Category Archives: Environmental

Trans Mountain ordered to delay pipeline construction in B.C. bird nesting area

Bird nests delay part of TMX pipeline construction

Workers survey around pipe to start of right-of-way construction for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, in Acheson, Alta., Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

VANCOUVER – Environment and Climate Change Canada has ordered a halt to construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline through a forest in Burnaby, B.C., until the end of bird nesting season.

The department said the order was issued following an enforcement officer’s visit to the site prompted by complaints that nests of the Anna’s hummingbird and other migratory birds were being damaged.

“Given that it is nesting season, migratory birds are particularly vulnerable at this time,” it said in an emailed statement.

“Cutting vegetation and trees or carrying out other disruptive activities such as bulldozing or using chainsaws and heavy machinery in the vicinity of active nests will likely result in disturbance or destruction of those nests.”

It said construction is paused until Aug. 20.

The $12.6-billion expansion project is designed to triple the capacity of the existing pipeline between Edmonton and the shipping terminal in Burnaby to about 890,000 barrels per day of products, including diluted bitumen, lighter crudes and refined fuel.

Sarah Ross of the Community Nest Finding Network said the group began noticing hummingbirds in the Burnaby area in February. Anna’s hummingbirds are some of the first birds to nest and arrive as early as January, she noted.

“In the small area that we’re monitoring, I’d say there’s probably a dozen nests,” Ross said in an interview. Her group is watching a third of the area pipeline builders have been told to avoid.

“We’ve been really surprised at the density of hummingbird nests in this area. It’s a really rich habitat for them. It has all the things that they need — close to clean water and has all the blossoms of the salmonberry.”

Hummingbirds arrive to feed in Leonor Pardo’s Enchanted Garden in San Francisco de Sales, near Bogota, Colombia, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Fernando Vergara.

The group reported the presence of nests in the area to Trans Mountain and federal and provincial environmental authorities, she said.

Environment and Climate Change Canada said it issued orders following two on-site inspections.

It gave a verbal order on April 12, which asked the company to “immediately refrain from disturbing, destroying or taking a nest or an egg of a migratory bird” in the 1,000-metre area along Highway 1.

Trans Mountain was also ordered to immediately stop or shut down any activity, including tree trimming and cutting that may require the use of heavy machinery including bulldozers and chainsaws that could disturb and destroy nests.

About 10 days later, the department ordered the company to put up signs in the area that say no activity is allowed during the nesting period.

Trans Mountain confirmed that the order applied to a 900-metre area along the Brunette River for the duration of the nesting period.

“While Trans Mountain endeavours to conduct tree clearing activities outside of the migratory bird nesting periods, this is not always feasible,” it said in a statement.

The company didn’t respond to questions about possible added costs or how the order might set back the timing of the pipeline’s completion.

Anna’s hummingbirds and other bird species found in the area such as song sparrows, pine siskins, robins and black-capped chickadees are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.

The company said it is in talks with Environment and Climate Change Canada to determine how it can mitigate the disturbance to migratory birds during the nesting period.

“Trans Mountain’s policies and procedures for the protection of migratory birds and their habitat were developed in consultation with stakeholders and communities and have been extensively reviewed by federal and provincial regulatory authorities,” it said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2021.

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Photo credit StopLine3.org

Opponents sue to shut down Minnesota construction of Enbridge pipeline

Photo credit StopLine3.org

Photo credit StopLine3.org.

Opponents of a pipeline project that crosses three states have asked a federal court to halt construction in Minnesota on allegations that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to address several environmental issues when it approved a water quality permit.

Two Minnesota Ojibwe bands and two environmental groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Thursday that asks for a preliminary injunction to stop work on the Enbridge Energy Line 3 pipeline that began early this month across northern Minnesota.

Line 3 starts in Alberta and clips a corner of North Dakota before crossing northern Minnesota en route to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. The 542.35-kilometre line in Minnesota is the last step in replacing the deteriorating pipeline that was built in the 1960s.

The complaint said the Corps decision to issue the permit authorizing the pipeline violates multiple federal laws and treaties and is causing irreparable harm.

The suit was filed by the Red Lake Bank of Chippewa, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, the Sierra Club and the environmental group Honor the Earth.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Nov. 23 issued its “404 permit” for the discharge of dredged and filled material into U.S. waters during Line 3’s construction. The permit was the last major approval Calgary-based Enbridge needed to begin construction in Minnesota, after a contentious process that lasted several years.

