Environment: Current Problems

Specific Industry Environmental Issues

March 2, 2023


Alberta First Nation angry at Imperial’s silence while tailings pond leaked for 9 months

Band members have been harvesting food from land adjacent to the spills, chief says

Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said Imperial never said anything about the spills, despite the two parties meeting numerous times over the last nine months. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

CBC News: A northern Alberta Indigenous leader has accused Imperial Oil Ltd. of a nine-month coverup over a massive release of toxic oilsands tailings on land near where his band harvests food.

Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said Thursday that Imperial executives had several chances to tell him in person about the leak after it was discovered in May 2022. He learned about it after the province’s energy regulator issued an environmental protection order on Feb. 6.

“During that nine-month period, ACFN had many meetings with them, including a sit-down, face-to-face between myself and the vice-president in November,” Adam told reporters Thursday. “Each meeting was an opportunity where they could have come clean, but they chose to hide the fact from us over and over again.”

Imperial expressed regret over the communication and said it won’t happen again. “We have expressed to (Chief Adam) directly our regret that our communications did not meet the expectations of the (Athabasca Chipewyan) community,” said a Thursday statement from Jamie Long, Imperial’s vice-president of mining. “We further committed to him that we are taking the necessary steps to improve our communications so this does not happen again in the future.”

One of Alberta’s largest spills 

Imperial employees first reported in May that seepage was escaping from a tailings pond and making its way to the surface. The company confirmed the seepage was tailings wastewater that made its way through a fill layer. The unknown quantity of wastewater exceeds federal and provincial guidelines for iron, arsenic, sulphates and hydrocarbons that could include kerosene, creosote and diesel. The seepage has continued.

First Nation demands action after oil sands tailings spill

Leaders from Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta are calling for action after the discovery of a leak from a major oil sands project. But so far, the company has only promised to monitor the situation.

In addition, 5.3 million litres of water escaped from a catchment meant to capture escaped tailings. That makes it, on its own, one of the largest spills in Alberta history.The tailings leaked onto muskeg and forest as well as a small lake and tributaries of the Firebag and Muskeg rivers. “How many more tailings leaks are taking place right now?” Allan asked.

Fort Chipewyan is located downstream of the Alberta oilsands. (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers)

No public notification was made of the two releases until the Alberta Energy Regulator issued the environmental protection order. By then, says Adam, his people had been sharing and eating food harvested from adjacent lands for months. “We have land users in the area that hunt and fish animals that could have been exposed to these deadly toxins. We have been eating them for months unaware of the potential danger.”

Imperial has said there have been no impacts on water or wildlife as a result of the releases. 

Band members have photographed moose tracks going through the affected area. People have been told not to consume wildlife from the area, and the community of Fort Chipewyan has diverted its water source from the Athabasca River to a reservoir.

Ripples of frustration

Adam’s frustration with the absence of communication was echoed Thursday by the N.W.T. government and an Indigenous-led organization focused on climate change.  Shane Thompson, N.W.T.’s environment minister, said his government got the news secondhand from an Indigenous organization, which he said breaks a bilateral agreement it has with Alberta.

In addition to instituting additional water monitoring along the Slave River, he wants a meeting with his Alberta counterpart Sonya Savage.  “This lack of transparency and information sharing from our Alberta partners is not an isolated incident, which increases our frustration in this matter,” Thompson said in a statement.

Members of the group Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) pointed their frustration at the Alberta Energy Regulator, a high-profile public agency with a mandate to govern resource development. It is funded through administrative levies charged to industry. “They did nothing to sound an alarm and warn communities downstream,” said ICA associate director Sheila Muxlow, who called the inaction was negligent and irresponsible.

In a statement, the regulator said notifying affected people about releases isn’t its job. “It is the licensee’s responsibility to report fluid releases to affected or potentially affected parties as soon as they become aware of the release,” it said, adding an investigation has been launched.

‘Regret these incidents’

In a statement, Long said Imperial values its relationships with local communities. “We regret these incidents and are making every effort to learn from them and prevent them from happening again,” he said. Imperial has installed extra monitoring and pumping wells to control the seepage. Trees and topsoil in the area have been stripped. It said further water catchment areas will be built.

Enforcement officers from Environment and Climate Change Canada have been on-site.

The risk of a tailings leak was pointed out in the mine’s original environmental assessment. The Joint Panel Review that assessed Kearl noted the “tailings pond was sited in an area that had very permeable deposits.” In 2014, published research from federal scientists confirmed oilsands process-affected water had reached groundwater and was probably leaching into the Athabasca River. At the time, the Alberta government said the research was of interest but didn’t confirm anything.

In 2020, a group reporting to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said there was “scientifically valid evidence” the tailings ponds were contaminating groundwater. The government said it was reviewing the report but didn’t find the evidence conclusive.

Bob Weber
 · The Canadian Press 

March 9, 2023


Federal environment minister condemns delayed reporting of oilsands tailings leak

‘Our systems are failing Indigenous peoples, clearly,’ Steven Guilbeault says

Steven Guilbeault said Thursday it is “very worrisome” that for more than half a year, the Alberta Energy Regulator didn’t tell Environment and Climate Change Canada or nearby First Nations about a tailings leak from an oilsands mine. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

CBC News: Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says Alberta’s silence about an oilsands tailing leak is a troubling failure that suggests the province needs more regulatory oversight.

The release of at least 5.3 million litres of toxic tailings from Imperial Oil’s Kearl mine should have been reported to Ottawa by the Alberta Energy Regulator within 24 hours, Guilbeault told reporters in Ottawa Thursday. “It is very worrisome that, for over half a year, the Alberta regulator did not communicate with Environment and Climate Change Canada, nor did they communicate with the Indigenous nations,” he said

“When I say we need to to find better mechanisms, that’s that’s what I’m talking about.” Guilbeault said he has spoken with members of the Mikisew Cree First Nation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation to discuss their concerns over environmental contamination. 

Imperial has maintained that the releases were contained and posed no threat to water or wildlife. Environment Canada continues to investigate the ongoing leak. “Our systems are failing Indigenous peoples, clearly. And we need to find solutions,” Guilbeault said.

Last May, Imperial discovered brown sludge outside the boundaries of a tailings pond at its Kearl mine, 570 kilometres northeast of Edmonton near Fort McKay. Over the summer, the sludge was found to be tailings seeping from the pond containing high levels of toxins such as arsenic.    

Neither local First Nations, the federal government, nor other jurisdictions that share the watershed such as the Northwest Territories were informed of the seepage or kept updated. It wasn’t until Feb. 7 that the Alberta Energy Regulator publicly released an environmental protection order — after another 5.3 million litres of tailings at Kearl escaped from a catchment pond.

The company told Alberta officials about the initial finding but didn’t release further information until February, by which time another 5.3 million litres of tailings escaped from a containment pond.

Environment Canada said it learned about the releases Feb. 7, the same day the Alberta Energy Regulator released an environmental protection order to the public. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Alberta Environment Minister Sonya Savage said she also learned about the releases on Feb. 7. Savage said the provincial government is taking a step back, looking at the different processes, seeing if they were followed and “fixing the whole process” around improving notification and monitoring.

We can’t investigate what we don’t know.-Steven Guilbeault

Guilbeault said it’s unclear if a lack of reporting is a broader problem within Alberta’s regulatory framework.

“We can’t investigate what we don’t know,” he said. “There are many problems with this, but we can’t send enforcement officers to do water sampling if we don’t know that there’s a leak, and if we’re not notified as per our agreement that we have to be notified within 24 hours.” 

A woman with brown hair, wearing a dark blue dress and pearls, speaks into a microphone. She is seated at a podium.
First Nations leaders say Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is minimizing the effects of two releases of oilsands tailings water near lands they harvest from. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

First Nations leaders have accused Alberta Premier Danielle Smith of minimizing the effect of the releases. Earlier this week, Smith said the incidents had no effect on local waterways or wildlife. She also blamed Imperial for slow communications on the releases, which she said resulted in the spread of misinformation.

Environment and Climate Change Canada has confirmed the Alberta government didn’t pass along news of the spill. The federal agency, which is investigating the spill, released a timeline Wednesday saying the department first learned of the releases from First Nations. “I don’t really know why she would say that,” Chief Billy Joe Tuccaro of the Mikisew Cree First Nation said Wednesday. The First Nation is downstream of the releases. Its members also harvest on land adjacent to them.

“I truly believe it’s too early to be definite. [Smith’s] comments are very concerning.”

Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said the releases — which contain toxic levels of contaminants, such as arsenic — are much more than a communications issue. “This is an environmental catastrophe that the [Alberta Energy Regulator] and Imperial Oil tried to cover up and now the premier and [Environment Minister Sonya Savage] are trying to minimize,” he stated in a news release Wednesday.

Smith’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tuccaro and Adam are angry their people harvested for nine months from nearby lands without being kept informed. “The trust has been broken,” said Tuccaro.

Water contamination concerns

Imperial is allowing environmental monitors from Mikisew on the release site to do their own measurements, he said. Tuccaro said the band wants that arrangement to be made permanent and not just on the Kearl site, but on all oilsands leases. “I’m not looking for a Band-Aid fix for them to allow us on for a couple months,” he said. “I’m asking for the life of the project.”

Tuccaro said Imperial executives have promised to visit the community of Fort Chipewyan later this month to discuss the situation. “We have invited community leaders to tour the site and are working directly with those communities on related requests,” said Imperial Oil spokesperson Lisa Schmidt. “We have also shared our mitigation and monitoring plans with communities and have asked for input on these plans.”

A mine surrounded by forest can be seen in the distance.
The Kearl Lake mine, run by Imperial Oil, has had two tailings pond leaks in the last nine months. Although the company says no toxins reached waterways, critics say the company and the government had an obligation to tell nearby communities and the Northwest Territories downstream. (Alberta Innovates)

The Northwest Territories government has said Alberta’s failure to notify it of the spills violated a bilateral agreement on the watershed shared by the two jurisdictions.

Savage said the government didn’t inform the Northwest Territories government earlier because under the bilateral agreement, notification is only required if there is evidence of ecological impact. “Our evidence said that nothing reached the waterways, so our officials interpreted that we didn’t need to give notification,” she said.

Tuccaro was also scheduled to speak with Guilbeault. Tuccaro said he would be asking for immediate help, including assurances that his community has adequate water supplies.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has stopped drawing water from the Athabasca River, forcing Fort Chipewyan to rely on limited supplies from its reservoir. In a release, Adam said there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the tailings have entered local groundwater and waterways.

Wallis SnowdonBob Weber ·

March 8, 2023


First Nation slams Premier Danielle Smith for ‘spin’ on huge oilsands project leak: ‘This is basic science’

A project in northern Alberta is under scrutiny after a First Nation raised alarm over a leak that it claims the province and Imperial Oil tried to hide.

Toronto Star: EDMONTON—A First Nation in northern Alberta has slammed Premier Danielle Smith for downplaying a massive toxic spill from an oilsands tailings pond that the community is calling an environmental disaster.

