Sierra Club Canada is pleased that so many of our interventions in the hearings for the Mackenzie Gas Project are reflected in the 176 recommendations of the Joint Review Panel for this $16 billion project. Most notably, the Panel has recommended that natural gas from Northern Canada not be used to fuel further tar sands development in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The Joint Review Panel for the Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP) finally released its report and recommendations on December 30, 2009. The Panel report concludes that the MGP could be sustainable if all 176 of its recommendations are implemented. The Panel report states: "If the Project were permitted to proceed without full implementation of the Panel's recommendations, its contribution to sustainability would be negative."
Sierra Club Canada notes that the JRP recommendations include some significant recommendations that would have substantial implications for the impacts of the project, we remain skeptical that the Mackenzie Gas Project could be environmentally, socially, economically or culturally sustainable even in the unlikely event that all 176 recommendations are implemented.
Nevertheless, the Panel report includes a number of strong recommendations for consideration by the National Energy Board and the federal government. Many of these recommendations had their origins in submissions made by Sierra Club Canada and other non-governmental organizations that we worked with including Alternatives North, Ecojustice, Ecology North, Nature Canada, Pembina Institute and World Wildlife Fund Canada.
Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Sierra Club Canada had perhaps our biggest impact in arguing first that the greenhouse gas emissions of the MGP combined with induced upstream natural gas development and downstream use of MGP natural gas to fuel further tar sands development would be significant. Second, our arguments that the impacts of global climate change over the 25-plus year lifespan of the MGP (such as through permafrost melt) could be serious also strongly influenced the Panel’s report.
As a result, the Panel recommended that:
· Government of Canada require that the benefits of natural gas as a transitional fuel to a sustainable low-carbon economy be optimized and that natural gas be preferentially used to replace and not augment the use of carbon-intensive and polluting fuels such as coal and tar sands oil;
· National Energy Board require greenhouse gas emission targets for the MGP based on a design philosophy of rigorous conservation and efficiency, extensive use of best available technology, use of renewable energy technologies, best management practices, training and motivation of personnel, and a commitment to continuous improvement;
· Government of Canada develop and implement, as soon as possible, legislation and regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada to meet or exceed existing national targets in the Climate Change Plan for Canada;
· National Energy Board require final design plans that incorporate further analysis of the impacts of climate change on permafrost and terrain stability over the design life of the Project and post-abandonment, prior to construction
· Government of Canada develop a guidance document on the assessment of greenhouse gas emissions in environmental assessments of future development projects in which sustainability is an overarching objective or principle.
The Panel clearly accepted Sierra Club Canada’s argument that the environmental effects of the MGP in combination with future development induced by the MGP could be significant. As a result the Panel recommended that:
· A follow-up program for the Mackenzie Gas Project be established which includes a scenario-based cumulative impacts assessment for the Mackenzie Gas Project in combination with other developments; and
· A strategic environmental assessment be conducted for development (mainly oil and gas) in the Beaufort Sea region
The Panel issued a number of recommendations with respect to wildlife and protected areas such as that:
· Mackenzie Valley Action Plan of the NWT Protected Areas Strategy be implemented in all 16 ecoregions affected by the project;
· Regional land use plans be completed;
· Mackenzie Delta be afforded special conservation status;
· Wildlife protection and management plans be developed for key species such as woodland caribou, polar and grizzly bears, and other species at risk.
Final decisions regarding the Joint Review Panel recommendations will be made by the National Energy Board and the Government of Canada perhaps as soon as autumn 2010. Therefore, Sierra Club Canada’s next steps, under the leadership of Sierra Club Prairie, will be to press for implementation of the Panel’s recommendations through participation in the upcoming National Energy Board hearings and other advocacy.
A big shout out to the work of the Sierra Mackenzie Gas Team, which over the years has included: Stephen Hazell for leading SCC’s intervention in the Joint Review Panel hearings over the past five years, in addition to Rachel Plotkin, Lindsay Telfer, and Meredith James, as well as our Ecojustice legal team: Keith Ferguson, Paul Falvo (former SCC director) and Sean Nixon.
But there is still a ton of work to do and you can help by emailing Jim Prentice, who remains the primary Government liaison on issues pertaining to the Mackenzie Gas Project, and telling him that we, Canadians, expect Government to move on these recommendations TODAY!