A federal regulatory body has OK'd changes to conditions related to marine life and water for the Woodfibre LNG project.
"We respect the decision made by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC), and the formal process by which they conducted their analysis and engaged federal authorities, Indigenous Peoples, and the public. As confirmed by IAAC, the amendments that have been approved in no way diminish our responsibility or commitment to protect marine mammals or water quality," Woodfibre LNG spokesperson Sean Beardow told The Squamish Chief via email.
In June 2022, Woodfibre applied to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, or IAAC, to amend two conditions of the project's Decision Statement, which contains legally-binding requirements for the project.
The IAAC answers to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
A public comment period was held from Nov. 17, 2022, to Jan. 30, 2023 regarding these proposed changes.
Firstly, Woodfibre LNG said that pinnipeds — seals and sea lions — should be subject to a less restrictive exclusion zone than other marine mammals "due to feasibility concerns associated with restricting pinnipeds from the project area."
The original rule said that Woodfibre had to shut down marine construction activities whenever a marine mammal, such as a seal, was detected within an impact area where underwater noise is expected to exceed 160 decibels. This is expected to be within 7,322 metres (7.3 kilometres) of any activity.
Woodfibre said this rule would "lead to regular and prolonged full project shutdowns of pile installation associated with the construction of key marine project components. This would make construction neither technically nor economically feasible."
The company proposed to create a pinniped exclusion area of 125 metres from sources of underwater noise-producing activities instead.
Decision on amendments
The federal government concluded, as shown in the decision published on Aug. 4, based on the information provided by Woodfibre LNG and the views provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), that Woodfibre LNG is required to "establish a pinniped exclusion zone boundary at a distance of either 150 meters from the impact source, or where noise levels exceed 190 decibels, whichever is more conservative under specific environmental conditions."
The other amendment requested by Woodfibre LNG was to clarify the language of the condition around water quality so that it is responsible for water quality and sediment during operation and construction.
Woodfibre LNG also requested to limit its responsibility for contaminants attributable to the project.
The agency agreed, saying the condition should be amended to read:
"[Woodfibre LNG] shall monitor, during construction and operation, water quality and sediment, using as a benchmark the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment's Water Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life and Interim Sediment Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life, and shall communicate any exceedance(s) of the Guidelines attributable to the Designated Project to relevant government authorities and Aboriginal groups, and implement additional mitigation measures to remedy those exceedances."
Green light ‘shameful’
In response to the federal decision, My Sea to Sky executive director Tracey Saxby said in a news release that the green light for these changes was "shameful."
"The Federal government has chosen to prioritize the profits of a foreign-owned fossil fuel export company over its mandate to protect the environment for Canadian residents. This sets a dangerous precedent," she said.
“Minister [of Environment and Climate Change Steven] Guilbeault has agreed to weaken the conditions of Woodfibre LNG’s environmental assessment certificate related to underwater noise, water quality, and sediment quality, and allowed Woodfibre LNG to avoid responsibility for its pollution. This is shameful."
Squamish's MP, Patrick Weiler, said in a statement sent to The Squamish Chief that the amendments are largely "administrative in nature to ensure that Woodfibre is capable of meeting the conditions of the project, with no increased adverse environmental impacts."
"The amendments that were made are based on the scientific evidence coming from [the] Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment and Climate Change Canada and are responsive to feedback received on the draft amendments from Indigenous groups and the public," he said.
"Woodfibre is legally required to meet the conditions of the decision statement in order to proceed with the project, and the amended conditions introduce a new adaptive management requirement which ensures the environmental protections in place can be modified if the need arises."
~With files from Steven Chua/The Squamish Chief
The Decision Statement is also below.