Smith stood in front of reporters Monday and assured Albertans that no wildlife or drinking water had been affected by the Kearl Lake tailings pond leakage. Smith also demanded “radical transparency” from Calgary-based Imperial Oil, the company responsible, amid criticism of what she deemed a poor communications plan from the company when it comes to notifying stakeholders of potentially dangerous spills.

“A lot of the problems that companies get into is that they allow for an issue to get out in the media with incorrect information, and then they’re trying to … correct misinformation,” said Smith.

Smith suggested that media reported the misinformation that drinking water had been affected.

But Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said in a statement Wednesday that the premier’s comments appear to shrug off “basic science.” “The truth is that 5.3 (million) litres of process-affected water spilled across a forested area,” said Adam. “The volume of this water was such that it can be seen seeping up from under the ground and pooling on the surface. Water drains through the earth into groundwater and eventually drains into tributaries and other bodies of water. This is basic science.”

Photos show why the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is concerned about massive amounts of leakage from a nearby oilsands project.

He said the premier was minimizing the problem and that it was time for Smith to practise some “radical transparency” herself.

“This is much more than a simple communications issue,” he said. “This is an environmental catastrophe that the (Alberta Energy Regulator) and Imperial Oil tried to cover up and now the premier and the minister are trying to minimize. “Our community and the public expect that there will be accountability from Imperial, AER and other regulators. Right now all we are getting from the premier is spin.”

In an interview with the Star, Adam said the company had agreed to let the First Nation send its own monitors into the area to run tests. Adam will visit the site later this week, he said. 

Becca Polak, the premier’s press secretary, said in an emailed statement that Smith was briefed twice on the issue by the AER and that the regulator “confirmed that existing protocols were followed, remediation is underway, no impacts to wildlife have been reported and no contaminated water has entered into the waterways or affected human health or wildlife.

“Active water sampling of the waterways near the site is ongoing. At this time, the regulator has informed us that there have been no impacts to waterways or wildlife,” said Polak. “As the premier has stated, there is always room for continuous improvement around information sharing and monitoring.”

It was reported last week that the Kearl Lake oilsands facility in northern Alberta had seen two leaks in the past year — including one that Adam said wasn’t revealed for months. The First Nation recently told its members not to eat any food harvested from the area after May 2022.

A photo shows the First Nation's concern over the leak.

Attached to the ACFN statement on Wednesday were aerial photos of the spill zone appearing to show moose near the leakage along with photos of animal tracks close to a piece of Crown land near the Imperial site. The ACFN also stated that animals could roam freely through the affected area.

The statement said that the First Nation met with the Alberta Energy Regulator this week to discuss the issue. “The AER apologized for failing to notify ACFN of the multiple failures that have occurred over the past 9 months at the facility, and acknowledged that regulators don’t know the full extent of the environmental threats posed by the spills,” it said.

Last May, an unknown amount of seepage from an oilsands tailings pond was reported to the Alberta Energy Regulator. Such seepage has high levels of iron, arsenic and sulphates, among other potentially toxic substances.

In a subsequent incident on Jan. 31 of this year, a 5.3-million-litre leak of wastewater from a Kearl tailings pond was also reported to the regulator.

On Feb. 6, the AER posted an enforcement order regarding the spill, and Adam said this order included information about the May 2022 spill that he’d not heard about until then. It noted that a body of water was close to the leakage. Adam said there were fish in there and that this also should have been flagged publicly.

In a statement earlier this week, Imperial apologized for the incident and said it fell short in communicating with the community.

Kieran Leavitt is an Edmonton-based political reporter for the Toronto Star. Follow him on Twitter: @kieranleavitt

April 17, 2023

AB, Fed. Govt.

First Nations blast Alberta Energy Regulator at hearing; minister promises reform

Imperial first detected discoloured water near the oilsands site last May

Jars of tailings waste
Alberta’s energy regulator has said that hazardous chemicals are present in a small waterbody after two releases of tailings-contaminated wastewater from Imperial Oil’s Kearl oilsands mine. Pictured, tailings samples are tested during a tour of Imperial’s oil sands research centre in Calgary in 2018. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

CBC News: Chiefs of First Nations affected by releases of wastewater from an oilsands mine excoriated Alberta’s regulator at a House of Commons committee hearing, calling it a system that serves the industry and not the public.

“The [Alberta Energy Regulator] has zero credibility outside Calgary’s echo chamber,” Daniel Stuckless of the Fort McKay Métis Nation said in Ottawa on Monday. “They actively dismiss and downplay impacts of oilsands on communities and their Aboriginal and treaty rights.”

Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation went further outside the committee room. “The Alberta system, when it comes to the Alberta regulator, is completely broken and should be dismantled,” he said. Ottawa shares culpability by failing to enforce environmental laws, he added. “While Alberta bears much of the blame, Canada must also shoulder responsibility for what has happened,” Adam said.

The comments came as the House of Commons environment and sustainability committee held hearings to examine why it took nine months for First Nations and governments to find out what was happening with both tailings pond seepage and overflow from a containment pond at Imperial Oil’s Kearl mine.

But the six First Nations leaders who addressed the committee quickly insisted their concerns go much deeper than a single case. “Alberta’s reaction throughout is to simply say this is a communications issue,” said Adam, who broke down in tears describing what it was like telling his people their water may be contaminated.

“The Alberta Energy Regulator is a joke. A complete joke.”

Laurie Pushor, head of the regulator, said in an email that the AER “listened thoughtfully to today’s testimony.” “Indigenous leaders of Alberta’s Northern Treaty 8 communities spoke courageously and openly on their concerns with a great number of important matters, including industry impacts of oilsands on their lands and peoples,” the statement reads, in part.  “We also heard many of these concerns when we visited the communities during the past month.”

The hearing was struck after two releases of toxic oilsands tailings water from the Kearl mine north of Fort McMurray.

The first release was spotted and reported in May as discoloured water near a tailings pond. It was found to be tailings seepage, but no further updates were provided to area First Nations until February. That’s when it was disclosed to the public and federal and provincial environment ministers, along with news of a second release of 5.3 million litres of tailings-contaminated water.

On Monday, leader after leader said the problem is much deeper than a single delayed notification. “There’s a question around the neutrality of the regulator in Alberta,” said Russell Noseworthy of the Fort McMurray Métis.

Timothy Clark, who is also working with the Fort McMurray Métis, said the regulator “is more concerned about protecting the image of the industry and the investment than it is about protecting the health and rights of the people who live in this area.”

Melody Lepine of the Mikisew Cree First Nation said both Alberta and Ottawa have long ignored community requests for a comprehensive health assessment of people in Fort Chipewyan. Nor have governments acted on calls for an assessment of the cumulative impacts of all oilsands development or for a risk assessment posed by the tailings ponds, Lepine said.

Pushor is scheduled to testify Thursday. Imperial Oil officials are expected next Monday.

Just before the hearings began, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, announced the first step towards an improved reporting process for environmental emergencies. Guilbeault said the committee testimony should help inform efforts of the new “notification and monitoring working group” to help design a better reporting system for the future. The group is to be made up of representatives from federal and provincial governments, the Northwest Territories and Indigenous communities affected by the releases.

Jennifer Lash, a senior adviser to Guilbeault, said the goal of the working group is to develop a way to fix the notification process when something goes wrong, as well as to address ongoing concerns about the possibility of seepage from all oilsands tailings ponds, not just from Kearl.

Lash said a letter was sent Monday to invite any Indigenous Nations in the affected areas to participate. She said the government is not being prescriptive about what the new policy would look like. The hope is that the working group will be running within two months. She said the N.W.T. government has agreed to join and the government of Alberta has responded positively but not fully confirmed participation.

Meanwhile, the Alberta government defended its communication with First Nations after the Kearl releases. It says it began sharing information about the issue both internally and publicly by the week of Feb. 27, about three weeks after the regulator revealed the problem. Extra monitoring has begun and will be increased as the spring runoff begins.

An information-sharing group with federal, provincial, municipal and First Nations governments has been formed. “Our current lab results from ongoing independent water sampling of Lake Athabasca show drinking water is safe,” department spokesman Miguel Racin said in an email.

Mia Rabson · The Canadian Press 

With files from CBC’s Janet French and The Canadian Press’ Bob Weber

March 15, 2023


First Nations living near Imperial Oil leak refuse to drink water from nearby reservoir

Water tainted with dangerous levels of arsenic, dissolved metals and hydrocarbons has been seeping off the Kearl project onto Crown lands north of Fort McMurray, Alta., since May. The affected area is next to a small fish-bearing lake and tributaries to the Firebag and Muskeg rivers.NICHOLAS VARDY/HANDOUT

The Globe and Mail: A continuing leak at the Kearl oil sands project has left members of the nearby Mikisew Cree First Nation unwilling to drink or bathe in water from local waterways, fearing contamination from seepage that has lasted close to a year.

Ottawa agreed Wednesday to cover the cost of bottled water and its delivery to the northern Alberta community of around 1,000 people, and says it is working with other First Nations in the region to ensure they have access to potable water.

Water tainted with dangerous levels of arsenic, dissolved metals and hydrocarbons has been seeping off the Kearl project onto Crown lands north of Fort McMurray, Alta., since May. The affected area is next to a small fish-bearing lake and tributaries to the Firebag and Muskeg rivers.

The federal government, local Indigenous communities and the public were not informed of the leak when it was detected by Imperial Oil Resources Ltd. until months later, when a separate incident at Kearl in February spilled 5.3 million litres of industrial wastewater.

Alberta didn’t reveal Imperial Oil leak for months, says Environment and Climate Change Canada

The oil company, the Alberta Energy Regulator and the Alberta government say they have found no evidence of harm to fish or wildlife. But Mikisew Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro said Wednesday in a statement that members of his First Nation won’t feel safe to bathe in the water or drink it, nor eat fish from local waterways until they have proof that it is not contaminated with toxic tailings.

“We have lost all trust,” he said. “The days of taking people at their word are gone.”

Imperial Oil said in a statement posted on its website Wednesday night that it is providing drinking water to communities that have requested it “for emergency back-up purposes,” including a shipment to Fort Chipewyan this week. The oil company added that its “extensive surface water monitoring to date shows no evidence to suggest that local drinking water supplies have been compromised.”

The surrounding Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo stopped drawing reservoir water from Lake Athabasca on Feb. 27 to complete testing specifically looking for contaminants that may have been released from Kearl. It said by e-mail that results received this week confirm that water being produced at the region’s Fort Chipewyan Water Treatment Plant meets all Canadian drinking water standards and requirements.

However, the intake remains closed for now as the municipality works with drinking water specialists at Alberta Environment to finalize a lake intake operation and monitoring plan. Wood Buffalo is also continuing with enhanced testing of the raw water diverted from the lake and monitoring of potable water for the community, and has requested increased monitoring by the province.

Indigenous Services Canada spokesperson Vincent Gauthier said the federal department continues to engage with First Nations, the Alberta government and Wood Buffalo to support transparency in water quality, and safety testing and reporting.

