quality, marine vegetation, and marine birds. The Panel does not conclude that potential effects, from the project alone, are likely to be significant for any of these valued ecosystem components.

The Panel also considered cumulative effects for each valued ecosystem component, and provided a detailed discussion of effects where such a discussion was warranted. In most cases, the Panel recommends that project effects, in combination with effects of past, present, and reasonably-foreseeable projects, activities, or actions, are not likely to be significant.

In two cases, the Panel recommends that project effects, in combination with effects of past, present, and reasonably foreseeable projects, activities, or actions, are likely to be significant. The first relates to effects on woodland caribou and, specifically, for the Little Smoky herd of boreal woodland caribou, and the Hart Ranges, Telkwa, Narraway, and Quintette herds of southern mountain caribou. The second relates to grizzly bear and, specifically, the eight grizzly bear populations that are or would be over the linear density threshold (i.e., all population units and management areas overlapped by the Project Effects Assessment Area, other than the Parsnip Grizzly Bear Population Unit).

In each of these two cases, despite substantial mitigation proposed by Northern Gateway that generally surpasses industry norms and commitments to undertake research to fill knowledge gaps, uncertainties related to the effectiveness of that mitigation led the Panel to take a precautionary approach and recommend a finding of significance. In Chapter 2, the Panel considers the overall benefits and burdens of the project, and recommends that significant effects in these two cases be found to be justified in the circumstances.

The Panel's recommendations are dependent on the full implementation of Northern Gateway's proposed measures and its compliance with the conditions the Panel has set out. Most of the Panel's conditions regarding the biophysical environment are intended to ensure that, if the project proceeds, biophysical baseline information is enhanced and detailed design and mitigation plans are developed and made available before construction begins. This would increase the probability of mitigation success, inform interested or affected parties, and support regulatory oversight by the National Energy Board, in particular. Implementation of Northern Gateway's commitments and its compliance with the conditions the Panel has set out with respect to follow-up, monitoring, and adaptive management would verify the accuracy of environmental assessment predictions and mitigation effectiveness. The commitments and conditions would inform and track effective corrective measures where they are required.

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Date Modified:
2014-01-17