The suit argues that the Corps failed to evaluate the risks and impacts of oil spills, which is particularly important given the nature of the oil that Enbridge will transport, plaintiffs allege. Line 3 will carry thick Canadian oil that sinks in water and is harder to contain during a spill, the Star Tribune reported.

The suit also contends that the Corps didn’t properly evaluate the pipeline’s impact on climate change and that the agency should have conducted its own environmental impact statement on the pipeline. The Corps also failed to fully assess Line 3’s impacts on tribal treaty rights, the suit said.

The Army Corps didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.

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Minnesota grants key permits for Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline project

FILE – In this June 29, 2018 file photo, pipeline used to carry crude oil is shown at the Superior terminal of Enbridge Energy in Superior, Wis. AP Photo/Jim Mone

Minnesota regulators granted a stack of important permits and approvals Thursday for Enbridge’s planned Line 3 pipeline replacement across northern Minnesota, setting the long-delayed US$2.6-billion project on the road toward beginning construction soon.

The approvals from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources clear the way for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue the remaining federal permits, which is expected to happen fairly quickly. The MPCA could then approve a final construction storm water permit that’s meant to protect surface waters from pollutant runoff.

“The MPCA has used sound science and thorough analysis to ensure that necessary safeguards are in place to protect Minnesota’s waters,” Commissioner Laura Bishop said in a statement, adding that the certification “requires Enbridge to meet Minnesota’s extensive water quality standards instead of lower federal standards.”

Environmental and Indigenous groups have been fighting the project for years. They contend it threatens pristine waters where Indigenous people harvest wild rice and that the oil it would carry from the Canadian oilsands would aggravate climate change.

“The science is clear that Line 3 would threaten Minnesota’s clean water and set back our state’s progress on climate at a time when we can least afford it,” Margaret Levin, director of the Sierra Club’s Minnesota chapter, said in a statement that raised the possibility of further legal challenges.

But Calgary-based Enbridge welcomed the approvals, saying in a statement that it recognizes that the permit conditions required by the two state agencies “are essential for protecting Minnesota’s sensitive streams and wild rice waters.”

Line 3 — which runs from Alberta across North Dakota and Minnesota to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wis., — was built in the 1960s, but it’s deteriorating and can run at only about half its original capacity.

Enbridge says replacing it will allow it to move oil more safely while creating 4,200 construction jobs and generating millions of dollars in local spending and tax revenues. The updated sections in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin are already operating. But the Minnesota segment has been working its way through regulatory agencies and the courts for six years.

Still pending is a court appeal from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, which contends that Enbridge failed to conduct a legally adequate long-range demand forecast. The independent Public Utilities Commission, which is overseeing the project, has rejected that argument several times.

The administration of Gov. Tim Walz has come under fire from Line 3 supporters for pursuing the challenge; now it faces criticism from opponents for Thursday’s approvals.

“It’s clear now that Gov. Walz’s wish for Line 3 to have ‘a social permit’ was all talk and no action. This is a deeply unpopular pipeline that is a disaster for our climate, and it will be fought every step of the way,” said Andy Pearson, Midwest Tar Sands Co-ordinator for the climate change group MN350.

The regional council of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, one of the unions whose members would build the project, said in a statement that it expects construction to begin next month.

Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner wouldn’t confirm that date but said the company plans to begin construction as soon as it has the final authorization and permits in hand. Construction would then take six to nine months.

By Steve Karnowski The Associated Press, Posted November 12, 2020

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Imperial Oil reports deaths of birds that landed on Alberta tailings ponds

In 2019 and in 2010, Syncrude was fined millions of dollars for the death of birds landing on its tailings pond.

Fort McMurray, Alta. — Imperial Oil Ltd. is reporting the deaths of 50 birds that landed on tailings areas near its Kearl oilsands project in northern Alberta.

Imperial says more than 100 birds per day, mainly grebes and shorebirds, have landed on the ponds over several days, mostly on open water.

Jon Harding, an Imperial spokesman, says some of the oily birds have been taken to a rehabilitation centre in Edmonton where they will be cleaned and assessed.