Ottawa told Imperial Oil last week to take immediate action at Kearl to contain the leak of toxic tailings and tainted water, after testing by Environment and Climate Change Canada found a substance harmful to fish.

Mikisew and nearby Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation expressed profound concern over the Environment Department’s findings. Mr. Tuccaro said it’s particularly alarming as members of his community begin the fishing season on Lake Athabasca. Officials and elders from Athabasca Chipewyan recently visited Kearl to see the impact of the leak. The First Nation said in a statement that “the disaster is ongoing, and the toxic tailings are visible on the land, adjacent to ponds, tributaries, and creeks.”

Chief Allan Adam called it “further evidence that the [provincial] regulator has lost all credibility,” adding the federal government should use all legal tools at its disposal to take control of the investigation and cleanup.

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault met with his Alberta counterpart Sonya Savage this week to discuss Kearl. He emphasized that Imperial Oil’s own stated failures of communication were unacceptable and raised broader concerns regarding the efficacy of existing notification systems in the province.

Alberta Environment officials have conducted independent water sampling at Kearl and Lake Athabasca, as well as locations downstream. The Oil Sands Monitoring Program is also enhancing its regular tributary monitoring programs. Ms. Savage said the Alberta government has not seen any evidence of waterbody or drinking water contamination as a result of the incidents.

With a report from Marieke Walsh in Ottawa

February 17, 2023

BC, Fed. Govt.

Fisheries department to shut 15 salmon farms off B.C.’s coast to protect wild fish

The Globe and Mail: Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray has announced the federal government will not renew licences for 15 open-net Atlantic salmon farms around British Columbia’s Discovery Islands.

Murray says in a news release the Discovery Islands area is a key migration route for wild salmon where narrow passages bring migrating juvenile salmon into close contact with the farms. She says recent science indicates uncertainty over the risks posed by the farms to wild salmon, and the government is committed to developing a responsible plan to transition away from open-net farming in coastal B.C. waters.

Open-net fish farms off B.C.’s coast have been a major flashpoint, with environmental groups and some Indigenous nations saying the farms are linked to the transfer of disease to wild salmon, while the industry and some local politicians say thousands of jobs are threatened if operations are phased out. “I have to take into account the plight of wild salmon, which are in a state of serious decline,” she said in an interview Friday.

She said the decision came after extensive consultations with First Nations, the industry and others, and the department is taking a “highly precautionary” approach to managing salmon farming in the area. Murray said she called First Nations and industry representatives Friday before announcing what she said was a difficult but necessary decision to protect wild salmon from the potential risks posed by farmed fish. “There have been some assessments from DFO that suggest minimal risk and there’s also been science since that main assessment that has been suggesting that there may well be risk from the viruses and sea lice from the farms,” she said.

In the news release she says there are multiple stressors on wild salmon, including climate change, habitat degradation and both regulated and illegal fishing. Murray’s mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tasked her with developing the plan to shift from open-net salmon farming in B.C. waters by 2025, while working to introduce Canada’s first Aquaculture Act.

Fisheries and Oceans said last summer that open-net salmon farms may continue operating during a consultation process that’s currently under way, with the final plan to transition 79 farms expected to be released later in the year.

The federal government announced in December 2020 that it would phase out 19 Atlantic salmon farms in the Discovery Islands area of Vancouver Island. It also said fish farm licences would not be renewed.

Former B.C. premier John Horgan sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last March saying there is widespread concern the federal government is poised to make a decision that could threaten hundreds of jobs and the economies of coastal communities. Horgan urged the prime minister to assure the salmon farming sector that an appropriate transition program will be implemented and must include First Nations and communities that rely on fish farms economically.

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association has said an economic analysis concluded the province could lose more than 4,700 jobs and up to $1.2 billion in economic activity annually if salmon farm licences are not renewed.

But B.C.’s First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance says more than 100 First Nations support the federal government’s plan to transition away from open-net salmon farms. Alliance spokesman Bob Chamberlin said earlier wild salmon runs are suffering and decisions must be made to help stocks rebound.


March 7, 2023

BC, Fed. Govt.

Indigenous chiefs fly to Ottawa in rival moves as salmon farm battle intensifies

Aquatic science biologist Howie Manchester picks a salmon to collect samples from during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. Members of the DFO routinely visit farms surrounding British Columbia to make sure that the health of the salmon populations in fish farms is up to standard.JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Globe and Mail: Indigenous chiefs representing B.C. Indigenous communities came to Ottawa on Tuesday to make opposing arguments about whether open-net salmon farms should be able to continue off the coast or be closed and moved to tanks on land.

As the battle over the future of ocean-based salmon farms off the coast of British Columbia intensified, seven chiefs representing more than 50 B.C. First Nations met with ministers and NDP and Conservative politicians to argue for B.C’s remaining salmon farms – representing a multimillion-dollar industry – be closed down to protect wild salmon and their traditional way of life.

They argue that captive fish are passing on diseases and sea lice to wild salmon, and threatening their survival. They say the dwindling wild salmon population is threatening not only Indigenous nations’ traditional way of life, but also killer whales, eagles, grizzly bears, wolves and other wildlife that rely on them for food.

But on Tuesday another group of B.C. chiefs held a rival press conference arguing that salmon farms help create jobs in their communities. They called for Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray to be stripped of her responsibility for deciding the future of salmon farms, and held a series of meetings to make their case with politicians.

Last month, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced it will not renew the licences of fish farms in the Discovery Islands in B.C., thus phasing out the farms. It is now carrying out a consultation on the future of around 80 open-net pen farms off B.C.’s coast.

Chief Darren Blaney of Xwemalkwu First Nation, known as “the people of the fast-running waters,” whose traditional territory includes the Discovery Islands, was among the chiefs arguing to close B.C’s fish farms to protect wild salmon. He told The Globe and Mail that since 2020 as some fish farms closed, baby wild salmon known as fry look healthy and no longer visibly carry sea lice, which he said spread from the fish farms.

Chief Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, said closing the Discovery Islands fish farms was “a vital first step to protection of the dwindling B.C. salmon stocks.” He said there is an “intense need” to take every measure possible “to safeguard wild salmon from extinction.” Mr. Chamberlin said fish farms were spreading sea lice and pathogens to young wild salmon in the oceans “at the most vulnerable time of their life cycle.”

He said the operation of fish farms harm wild salmon and this represents an infringement of Indigenous rights across the province. “Wild salmon is not just a menu choice – it’s who we are as a people,” he said.

A group of chiefs from the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship flew into Ottawa to lobby to preserve fish farms, which they said were important to their communities’ livelihoods. At a press conference, they said it was not feasible to move salmon farms on land, warning the decision could cost jobs and lead to an increase in the price of salmon in Canada if it is imported from abroad.

They called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to relieve Ms. Murray of her responsibility for fish farms, which they said should be passed to Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations. “We call on Prime Minister Trudeau to pass the critical file on to a more responsible and unbiased minister to complete,” said Chris Roberts, elected chief councillor of Wei Wai Kum First Nation.

“We are the original environmentalists, not the fancy downtown activists. We have stewarded wild salmon for thousands of years, and our guardians and monitors continue to protect it,” he added. He said 40 per cent of salmon farms have already been removed from B.C. waters, which has been damaging economically to coastal communities, leading to salmon being flown in from Norway.

Albert Charlie, hereditary chief and councillor of the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nations, said moving farms to tanks on land is not feasible in some territories. “Forcing First Nations to transition to land-based technology that isn’t ready means they will lose the industry completely and their communities will be devastated,” he said.

Tony Allard, chair of Wild Salmon Forever, a B.C.-based conservation group, said the vast majority of First Nations in B.C. support moving feedlots of Atlantic salmon out of Pacific waters. “We can’t pretend any longer that we can have both wild Pacific salmon and this harmful form of aquaculture in B.C.,” he said.

NDP fisheries critic and B.C. MP Lisa Marie Barron said “open-net fish farms are polluting our marine ecosystems and infringing on Indigenous peoples’ rights to access fisheries.”

The fish farming industry denies the fish farms are causing disease to wild salmon. “We as a sector, are embracing Indigenous reconciliation, want to see an Indigenous-led transition plan and will only farm in areas where First Nations want to work with the sector and will focus on those relationships,” said Brian Kingzett, executive director of B.C. Salmon Farmers Association

Ms. Murray’s office said in a statement: “Pacific salmon are in serious, long-term decline, with many runs on the verge of collapse, and the government of Canada must do what it can to ensure their survival.”

MARIE WOOLF, Staff Reporter, Ottawa

March 24, 2023


Northern Alberta residents demand answers from Imperial Oil after toxic leak from oilsands project

Imperial Oil v-p faces tough questions from Fort Chipewyan residents over Kearl Lake tailings pond seepage

An aerial shot of a tailings pond.
A view from a helicopter of the tailings ponds at the Kearl Lake oilsands project in northern Alberta. Residents of Fort Chipewyan, which is downstream from the ponds, say they only learned there had been seepage from the ponds in February — nine months after it was first discovered. (Julia Wong/CBC)

CBC News: There were sharp words and fiery exchanges this week at a town hall meeting between Imperial Oil and residents of Fort Chipewyan, Alta. It was the first time the company met with residents of the community on the western shore of Lake Athabasca since wastewater seepage was discovered from tailings ponds at Imperial Oil Ltd.’s Kearl Lake oilsands site near Fort McMurray. Fort Chipewyan is downstream from the tailings ponds.

The seepage was first reported in May 2022, and as of Thursday, Imperial Oil spokesperson Lisa Schmidt told CBC News in an emailed statement that there is no “additional information to provide on volume.” 

Residents say they only learned there had been seepage in February — nine months after the fact — in an environmental protection order from the Alberta Energy Regulator, after another release of 5.3 million litres of industrial wastewater from the site containing arsenic, dissolved iron and sulphates overflowed from a catchment pond meant to capture escaped tailings. That amount is more than enough to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools.

A man in glasses and a blue sweater leans against a podium.
Jamie Long, Imperial Oil’s vice-president of mining, faced tough questions from a crowd at a town hall Wednesday night at Mamwai Community Hall in Fort Chipewyan. (Julia Wong/CBC)

Jamie Long, Imperial Oil’s vice-president of mining, faced many tough questions from angry residents who attended Wednesday’s meeting and demanded answers about why the community wasn’t told about the leaks.  “We regret the incidents and we’re making every effort to ensure we prevent them from happening again,” Long said. 

Concerns about water quality, health impacts

Long fielded questions about how it would take to fix the leaks, whether the company has a mandate to take actions based on community feedback and what type of wildlife monitoring is being done. But the majority of concerns centred around water quality and possible health impacts.

Jean L’Hommecourt has a cabin in Fort McKay approximately 13 kilometres from the spill. “I’m concerned about the moose I harvested, which is in my freezer right now, which I’ve shared with many people,” L’Hommecourt told Long. “Now I have this fear of the long-term health effects that we are going to face.

First Nation demands action after oil sands tailings spill
Leaders from Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta are calling for action after the discovery of a leak from a major oil sands project. But so far, the company has only promised to monitor the situation.

