Orcas challenging but not preventing pipeline expansion approval, says minister

Jonathan Wilkinson said such a finding wouldn’t mean cabinet will reject the project

The federal fisheries minister said Tuesday it will be more difficult for cabinet to give another green light to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion if — or more likely when — the National Energy Board’s new environmental review determines the project is going to harm killer whales.

Jonathan Wilkinson said such a finding wouldn’t mean cabinet will reject the project — but ministers will have to be convinced there are appropriate measures in place to protect the extremely endangered Southern resident killer whales.

“Cabinet has to consider that very seriously, but it has to then be convinced that we’ve done the appropriate things to actually more than mitigate the impact of the shipping traffic,” Wilkinson said.

The future of the controversial pipeline is in limbo after the Federal Court of Appeal overturned its approval. In its decision, it cited a lack of proper consultation with Indigenous communities and the fact the National Energy Board failed to properly examine or consider negative environmental impacts of having more oil tankers leaving from Vancouver Harbour.

Last week, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi ordered the NEB to conduct such a review — and to emphasize risks to the killer whales.

The NEB has been asked to respond to the government’s request before the end of February with a report and new recommendations on whether the pipeline should be approved and, if so, under what conditions. Additional consultations with Indigenous groups are expected to be announced shortly.

Many environmental groups watching the process unfold say the NEB will surely determine the addition of about six more oil tankers per week in the Salish Sea as detrimental to the killer whales. The NEB, they say, noted the risks when it recommended the project go forward in May 2016.

At the time, the NEB approved the project because marine shipping was outside its purview and it deemed the environmental risks posed by the pipeline itself could be mitigated.

On Tuesday, Wilkinson acknowledged the conclusions related to the whales will likely be the same.

But he said the government has already taken steps to mitigate the noise from oil tankers as well as thousands of other container ships, cruise vessels, ferries and pleasure craft that travel through the whales’ habitat.

Shipping lanes have been moved, speed limits have been voluntarily lowered, he added. The government is also open to doing more, including making it mandatory rather than just voluntary, for boats to slow down in the area.

“It’s not just about addressing TMX,” said Wilkinson, using the abbreviation for the Trans Mountain pipeline.

“We’re looking for solutions where economic growth can be done in an environmentally sustainable way.”

A negative impact finding would trigger requirements under the Species at Risk Act, but Wilkinson said that wouldn’t guarantee a pipeline rejection — it would just mean specific protections will have to be ensured.

Misty MacDuffee, a biologist with Rainforest Conservation Foundation on Vancouver Island, said additional noise from just six extra oil tankers each week would raise the possibility of extinction for the Southern resident killer whales to between 15 and 24 per cent. Right now, that risk is less than 10 per cent, she said.

“The Salish Sea cannot get any louder if we have any hope of recovery,” said MacDuffee.

There are now only 74 Southern resident killer whales left in the Salish Sea, an area that surrounds the San Juan Islands in Washington State and the Gulf Islands in B.C. One Southern resident killer whale lives in captivity in Florida.

MacDuffee said since the summer, several news headlines that attracted widespread attention helped boost public support for the iconic species.

The stories included the 17 days that a 20-year-old, grieving whale named Tahlequah spent carrying her dead calf through the water and the unsuccessful attempts to save three-year-old Scarlet.

Although antibiotics were administered with a dart, Scarlet has not been seen now for weeks and is presumed dead.

Scarlet, named because of the red scars she carried after other whales literally pulled her from her mother’s womb during her birth with their teeth, is the 73rd orca to die or go missing in those waters since 1998. Forty whales have been born and survived in that time period, but the last successful birth was almost three years ago.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Original drums recovered amid offers to replace stolen Chemainus church set

Chemainus United Church grateful for actions of a caring community

Shawnigan Lake’s Kubica gets 25 to life for murder in California

Former Shawnigan Lake man convicted of killing woman in 1990

Who’s running in Cowichan?

A list of Cowichan candidates for the upcoming provincial election

Police seek help in naming Cowichan farmstand theft suspect

Video captured man prying cash box out stand on Norcross Road

Duration of Tour de Rock stop in Chemainus much shorter than usual

Four alumni riders don’t get to come for breakfast in COVID year

Weekend sees 267 cases, 3 deaths in B.C.; Dr. Henry says events leading to COVID spread

There are currently 1,302 active cases in B.C., while 3,372 people are under public health monitoring

Canada’s population tops 38 million, even as COVID-19 pandemic slows growth

Immigration, the top population driver, decreased due to the pandemic

Lightning strike: Tampa Bay blanks Dallas 2-0 to win Stanley Cup

Hedman wins Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

16 MLAs retiring from B.C. politics add up to $20M in pensions: Taxpayers Federation

Taxpayers pay $4 for every dollar MLAs contribute to their pensions

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Liberals seek to fast track new COVID-19 aid bill after CERB expires

Government secured NDP support for legislation by hiking amount of benefits by $100 to $500 per week

B.C. VOTES 2020: Echoes of HST in B.C. debate over sales tax

Cannabis, tobacco, luxury cars still taxed in B.C. Liberal plan

She warned her son about toxic drugs, then he was dead

Donna Bridgman’s son died at the age of 38 in Vancouver

Most Read