Imperial says the birds landed despite active deterrent systems including radar detection, noise cannons, eye-safe lasers, scarecrows, and long-range noise making devices.

It says the system is maintained and operated by a well-trained, experienced and dedicated team that works throughout the annual bird migration and breeding season.

Imperial says it believes exhausted birds landed at the Kearl site in spite of the deterrents because most of the natural water bodies in the area are still frozen.

“We very much regret this situation and are making every effort to protect the birds and learn from these increased landings,” Harding said in an email Tuesday.

“Our personnel, with expert third-party support, continue to actively monitor the situation and are taking all prudent steps to safely encourage the birds to avoid and move off landing areas.”

Harding said Imperial has notified industry regulators about what happened.

In January 2019, Syncrude was fined more than $2.7 million after pleading guilty to environmental charges in the deaths of 31 great blue herons at one of its oilsands mines north of Fort McMurray in 2015.

An agreed statement of facts said that Syncrude admitted that an abandoned sump pond in which the birds were found didn’t have deterrents to keep waterfowl from landing on it, even though the pond met criteria for being high risk.

Fencing and bird deterrents were then installed and the ponds were brought under Syncrude’s plan to keep wildlife away from toxic materials at its mine.

In 2010, Syncrude was fined $3 million after more than 1,600 ducks died when they landed on a tailings pond in 2008.

Syncrude was found guilty of federal and provincial environmental charges over the duck deaths.

By; The Canadian Press, May 6, 2020

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Indigenous leaders call for pipeline shutdown over COVID-19 fears

As construction continues on the controversial, billion-dollar Coastal Gaslink pipeline in northern British Columbia, Indigenous communities living near the route fear that out-of-town workers could spread COVID-19 to the resource-strapped region.

First Nations leaders, many of whom supported the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ opposition to the project, are now calling on the federal and provincial governments to shut down the construction. In an open letter, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs said the ongoing construction heightens the risk of transmission and puts both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities at risk.

“The risks posed by continued work on the Coastal GasLink project are ones that were not consented to, and ones that leaders and officials raised warnings about in advance of the project’s approval,” the group said in its letter.

Like most provinces, B.C has deemed construction projects an essential service. Provincial Medical Health Officer Bonnie Henry has said it isn’t safe or practical to shut down ongoing construction projects.

Coastal Gaslink has camps dotted across northern British Columbia to accommodate its workforce, which is projected to reach 2,500 workers once the project reaches its peak construction period.

These days, roughly 100 workers remain on the job, Coastal Gaslink said, down from about 1,000 before the coronavirus pandemic. To help prevent the spread of the virus, common areas are now restricted and the company said it is disinfecting equipment.

The company says local residents and contractors are being hired and that new employees won’t be moving in to the company’s accommodations. On-site medics are monitoring workers’ health using both temperature checks and health questionnaires. Workers must keep a distance of at least two metres from each other in the dining room and common areas, and each worker has their own bedroom and bathroom.

But Indigenous leaders say those measures don’t go far enough. Many of the workers come from out of town and live in close quarters at construction camps, and there are fears that they could spark an outbreak.

Speaking on behalf of the union, Chief Judy Wilson said the construction camps should not be allowed to stay open in the middle of a pandemic.

“If Trudeau is saying lock down self-isolate, all those things are important, why are the industrial resource camps not heeding those precautions?” Wilson told CTV News.

“This is serious. It needs to be shut down.”

In a separate open letter, the union has also called on the government to reduce fossil fuel production and exports, invest in renewable energy and not use emergency relief money to bail out the struggling oil and gas sector.

The issue comes down to limited healthcare resources, says Jennifer Wickham, a representative of the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

“In the north, we have really limited medical services as it is. So if anything were to happen, it would just overwhelm the limited services that we already have,” she said.

Across Canada, concerns have been raised about overloading rural and northern hospitals with unnecessary visitors. In British Columbia, authorities have asked residents to only travel when necessary.

While many businesses have been forced to close during the pandemic, construction and energy-related projects continue across Canada, including in OntarioAlberta and Quebec, where they are deemed essential services.

Earlier this year, the Coastal Gaslink pipeline was at the centre of a national controversy after rail blockades were established across the country in solitary with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who opposed the pipeline being built on their land. The blockades triggered mass layoffs and prompted high-level meetings between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s senior ministers and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.