“All the data we do have is, there is no impact to fish. There’s been no impact to wildlife. The water quality of the Firebag River hasn’t changed,” Long responded. However, federal investigators have ruled the wastewater is harmful to animals and issued a Fisheries Act directive to Imperial Oil to contain the seepage and prevent it from entering fish-bearing water bodies.

L’Hommecourt told CBC News that the meeting did little to make her feel better about the seepage. “It kinda upset me a little more and it resurfaced all the emotions,” she said. “I have many unanswered questions. The biggest is, what are the plans moving forward and how are they going to address tailings to not affect our water anymore?”

A woman with glasses and wearing a plaid shirt and black vest gestures to the left.
A Fort Chipewyan resident demands answers from Imperial Oil at Wednesday’s town hall. The meeting was held to address concerns about seepage from the company’s Kearl Lake oilsands project. (Julia Wong/CBC News)
‘See if they drink that water’

Archie Cardinal, who lives off the land and raises his three sons, aged 13, 15 and 17, in Fort Chipewyan, said it hurt that the community was not initially told about the leak. “Me and my wife were sitting there talking and it hurt us both because of our children,” he said. “It’s a hard thing. A lot of people have kids in this town, drinking the water and being raised here, a lot of people are actually scared to live here now.

“They can say that,” he said. “Who knows what they’re doing?” Though federal officials have talked about the need for more working groups to monitor and communicate about leaks, Cardinal said that does little to ease his mind.

While the company has said there is no impact on water and the Alberta government said water test results show no contamination of drinking water, Cardinal is making this offer to both entities. “Let’s bring them down here. Let’s make a hole [in the lake] and see if they drink that water,” he said.

Constructions crew work on a dirt site where wastewater leaked at Kearl Oil sands.
Work continues near the location where millions of litres of wastewater leaked at the Kearl oilsands site in Alberta’s Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. (Samuel Martin/CBC News)
Investigation ongoing, company says

Imperial Oil refused CBC News’s request to speak with Long after the meeting and instead provided an interview with spokesperson Christine Randall.  “We’re committed to working with the communities,” Randall said. “We’re committed to getting back to people and helping to start rebuild that trust that was broken from the communication of this incident.”

She did not respond to questions about what the cause of the overflow was, saying the investigation is still ongoing. When asked why the investigation was taking so long, Randall said “it is a priority” for the company. According to Long, Imperial Oil plans to return to Fort Chipewyan in April for another meeting with residents.


Julia Wong

Julia Wong is a senior reporter based in Edmonton.

LISTEN | Outrage over silence on tailings pond leaks in northern Alberta:

Since the Kearl mine in northern Alberta began production on Treaty 8 territory in 2013, the company has touted technological innovations that they say “enhance environmental performance.” Yet for months, wastewater from the mine’s tailings ponds, containing arsenic, hydrocarbons and sulphides has been seeping into the land. The company that runs the mine, Imperial Oil, first reported the leak in May 2022 to the provincial regulator. But Chief Allan Adam of the nearby Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation says his community only learned of the seepage last month. That’s created anxiety, says Chief Adam, because people have been hunting, fishing and trapping without knowing there was a risk of contamination. Drew Anderson, the Narwhal’s Prairies reporter, joins us today to walk us through how the leak happened, Alberta’s tailings pond debate and who’s accountable. For transcripts of this series, please visit:


March 22, 2023


NWT Indigenous leaders call for investigation of oil sands’ impacts

Leaders of northern Indigenous peoples are calling for a “full, independent investigation” of the downstream impacts of oil sands pollution.

A file photo of Alberta oil sands. kris krüg/Flickr

CabinRadioThe call, issued at a water summit held in Inuvik last week, comes in the wake of controversy over months-long contamination emanating from Imperial Oil’s Kearl facility in northern Alberta.

The Dene Nation, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and NWT Métis Nation are requesting a new investigation of oil sands’ effect on water and air quality, aquatic ecosystems and human health, incorporating traditional knowledge and western science.

joint statement directed that request at “Canada, Alberta and other respective governments.”

Delegates at the water summit also want those governments to provide new supports for Indigenous-led monitoring, fund an independent engineering assessment of every oil sands tailings pond’s integrity, and do more to hold industry accountable for reclamation and remediation costs.

The statement calls on Alberta and industry leaders to commit to greater accountability regarding “the management, notification and monitoring of tailings ponds and any leaks,” and seeks broad commitments from all governments “to engage with Indigenous governments as full partners on regulatory development and reform efforts for tailings management.”

Imperial’s Kearl oil sands mine continues to operate but has been ordered by the federal government to take immediate action to stop months-long seepage of wastewater. A separate release of millions of litres of tailings at the same site was also revealed last month.

NWT residents and the territorial government have expressed grave concern at both the incidents themselves and the way in which they were handled by Imperial Oil, Alberta’s regulator and the province’s government.

Inuvik’s water summit, organized by the Dene Nation, took place last week. The joint statement was issued on Tuesday.

Tools in the toolbox

Among other points, the statement also requests “the full participation of Dene, Inuvialuit and Northwest Territory Métis Nation as leaders on all transboundary water matters.” At the water summit, multiple delegates complained that current transboundary water agreements – such as the one between the NWT and Alberta – don’t fully include Indigenous governments.

Cynthia Westaway, senior counsel at Ottawa-based First Peoples Law, told delegates at the summit that Indigenous peoples of the North “need an action plan” to have oil sands concerns addressed. “That is why this is exciting, that we have the nations gathered here together for the first time in a long time, and we can do something,” Westaway said.

“We’re not really using all the tools that we already have in our box. We also need more tools – we need more support and new funding. “I know you will all go back to your various tables in your regions, where you lead, and I hope that there will be even stronger statements and resolutions coming from those tables, insisting that this is a global issue.”

Westaway is an advocate of using the federal Species at Risk Act to demand that governments “pay the proper attention” to oil sands’ impact on the likes of threatened caribou in the North, and also wants Indigenous participation in transboundary agreements to be strengthened.

But she also told delegates they should seek allies by appealing to the needs and wants of Alberta’s political class. “If we know and we understand that we’re downstream, and they’re doing whatever they need to do for economic development, then we can change our approach a little bit,” Westaway said. 

“For example, I needed to build a large women’s shelter. And I pitched it for the funding as: ‘I have a huge construction project, I’m going to train new construction workers and bring economic benefit to this area.’ And we got our funding.  “If I had said, ‘I want to build a women’s shelter,’ I would have got zero.”

Applying that analogy to the oil sands, she said politicians have an interest in securing power for the long term, so Indigenous peoples should appeal to that long-term focus. “If you want to be in power as a political leader in Alberta, and you want to be in there for the long term, then we can help you, because we’re looking long-term,” she said, giving an example of how groups could position themselves.

“We’re looking at what’s happening in a sustainable environment: if you think you want to harvest trees or harvest furs, harvest anything long-term, you’d better have a plan or your economy is going to disappear, dissipate, die. Your water is going to be gone.  “Those are the kinds of things that, frankly, speak to the people today. But they also speak to the economic interests of other politicians. So I think it’s the way that we approach this, to make sure that we’re looking after the people, and also making sure there’s a long-term strategy that fits with other interests that seemingly don’t care.”

Tim Herron, a summit delegate on behalf of the NWT Métis Nation, underscored the importance of answers that extend beyond water. “It’s not only about water, it’s air,” Herron said last week.  “Every day, 24 hours a day, we’re breathing that bullshit into us – whereas water, most of us are drinking it out of a plastic bottle now, not from the tap. The municipalities have authority to give us clean, healthy water, but who’s looking after the air for us?

“When you’re saying the toolbox is there, while w

Written By:

Ollie Williams: Cabin Radio’s head of programming and news. Click here to contact Ollie.

February 24, 2023

BC, Fed. Govt.

One fish, two fish, red fish, dead fish? Feds fail to disclose Coastal GasLink data on salmon eggs, habitat

Pipeline contractors estimated there were at least 273,000 salmon eggs in a Wet’suwet’en river crossing. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said it was ‘impossible to confirm’

Senior officials with Fisheries and Oceans Canada said they couldn’t confirm how many salmon eggs were in the path of a Coastal GasLink river crossing. According to documents obtained by The Narwhal through freedom of information legislation, a pipeline contractor told the department otherwise, making a ‘conservative estimate’ of 273,000 coho eggs that could be impacted by drilling under the spawning beds. Illustration: Shawn Parkinson / The Narwhal

The Narwhal: Shannon McPhail said she felt like the “world’s biggest schmuck” after reading an email from a senior official at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The official told her it was “impossible to confirm” how many living salmon eggs were in the path of the Coastal GasLink pipeline at a major river crossing. 

With wild salmon populations in decline throughout the watershed, McPhail wanted to know what the government agency is doing to ensure eggs laid in the path of the pipeline aren’t harmed — and she wanted data.

But the federal department wasn’t telling her everything it knew.

The government message, sent via email in early December, addressed a list of detailed questions McPhail, co-founder of Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, had sent more than a month prior. To draft its reply, the fisheries agency, commonly called DFO, asked Coastal GasLink (CGL) to look over the questions, according to documents obtained by The Narwhal through freedom of information legislation.

A Coastal GasLink contractor promptly replied. To the question of how many eggs were in Wedzin Kwa (Morice River) on Wet’suwet’en territory, where the company started drilling a large tunnel under the river in September, the pipeline worker was forthright: “Oodles.” 

“But following DFO’s blasting guidelines we will assume only [spawning beds] within 150 metres of the tunnel path have the potential to be impacted by vibrations,” the contractor, whose name was redacted in the released documents, wrote in a Nov. 17 email. “A conservative estimate of coho eggs in the gravels within 150 metres of the tunnel path [is] 273,000.”

McPhail was stunned into silence when she learned the government agency had not disclosed the information.  “You’re fucking kidding me,” she blurted out on a phone call with The Narwhal. “They were gaslighting me. This just blows my mind. I have been pushing so hard for so long trying to find out this information, which I felt was a reasonable request based on reasonable concerns. And they purposely withheld that information.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not reply to questions about the details of the released documents prior to publication.

‘They need to be held accountable’

According to TC Energy, the Alberta-based pipeline operator that is building Coastal GasLink, drilling under the river at a depth of more than 11 metres below the riverbed won’t disturb salmon eggs. Provincial and federal regulators told The Narwhal the same — but declined to share details of the evidence it reviewed about potential impacts of the drilling. McPhail’s questions included a request to see spawning surveys, which Coastal GasLink provided to fisheries officials, according to the newly released documents. The federal department did not share those surveys with McPhail.

“When the pipeline company is being forthcoming with the data but the regulators are not, that’s a pretty significant red flag,” she said. “I can’t even believe this level of willful negligence and gaslighting and withholding of information. This, to me, is criminal and they need to be held accountable.”

An email from a Coastal GasLink contractor to Fisheries and Oceans Canada details how the company estimated the number of salmon eggs  in spawning beds within 150 metres of a tunnel under Wedzin Kwa (Morice River).
When Fisheries and Oceans Canada asked Coastal GasLink to address questions it received about potential impacts to salmon eggs, the company provided detailed responses and data. The federal agency did not share this information. 

Brad Fanos, director of the federal government’s Fish and Fish Habitat Protection Program, told McPhail the department couldn’t confirm how many eggs were in the river because it would depend on fish species, numbers of successful spawners, size of the females and how many natural mortalities had occurred during the run. Fanos also echoed the pipeline company’s claims the work would not impact salmon eggs.

“There is no reason to believe any of the incubating eggs are being impacted by the directional drill beneath the Morice River,” he wrote, adding that monitoring had not picked up any indication of “physical or behavioural impacts” to fish or spawning beds at the site. The exact wording Fanos would use in his email to McPhail was being discussed internally just two hours after the department received information from Coastal GasLink, according to the records. But it would take another 19 days before the department sent its response.

Eric Hertz, an analyst with the Pacific Salmon Foundation, said it’s “technically true” Fisheries and Oceans Canada wouldn’t be able to confirm the exact number of eggs, but he didn’t understand why the department wasn’t willing to share Coastal GasLink’s data. “They were provided an estimate from industry so it is surprising that they weren’t able to pass that along — or they chose not to pass that along,” he said, adding he shares concerns about the lack of transparency.  

While Coastal GasLink noted a conservative estimate of 273,000 coho eggs, the actual number of salmon at risk could be much higher. In the email to fisheries officials, the pipeline contractor noted individual females can lay between 2,000 and 7,000 eggs per clutch. And coho isn’t the only species that spawns in the river. According to the industry survey, the pipeline crossing is home to 13 fish species considered by a Coastal GasLink consultant to be of concern, including bull trout, lamprey, steelhead, mountain whitefish and all five species of Pacific salmon.

“I can’t even believe this level of willful negligence and gaslighting and withholding of information. This, to me, is criminal and they need to be held accountable.”Shannon McPhail 
Executive Director, Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition

Wet’suwet’en fish and wildlife inspectors have rarely been able to monitor construction. Coastal GasLink has blocked access to worksites and told chiefs and their supporters they would be arrested if they ignored the warnings. TC Energy told the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, an administrative body that operates on behalf of the Hereditary Chiefs, that anyone wanting access to sites needs to give 24 hours notice and arrange to have private security accompany them, according to Wet’suwet’en fisheries officials. 

Hereditary Chief Na’moks said if the federal fisheries officers have data, it’s vital the public has access to that information. “They are there to protect salmon and fish species,” he told The Narwhal in an interview. When data is “smothered” people are led to believe construction of the pipeline isn’t damaging the environment, he said, accusing government officials of “just spreading pixie dust on the territory” by creating an impression that “everything’s fine and dandy.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada appears to be relying on Coastal GasLink data, self-monitoring

Coastal GasLink also told federal officials in an email sent in November that they were looking at installing vibration monitors, but neither the company nor the department confirmed whether it followed through on that plan.  “We have the spawning areas mapped so we can place the monitors in the best sampling location and avoid disturbing any redds,” a Coastal GasLink contractor wrote in the email.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said the company was doing this in response to “ongoing public concerns” but did not confirm whether it had verified information it was receiving from the company. “Through conversations with CGL, DFO understands that vibration monitoring along the drill path was conducted on both the east and west sides of the river using geophones that were positioned outside of the wetted stream to avoid any potential disturbance to [spawning beds],” a spokesperson with the department told The Narwhal.

Coastal GasLink’s email noted “environmental inspectors visit the location daily to inspect for compliance with permitting conditions” and industry biologists have been monitoring water quality “24/7 since the start of tunnelling works.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not directly answer whether it was involved in inspections or water quality monitoring at the site.

Wedzin Kwa (Morice River)  just downstream from where Coastal GasLink is drilling a tunnel under salmon spawning beds.
Wedzin Kwa (Morice River) is home to numerous fish species, including struggling salmon populations. According to a 2020 spawning survey, the river is home to 13 fish species considered by Coastal GasLink to be of concern. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

As The Narwhal recently reported, fisheries officers decided in late October to avoid monitoring in areas they considered “tense locations” due to perceived conflict between land defenders, police and pipeline workers. Internal government messages revealed that federal enforcement officers used vandalism as an excuse not to do required inspections.

Walter Joseph, fisheries manager with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, said his experience working with fisheries officers has been positive and habitat issues or concerns have been handled appropriately. But he said monitoring is challenging. “From what I’ve seen with their working with CGL is that local helicopter companies have a lot of business with CGL, and are reluctant to endanger their work by having DFO fly low over their site,” he told The Narwhal in an email. “When they do so, CGL calls the helicopter base to complain.” Joseph said pipeline workers stopped by the office in Smithers to complain after he flew over construction sites near the river crossing. 

The federal agency confirmed the river system provides vital habitat for numerous fish species but did not directly answer whether fisheries officers were keeping an eye on the crossing on the ground or from above.  “Morice River is considered important fish habitat and supports spawning of a number of salmonid species in proximity to the pipeline crossing site,” the spokesperson said. “Because of this sensitivity, DFO recommended that instream works be avoided at this location.”

“The regulator’s interpretation is that the absence of any evidence that there could be an impact is the evidence,” Hertz said. “There could be an impact but they don’t want to think about that.” “Given the importance of salmon in the Skeena and elsewhere in the province, having an independent body to ensure that works are being done in the most appropriate way for salmon is important,” he added. “It’s concerning that DFO is relying on these companies to report on themselves.”

‘This project is a boondoggle’

Between federal and provincial investments, more than $900 million has been allocated to Pacific salmon conservation initiatives in the last four years alone, including a sockeye recovery program in Wedzin Kwa, which supports a third of the watershed’s Chinook salmon. As populations throughout the region continue to slip further on a decades-long decline, anything that could harm fish or fish habitat — from illegal poaching to major industrial projects — runs a gauntlet of legislation and regulations put in place to prevent species from going extinct.

At 670 kilometres, the Coastal GasLink pipeline is roughly equal to the distance between Vancouver and Calgary. The path crosses the northern Rocky Mountains, spans vast stretches of forests pockmarked by decades of clearcutting, rises back up into the glacier-capped Coast Mountains and finally drops down to meet the Pacific Ocean. Building the gas pipeline through all this terrain means crossing more than 700 creeks and rivers.

It’s all based on a dizzying array of data: years of field studies, comprehensive climate change modelling, water chemistry calculations, collaboration with First Nations, academics and industry and much more. There’s a complex network of officials overseeing the laws and regulations meant to keep people and companies in check. Conservation officers float the rivers to check sport fishers’ licences while compliance and enforcement authorities drop out of the sky in helicopters to make sure heavy equipment operators are keeping their machines from leaking toxins into fish-bearing streams.

Despite the international scope of the project — getting fracked gas from massive shale deposits in B.C.’s northeast to buyers in Asia on behalf of a consortium of foreign-controlled corporations — oversight of the pipeline is primarily handled by provincial regulators. That’s because construction is taking place within provincial borders.

The main watchdogs are the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission (which quietly announced it is changing its name and expanding its regulatory responsibilities last October) and the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office.

Since starting construction in 2019, Coastal GasLink has continually struggled to prevent sediment from entering wetlands, lakes and rivers. Sediment reduces available oxygen in fish habitat and can suffocate fish in large amounts. For its failures, the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office has issued dozens of rebukes and fined the company more than $450,000 for infractions. Yet the company still struggles to control the issue and cited it as one of the reasons for skyrocketing costs — on Feb. 1, TC Energy announced the pipeline now had an revised price tag of $14.5 billion, more than double its original estimate. 

“This project is a boondoggle,” McPhail said. “It’s a boondoggle for the province, for the feds and for Coastal GasLink.”

Aerial view of pumps redirecting the Clore River around Coastal GasLink construction
Coastal GasLink construction has been plagued with problems relating to erosion and sediment control for years. Government regulators are investigating allegations that the company failed to prevent sediment from entering Lho Kwa (Clore River) pictured here in images captured in January. Photos: David Suzuki Foundation
Coastal GasLink construction has been plagued with problems relating to erosion and sediment control for years. Government regulators are investigating allegations that the company failed to prevent sediment from entering Lho Kwa (Clore River), pictured here in images captured in January. Photos: David Suzuki Foundation

Officials at Environment and Climate Change Canada can step in if the project is in violation of federal legislation.

“As the issue is currently in relation to the erosion of a wetland and fish habitat, but does not concern the release of deleterious substances into fish-bearing waters, [Environment and Climate Change Canada’s] enforcement branch has not been involved in this matter,” a department spokesperson told The Narwhal in an email. It later added in a follow-up response that the deposit of deleterious substances could include sediment in certain circumstances.

“Eggs and anything in the gravel would be a big concern,” Hertz said. “A fry or smolt has some ability to move and find areas that are less turbid, but for a fish that’s developing and in the gravel, you’re kind of stuck with where you were laid.” 

Sleydo’ Molly Wickham, a Gidimt’en clan wing chief, noted neither provincial nor federal governments have jurisdiction over Wet’suwet’en lands and waters. In 1997, a landmark Supreme Court of Canada case affirmed the nation had never given up its Rights and Title to the 22,000 square kilometre territory.

But she said Canada still has a duty to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples. “The federal government has responsibilities to us, as Indigenous people. I’m not saying they have jurisdiction, but they have legal responsibilities to Indigenous people. The same goes for DFO.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada told The Narwhal it typically stays out of B.C. processes but monitors “provincial project decisions and focuses on any related Fisheries Act or Species at Risk Act regulatory decisions.” Yet, according to internal documents the federal agency appears to be in regular contact with Coastal GasLink and conducts periodic inspections of worksites.

In October, for example, the pipeline company reached out to a fisheries protection biologist with the department for permission to work in a fish-bearing stream on Wet’suwet’en territory outside of a prescribed “least-risk” window. Coastal GasLink is also required to file regular reports and keep the department up to speed on any negative impacts to habitat. 

“The fact that they’ve been involved without anybody knowing seems a little suspicious to me,” Wickham said. “They’ve said nothing, they haven’t supported us in any way to find out information, to find out accountability processes — that’s critical information that we need in order to protect our territory and our fish and our water. Why are they hiding the fact that they’ve been involved this whole time? If anything, you would think that they would be transparent about it to prove that they’re doing their job.” 

‘A reality that doesn’t exist’

With so many government agencies involved, it’s hard to know who to turn to for answers. McPhail said figuring out which agency has jurisdiction over various conservation issues has been a major source of frustration. Prior to sending her first lengthy email to provincial and federal regulators, she said she spent weeks trying to connect with regulators on phone calls.   “We get these responses that don’t include answers to the questions, that are completely trying to dodge responsibility and, in some cases, are outright misleading or outdated information that presents a reality that doesn’t exist.”

When it comes to how and when the various government regulators talk to each other, things get murkier.  The federal Fisheries Department said it has been coordinating with B.C. “on specific issues related to their project monitoring that intersects with DFO’s mandate, and vice versa.”

But both the federal and provincial governments responded to The Narwhal’s freedom of information requests by saying they had no records of communications between the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office and federal fisheries officers between Sept. 1 and Nov. 24, 2022, when Coastal GasLink was conducting major work crossing salmon rivers and tributaries and the pipeline company continued to struggle with erosion and sediment control issues.

A spokesperson for B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy confirmed it was not in contact with the federal agency about the pipeline during the period, noting the environmental assessment office takes a backseat to the federal department and the energy regulator for “instream works and crossings.”

“It is a cross-jurisdictional issue with a number of federal and provincial agencies involved in regulating both potential causes of fish habitat impact and the potential impact itself,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. They added that the province didn’t detect any instances of non-compliance that required inter-agency communication during the fall months. “These agencies are aware of each other’s mandate and which agency is the best-placed regulator to respond to an incident or to ensure compliance with habitat-protection requirements.” 

In a similar request for communications between B.C.’s assessment office and the provincial energy regulator, The Narwhal was told “no records were located.”   Hertz said it’s not surprising there is confusion. “Having so many different entities involved, I think, is a recipe for issues like this to come up,” he said. “Who is supposed to be keeping track of what? It seems troubling.”

To McPhail, the best bet to protect salmon lies with the pipeline workers.

“There are a lot of people who are out there trying to make a good honest living for themselves and for their families,” she said. “I want to empower those people to be our eyes and ears out there, because our regulators are not. We need the local people who are working on this pipeline to keep working it — that’s exactly who we want out there. And if they see something, we need them to say something because the regulators, both provincially and federally, aren’t doing it.”

March 6, 2023


Ontario and two First Nations agree on terms for last of three roads into Ring of Fire

The Globe and Mail: Ontario and two First Nations have agreed on terms of reference on an environmental assessment for the last of the three proposed roads into the Ring of Fire, a small step forward in the province’s ambitions to become a major player in electric vehicle minerals.

Webequie, Marten Falls, and the province made the announcement on Monday morning at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada mining conference in Toronto, one of the industry’s biggest marketing events.

Ontario had already agreed in 2021 on terms of reference for two other road environmental assessments connecting the provincial highway network to the Ring of Fire in the province’s far north. The last of the roads, called the Northern Link, would connect the Marten Falls First Nation to Webequie First Nation, and allow the operator of the Ring of Fire to transport mined nickel out of the region.

Any kind of progress, however minor, is welcomed in relation to the long-stalled Ring of Fire project. Discovered in 2006, the project has long been championed by Ontario Premier Doug Ford. He wants to develop the Ring of Fire in order to be able to feed future giga factories in Southern Ontario.

The province is already a manufacturing base for many of the world’s biggest automakers, and last year landed its first battery metals plant with Stellantis NV and LG Energy Solution announcing plans to build a giga factory in Windsor.

Complicating plans to develop the Ring of Fire is the morass of red tape that must be navigated before mining can begin. In addition to the EA on the Northern Link, there are five other provincial and federal environmental studies under way on roads into the Ring of Fire. Some are years behind schedule.

Ring of Fire Metals, the owner of the most promising assets in the minerals region, has expressed frustration at the slow pace of obtaining permits in Canada, especially compared to its base in Western Australia. There, mining projects have been put into production in as little as four years after being discovered.

The federal government last year acknowledged that in Canada it can take up to 25 years. Ottawa is working with the provinces to try to speed up the pace of mining development in Canada. Last week, Ontario announced plans to ease red tape regarding mine closure plans and allow easier access to obtain permits to mine minerals from tailings.

In addition, huge question marks remain over funding infrastructure into the Ring of Fire. While Ontario has committed close to $1-billion, the federal government is on the fence for another $1-billion that is needed.

National-security experts are concerned about the dominance of China in the production of many critical minerals. Relations between Canada and China have deteriorated in recent years, and The Globe and Mail has reported that Beijing attempted to influence the outcomes of the past two Canadian federal elections.

Ontario on Monday also announced $2.5-million in funding to companies working on innovative technologies in critical minerals. The recipients, who all received approximately $500,000, were Frontier Lithium Inc., Vale Canada Ltd., Ring of Fire Metals, EV Nickel Inc., and Indigenous-owned Carbonix Inc.

NIALL MCGEE, Mining Reporter

Follow Niall McGee on Twitter: @niallcmcgee

March 6, 2023

Fed. Govt., ON

Ontario approves environmental assessment terms of reference for 3rd and final road to Ring of Fire

Plan co-developed and submitted by 2 First Nations in the area, but faces pushback from others in region

Three men stand together for a photo opportunity after an announcement in Toronto.
Ontario has approved environmental assessment terms of reference for the Northern Road Link, the final proposed road project connecting the Ring of Fire area to the province’s highway network. Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse, Ontario Mines Minister George Pirie and Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum, left to right, made the announcement at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference in Toronto on Monday. (Submitted by Stephanie Ash)

CBC News: The province has approved the terms of reference for an environmental assessment (EA) on the third and final road leading to the mineral-rich Ring of Fire in northern Ontario. The terms of reference lay out the work plan — including the scope and issues to be considered — for the EA on the Northern Road Link, a proposed two-lane, all-weather road.

It’s part of a proposal, along with the Marten Falls Community Access Road and the Webequie Supply Road, to build roughly 450 kilometres of all-season roadway through the boreal forest and swampy peat lands of northern Ontario, linking the Ring of Fire to the provincial highway network.

The terms of reference were developed and submitted last year by Marten Falls and Webequie. The Ontario government approved the the terms of reference for the other two roads in 2021. “The Northern Road Link has the potential to become a critical transportation linkage for remote First Nations in Ontario, but these opportunities must also be balanced against the potential environmental and socio-cultural risks associated with building a road,” said Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse in a news release Monday.

“This project has the potential to finally bring economic reconciliation for remote First Nations.” 

The Ring of Fire, located more than 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, holds a range of critical minerals, including those used in electric vehicle (EV) batteries and energy storage systems. Premier Doug Ford has linked developments in the region to his plans to create an EV manufacturing hub in southern Ontario.

Ontario Mines Minister George Pirie spoke at a news conference Monday at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Convention in Toronto, but would not answer questions about when construction on the roads may actually begin. The EAs are expected to take several years before being submitted for provincial approval.

Other First Nations oppose development in region

But any construction appears likely to face significant opposition from other First Nations in the region, including Neskantaga. “This is a message to all the investors: If you want to come and do business in our traditional homelands, you have to get the free, prior, informed consent from us,” said Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias, in response to Monday’s announcement.

First Nation fights to protect land from mineral mining
Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire is fighting to be properly consulted before development begins to start mining for minerals used in many green initiatives, such as batteries for electric vehicles. Members of the First Nation are worried about mining’s impact on their traditional

Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire is fighting to be properly consulted before development begins to start mining for minerals used in many green initiatives, such as batteries for electric vehicles. Members of the First Nation are worried about mining’s impact on their traditional

“No government, no other nation can tell you that you can access our traditional homelands. We’re going to defend it. You’re going to have to kill us before you cross our river system.”

Neskantaga has ongoing litigation against Ontario. It’s asking the court to provide “ground rules” on how the province should consult and accommodate Indigenous communities that are in a state of crisis due to compounding issues of boil-water advisories, housing shortages, poor health outcomes and lingering effects from the pandemic.

Ottawa looks for ‘relationship’ pact with First Nations

The federal government is conducting a comprehensive regional impact assessment into the Ring of Fire area. That process has also faced opposition, with five First Nations previously calling the draft terms of reference for the assessment “fundamentally flawed in their scope, purpose and legitimacy,” and demanding equal partnership in the process.

Canada’s minister of the environment and climate change, Steven Guilbeault, seemed open to reworking the terms of reference for the regional impact assessment, in a February 2023 letter to Moonias that was obtained by CBC News.

A photo of boreal forest and the Attawapiskat River in northern Ontario, from a plane.
Three road projects have been proposed to connect the mineral-rich Ring of Fire area in northern Ontario to the provincial highway network, but the roads will have to cross ecologically sensitive river systems and peat lands seen in this CBC file photo. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

Guilbeault said in the letter that he wanted to pursue a “relationship agreement” with Neskantaga and other interested Indigenous communities, so they can work together with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada and “potentially the province of Ontario” to co-develop and co-lead the regional assessment “in a co-operative, respectful and effective manner.”

The aim is to have a new draft terms of reference completed in six months, according to Guilbeault’s letter. Guilbeault’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment by CBC News.


Logan Turner, Journalist

Logan Turner has been working as a journalist for CBC News, based in Thunder Bay, since graduating from journalism school at UBC in 2020. Born and raised along the north shore of Lake Superior in Robinson-Superior Treaty Territory, Logan covers a range of stories focused on health, justice, Indigenous communities, racism and the environment. You can reach him at logan.turner@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press

March 16, 2023


Ontario pledges $29M to protect boreal caribou — but the spending isn’t without criticism

4-year funding plan to support habitat restoration, protection and monitoring 

Three boreal caribou stand on a rocky hill.
Boreal caribou gather near the Devil’s Bite trail in Newfoundland and Labrador in this August 2008 photo. The Ontario government is spending $29 million to protect boreal caribou. (Walter Anderson/The Canadian Press)

CBC News: Ontario plans to spend $29 million to help protect an iconic — and threatened — species: boreal caribou. David Piccini, the provincial minister of environment, conservation and parks, made the announcement Wednesday at Lakehead University’s campus in Thunder Bay, Ont.

The funding will be distributed over four years to support habitat restoration and protection as well as monitoring, science and research. It is intended to complement the five-year Canada-Ontario Agreement for the Conservation of Caribou, Boreal Population in Ontario, finalized at the end of 2022. “What’s more important than the dollar figure are the people we’re going to work with to achieve the spirit of this agreement,” Piccini said during the funding announcement.

Collaboration with Indigenous communities, industry, unions and non-government organizations is a key part of this initiative, he said. 

Boreal caribou have been considered threatened since before the Endangered Species Act took effect in 2008. The provincial government estimates about 5,000 boreal caribou are in Ontario.

A man speaks into a microphone behind a sign that says, "Working for you."
David Piccini, Ontario’s minister of environment, conservation and parks, announced Wednesday at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay that the province is spending $29 million to protect boreal caribou. (Sarah Law/CBC)

Environmental advocate Anna Baggio said the numbers are likely much lower than that.

Baggio, conservation director for the Wildlands League, has spent years pushing for policy changes to help boreal caribou populations regenerate. She told CBC News that Ontario has failed to properly monitor all 13 ranges of the species across the province.

While Lakehead University recently received more than $24,000 to help monitor the genetic health of boreal caribou through DNA analysis, Baggio said the province must report updated population estimates for the species and make this information publicly available. “They’re so sensitive to disturbance, they just don’t bounce back like rabbits,” she said of the caribou population. “Our challenge is that the industry is on a collision course with this iconic animal of Canada because they want the same habitat, they want the same forest.”

Federal minister criticizes Ontario’s approach

On Wednesday morning, The Canadian Press published excerpts from a letter from federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault to the provincial government that criticizes Ontario’s approach to protecting boreal caribou.

Currently, logging companies are exempt from certain prohibitions under the province’s Endangered Species Act, which means they’re permitted to log in places inhabited by species at risk. This exemption came from Schedule 8 of Bill 229 that was passed by the Ford government in December 2020. If Guilbeault finds Ontario is not effectively protecting boreal caribou, he has the power to recommend a protection order under the federal Species At Risk Act.

Ian Dunn, president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Forest Industries Association, spoke of the importance of industry involvement in conservation efforts. He referenced Guilbeault’s letter during the announcement Wednesday. “It is simply dangerous and irresponsible for a federal government to even be considering injunctions across Ontario’s north and Quebec’s north,” Dunn said.

“Canada’s commitments to the five-year conservation agreement [need] to be honoured.”

While Piccini would not speak directly to the federal minister’s comments, he said he’d be meeting in April with Guilbealt to discuss the caribou agreement.

A woman with dark curly hair, sunglasses, and a red jacket smiles.
Anna Baggio, conservation director for the Wildlands League, says the Ontario government needs to do more to protect boreal caribou and their natural habitats. (Trevor Hesselink/Wildlands League photo)

But for longtime caribou advocate Baggio, meetings just aren’t enough anymore. She said the days of talking and logging — and talking and mining — must end. “This is not a new file. Ontario should have taken action years ago.” She recognizes the importance of the mining and forestry industries, but said there’s a big difference between responsible development and a development-first approach to conservation.

Protecting boreal caribou has a ripple effect in the ecosystem by preserving migratory bird habitats and mitigating climate change by keeping forests intact, she said. The species is also important to Indigenous communities that practise traditional hunting and trapping.

Her hope is for government and industry officials to listen to the recommendations that have been made by environmental groups and Indigenous leaders for years. “We just can’t afford to be logging some of these intact forests anymore. The climate costs are too high,” she said. “I know that we can come up with these plans because I’ve done it and seen it happen. We’re just missing that leadership from Ontario.” 


Sarah Law, Reporter

Sarah Law is a CBC News reporter based in Thunder Bay, Ont., and has also worked for newspapers and online publications elsewhere in the province. Have a story tip? You can reach her at sarah.law@cbc.ca

March 11, 2023


Sitting on a carbon bomb

CBC News: Under the ground in the B.C. Peace lies Canada’s largest potential source of greenhouse gases. Some want to leave it there. Others say we need the energy. One First Nation is uniquely positioned to play a key role.

Elder Jerry Davis pulls his pickup truck over to the side of a road on his family’s trapline and points out a stand of trees. They are short, bare and brown and their trunks are thin. This used to be a thick spruce forest, Davis says, home to the moose his people depended on for sustenance and the animals they used to trap for fur. 

“Now see how sick it is?” he asks. “Nothing can live in there.” “It’s all logged, as you can see,” adds Wayne Yahey, a councillor with Blueberry River First Nations. A gas tanker speeds past Davis’s truck, showering it with dirty snow and gravel. He shakes his head sadly. “See what happens? These guys, they don’t slow down. They just go.”

Elder Jerry Davis, left, and Councillor Wayne Yahey are concerned about the effects of oil and gas and logging on their land. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

After decades of seeing their lands sold off by the province and exploited by resource companies, Blueberry River First Nations won a landmark case in 2021. A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled the province had breached the nation’s treaty rights by allowing so much disturbance it was impossible for the community to maintain its way of life.

That ruling led to an agreement with the province in January that gives Blueberry River the power to determine where and how new development proceeds.  The implications go far beyond Treaty 8 territory. The nation sits on what researchers call a “carbon bomb” — that, if fully tapped, would become Canada’s largest source of greenhouse gasses and among the largest in the world. 

Scientists and environmentalists warn pursuing such projects would have catastrophic consequences for the global climate. But industry and governments are heavily invested. All of this leaves Blueberry River First Nations — itself in need of cash — at a difficult crossroads.

A lone tree stands in the midst of a clearcut on Blueberry River First Nations territory. There has been so much development on the community’s territory, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the province had breached the First Nation’s treaty rights. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
On top of a ‘carbon bomb’

When Treaty 8 was signed in 1900, no one had drilled for natural gas in the B.C. Peace region. Today, gas well pads, clear cuts and fenced-off farmland mark the landscape of Davis’s trapline every couple of kilometres. Because of this, he’s cut off from more than three quarters of it. 

Blueberry River First Nations have dealt with oil and gas development for decades, accelerating since the 1990s. Elder Jerry Davis says he’s now cut off from most of his trapline.  It’s a similar story throughout the first nation’s territory — about three-quarters of the land is within 250 metres of an industrial disturbance like a road or a pipeline. 

A major factor driving that development in Blueberry River territory has been the vast energy reserve below ground. It sits at the centre of a 130,000 square kilometre natural gas reserve called the Montney Play straddling the B.C.-Alberta border.

©Mapcreator | OSM.org • CBC News

There is enough gas in the Montney to last the country 140 years, according to the Canada Energy Regulator. While it’s not clear how quickly that will all be tapped, there are already tens of thousands of wells in the area and the annual reports of companies active in the area — and data from the B.C. Energy Regulator — reveal plans for thousands more.

But also lurking under the ground, if all those reserves are tapped and burned, is a potentially catastrophic amount of greenhouse gas emissions — 13.7 billion tonnes — or about 19 times Canada’s total emissions from all sources in 2019. 

It is Canada’s largest potential source of greenhouse gas emissions and the sixth-largest in the world — something researchers such as Kjell Kühne call a “carbon bomb.” He and his team identified 425 fossil fuel projects around the world with more than a billion tonnes of potential CO2 equivalent emissions still in the ground and publishedtheir results in the journal Energy Policy last year. According to his research, Canada has the seventh-highest potential emissions in the world.

A map based on the data from the Energy Policy paper by Kjell Kühne and colleagues showing the relative size of fossil fuel reserves in the ground by country. (Graphic by Dexter McMillan/CBC )

Exploiting those fossil fuel reserves is at odds with what decades of research say is needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. Both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have stated there can be no new investment in fossil fuel exploration or development if the world is to decarbonize its energy systems by 2050 and avoid warming of more than 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. 

New investments in fossil fuel projects with decades-long timelines essentially represent a bet against humanity taking the action needed to avoid climate crisis, Kühne says. “You are basically betting on humanity continuing to burn down the house at the same rate in order for you to make money, and that is a very risky bet.”

‘Cleaner pollution’

South of the Blueberry River First Nations, the northeastern B.C. town of Fort St. John bills itself as “The Energetic City.” It’s where Peace River North MLA Dan Davies of the opposition B.C. Liberal Party was born and raised.  “My family, my father all grew up in the only gas industry,” he said. “It really is the heart of northeastern B.C.”

B.C. Liberal MLA Dan Davies says the world needs natural gas from northeastern B.C. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Davies says he’s not sure it’s possible to meet climate targets. He argues that expanding production of natural gas is essential not only to make money for the province and sustain the local economy, but also to help other parts of the world wean off dirtier forms of energy. “The globe is in this climate crisis right now. So how do we then make an impact? That impact is us providing India, us providing China, us providing Europe the alternate means of natural gas as opposed to them using coal,” he said.

.“So do we need to continue to invest in the oil and gas industry? … I think we do until we get that timeline sorted out. “I would say we’re 100 years away from being off fossil fuels.”

There are tens of thousands of wells on the Montney Play today, and estimates that the number could quadruple or more at full development. (Tara Carman/CBC)

The argument that natural gas is needed to wean off coal is a common one, and it’s true that burning natural gas has lower emissions than coal, which is why in 2019 the IEA said energy switching using existing infrastructure could be a “quick win” to cut emissions in the short term.

But, the IEA wrote, “it is clear that switching between unabated consumption of fossil fuels, on its own, does not provide a long-term answer to climate change.” A recent analysis suggests investing more in natural gas infrastructure makes catastrophic warming above 2 C more likely.

Kühne, who calls natural gas “fossil gas,” says it’s dangerous to consider the fuel, which is mostly methane, any kind of climate solution. “The near-term climate impacts of that gas are very very significant,” he said. “Comparing fossil gas with coal is basically calling it cleaner pollution.”

Fracked gas

Most of the gas in the Montney has to be extracted by hydraulic fracturing — a process better known as fracking, which blasts water, sand and chemicals at high pressure more than two kilometres underground to release natural gas trapped in rock. 

Natural gas is primarily methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and fracking lets large amounts escape. “Methane is the worst thing you could put in the air in a situation where we’re trying to stabilize the climate on planet Earth, because methane is a supercharged greenhouse gas,” said Kühne, director of the Leave It In The Ground Initiative. 

“It’s over 100 times more potent than CO2 while it is in the air. And the gas that’s getting fracked up there is methane. You want to leave that in the ground.” 

Another side effect of fracking is earthquakes. More than 400 earthquakes in the Montney had a close association with fracking between 2013 and 2019, according to research published in 2021 by Allan Chapman in the Journal of Geoscience and Environment Protection. “It is probable that induced earthquakes of [greater than magnitude 5] will occur in the future. There are significant public safety and infrastructure risks associated with future hydraulic fracturing-induced earthquakes in the Peace River area,” Chapman wrote. 

‘They destroyed the water’

Back on Jerry Davis’s trapline, mention the term fracking and the first thing that comes up is earthquakes. There was one just recently near Dawson Creek, Davis says, a couple of hours to the south. He worries about what more fracking will do to the land.

Davis recalls his people’s ‘happy days,’ when the Blueberry River was drinkable and they’d spend weeks in the woods hunting and trapping. (Mia Sheldon/CBC)

Councillor Wayne Yahey is concerned about the large amounts of water needed to frack gas. “They’re finding always new methods of extracting the gas and now knowing a bit about that process … obviously there’s a big concern about water and the lack of water.”

When Davis and Yahey were young, they used to be able to drink the water from the Blueberry River and its tributaries. This sustained them for weeks at a time in the woods, where they used to hunt enough moose to last the winter and trap animals for furs. These times were what Davis calls his people’s “happy days.”

Now, the water in the river is undrinkable and they have to carry bottled water with them.

The community says the water from the Blueberry River is no longer drinkable. (Mia Sheldon/CBC)

Davis blames the gas industry. “When they take that gas out, that gas itself goes up in the air and it comes down, polluted that whole country. There’s no berries. And the water, they destroyed the water.” Water is also top of mind for Mae Whyte as well as she stands on a bluff on a clear, cold day looking out over the frozen Blueberry River far below.

Mae Whyte is restoration manager for Blueberry River First Nations. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

“In 2017, the Blueberry River ran dry for the first time in recorded memory,” said Whyte, manager of restoration for Blueberry River First Nations. The reasons why this happened are unclear, Whyte says, but sedimentation from the many unpaved roads on the territory created for logging or oil and gas likely played a role. It gets into the waterways, affecting aquatic animals and even smothering eggs in the streams.

Community members used to be able to eat fish such as bull trout from the river, Whyte said. That is no longer the case. The environmental challenges that lie ahead for Blueberry River are significant, Whyte says, but also exciting, because they now have help in the form of a $200 million land restoration fund from the B.C. government.

“The oil and gas economy here has had a boom and bust cycle. And with limits on new development in Blueberry … we’re going to be looking at ways to optimize our extraction of natural resources, if you will, so that the current footprint is maintained.”

Blueberry River First Nations plans to use restoration funds to heal the land from decades of development, including contaminants and invasive species. (Mia Sheldon/CBC)
‘Necessary work can now proceed’

The January 2023 agreement between Blueberry River and the Government of B.C. establishes areas where development can take place and others that are protected. It also imposes significant new disturbance fees in areas deemed ecologically or culturally important.

It is unclear, however, how much, if any, effect this will have in reducing the amount of gas that could come out of the ground, because much of it can be extracted using existing well sites. And there is capacity for more wells in the Montney, noted geologist Chapman in his 2021 article. Wells on each pad could quadruple or more at full development, he wrote.

Piping is seen on the top of a receiving platform which will be connected to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline at the LNG Canada export terminal under construction, in Kitimat, B.C., in September 2022. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Gas from the Montney is already shipped to Prince Rupert and Kitimat on the B.C. coast. There are plans to export much more, with both the Coastal GasLink pipeline and LNG Canada terminal in Kitimat under construction. 

The CEO of Petronas Energy Canada, one of the main partners in LNG Canada, said in a statement he was grateful an agreement had been reached that would allow extraction to continue.  “It is our expectation that the necessary work can now proceed to ensure that the gas Petronas Canada delivers to the LNG Canada project is responsibly produced right here in B.C., benefiting the entire province and country,” Izwan Ismail said in a news release at the time of the agreement.

CBC News reached out to Canadian Natural Resources Limited, one of the biggest energy companies active in the Montney, to ask about the environmental impacts of extraction, as well as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Neither responded to requests for an interview.

‘We are in the driver’s seat’

Natural gas is what heats many of the homes in northeastern B.C. through the frigid winters. But Blueberry River First Nations Chief Judy Desjarlais remembers when the only heat in her house came from a wood stove her grandfather made out of an old oil barrel. 

“My grandfather hunted every day, if not every second day [to] bring home fresh meat because we didn’t have a fridge.” Her grandmother melted snow for water and tended a garden that provided all their produce. She remembers, in the late 1970s, when a well blowout produced so much poisonous gas the community had to move.

For the next decades she watched as the Blueberry River territory was logged, fenced off for agriculture and energy companies took millions out from under the ground.  “Our people were overlooked, our standards were overlooked. There was no benefits to the nation,” she said. “The government and the oil and gas producers failed to come and look at our territory, our community. We are living in poor conditions. We’re still driving on gravel roads. We’re still … facing housing issues in terms of mold … water issues.”

Knowing oil and gas activity will continue and expand in their territory, Desjarlais wants her community to benefit.

After watching her people’s needs be overlooked for decades, Chief Judy Desjarlais says the First Nation is now in the driver’s seat when it comes to new development in their territory. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

“So now we’re at a place where we are in the driver’s seat upon all the activity within the area and we can still restore our cultural and traditional values … while working with industry, the government and find that balance so that we can move forward. You know right now it’s not business as usual. We’re no longer that checkbox.”

But if a gas company wants a permit and the project is not in line with Blueberry River’s restoration goals, do they now have the power to say no?

Desjarlais pauses to consider this.“[After] reviewing the process … where it’s at, which claim area it’s in … what’s the risk, the footprint that it’s going to leave … Yes, we do.”

By Tara Carman, Dexter McMillan and Mia Sheldon

Editor: Lisa Johnson | Photography: Maggie MacPherson 

November 22, 2022


Standing Committee on Public Accounts to Hold Public Hearing on Auditor General Report on Physical Mitigation of Muskrat Falls Reservoir Wetlands


The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment did not appropriately communicate and monitor the timelines and deadlines of the Independent Expert Advisory Committee recommendation for physical mitigation of the Muskrat Falls reservoir wetlands. However, we did not find any evidence that government intentionally missed the wetland capping deadline.

There were numerous missed opportunities to understand and manage the urgency of the wetland capping timelines. These missed opportunities, within the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment and between the Department and other stakeholders, appears to have resulted in the physical mitigation of the Muskrat Falls reservoir wetlands not occurring.

NationTalk: The Standing Committee on Public Accounts is advising that it will hold a public hearing to follow up on matters contained in the report of the Auditor General on wetland capping on Wednesday, November 23 starting at 9 a.m. and Thursday, November 24 starting at 10 a.m. in the House of Assembly Chamber.

The Physical Mitigation of Muskrat Falls Reservoir Wetlands report is the result of a review initiated in October 2019 by the Public Accounts Committee, requesting the following:

“That the Auditor General investigate and report on the breakdown of communication that resulted in the flooding of the Muskrat Falls reservoir in violation of an agreement between the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Innu Nation, the Nunatsiavut Government, and the NunatuKavut Community Council to abide by the recommendations of the Independent Expert Advisory Committee, which directed that wetland capping must precede any such flooding.”

This week’s public hearing will follow up with officials from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Muskrat Falls Independent Expert Advisory Committee (IEAC).

The public galleries of the House of Assembly will be open and a live audio feed of the proceedings will be available on the House of Assembly website. Please note that testimony of witnesses appearing by videoconference will be audible from the online audio feed only.


Learn more
Report of the Auditor General on the Physical Mitigation of Muskrat Falls Reservoir Wetlands

Public Accounts Committee

Media contact
Bobbi Russell
Policy & Communications Officer
House of Assembly

December 8, 2022

BC, Fed. Govt.

Tahltan’s decades-long struggle to protect Sacred Headwaters

The film portrays the area’s immensity and beauty, and the Tahltan people’s ongoing relationship with its land and waters. 
(Photo: Hannah Campbell)

David Suzuki Foundation: That’s just one of many revelations in the powerful new film The Klabona Keepers, about the Tahltan Nation’s struggle to protect the Sacred Headwaters, or Klabona, from mining.

(The film, co-directed by my grandson Tamo Campos, is a collaboration between non-Indigenous filmmakers and Indigenous elders, who were given ownership of the intellectual property. All proceeds go to youth programming at the Klabona Sacred Headwaters.)

Drawing the connection between the not-so-distant past and the present, spokesperson Rhoda Quock says (as quoted by her husband Peter Jakesta), “They stole the children from the land. Now they steal the land from the children.”

They stole the children from the land. Now they steal the land from the children.

It’s a story we hear too often, but rarely told with such passion as by the elders and families in this film.

The Sacred Headwaters are where the salmon-filled Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers originate. It’s one of North America’s last intact freshwater ecosystems. The Tahltan, who have lived in the area since time immemorial, know it as Klabona. It’s a vast area, rich in bears, caribou, moose and other wildlife — and, yes, fossil fuels and minerals.

The film portrays the area’s immensity and beauty, and the Tahltan people’s ongoing relationship with its land and waters. It’s a relationship governments and churches tried to break when they took children from their families and communities and forced them into residential institutions throughout the 1990s. These horrific abuses and rights violations were aimed at extinguishing languages and cultures, and dividing people from each other to ease the way for industrial and mining interests.

In Klabona, as in so many places, having families and communities torn apart took a tremendous toll, and many who were in the institutions or relatives of those taken turned to alcohol to numb the pain and loss they suffered.

But as more mining companies started moving into Klabona, many Tahltan realized it was time to reclaim their strength, to protect the land and thus themselves from those who would destroy the mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes they have lived in harmony with for millennia. Elders from the village of Iskut, the Klabona Keepers, took on the responsibility.

But as more mining companies started moving into Klabona, many Tahltan realized it was time to reclaim their strength, to protect the land and thus themselves from those who would destroy the mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes they have lived in harmony with for millennia.

It’s been an ongoing struggle with mixed success. After much opposition and protest, the Red Chris copper-gold mine on the northwest side of Klabona started production in 2014. But by occupying drill sites, protesting and blockading, the Tahltan prevented Fortune Minerals from developing a massive open-pit coal mine on Mount Klappan in the heart of Klabona. That eventually led to the 2017 Klappan Agreement, which protected 286,000 hectares from major industrial activity. But mineral exploration continues to increase outside of the protected area.

The more we learn about Canada’s history and the appalling racism behind the push into Indigenous territories in search of exploitable wealth, the more we see how Indigenous Peoples have been paying the price and reaping few of the benefits of our extractivist economy — from fracked landscapes in northern B.C. to polluted lands and waters in the oilsands to the mercury-poisoned rivers of Grassy Narrows and beyond.

The Western way of seeing compartmentalizes and reduces phenomena to their constituent parts, often ignoring the bigger picture. But everything in nature is interconnected, so even seemingly insignificant actions can have cascading effects.

In many ways, Western science is just starting to catch up to the knowledge of peoples who have lived in place for thousands of years. We need to expand our vision and in doing so recognize that most or all of today’s crises — from climate disruption to biodiversity loss to growing inequalities — are rooted in the same blinkered mindset and values.

We can no longer afford to elevate the economy over the planet’s life-support systems. Consuming more and chasing endless growth does not bring well-being or happiness; embracing with wonder and love the phenomenal interconnections that bring us together on this small, generous world is better for individual, community and planetary health and well-being.

May 2, 2023

Fed. Govt.

UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues calls on Canada to shut down the Line 5 pipeline

NationTalk: THE GREAT LAKES | ANISHINABEK TERRITORY – Last Friday, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) recommended that Canada and the United States decommission the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline. In the Final Report of its annual session, issued last week, the UNPFII recognized that Line 5 “jeopardize[s] the Great Lakes” and “presents a real and credible threat to the treaty-protected fishing rights of Indigenous Peoples in the United States and Canada.” It called on Canada to reexamine its support for the pipeline, and for the pipeline to be shut down.

“The Anishinabek are the people of the Great Lakes and never before has there been such a unified call for action for both the United States and Canada to abandon failing fossil fuel infrastructure to protect our land and water,” states Bay Mills Indian Community Ogimaakwe (President) Whitney Gravelle.

Members of a mixed coalition of Anishinaabe leaders and environmental advocates attended the forum to advocate for highlighting Line 5 as an Indigenous and Human Rights concern.

“Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline has already leaked at least 29 times, spilling over 4.5 million litres of oil. It isn’t a matter of if, but when another rupture will occur,” said Michelle Woodhouse, Water Program Manager for Environmental Defence Canada. “At a time when the world is facing biodiversity, freshwater, and climate crises, it’s unconscionable for the Canadian government to gamble with the Great Lakes. The Government of Canada must withdraw its use of the 1977 pipeline treaty, and work with U.S. governments and the Anishinaabeg Nations of the Great Lakes to shut down Line 5.”

Tribal and First Nations look forward to further discussions with both Canada and the United States on this important issue and call for a collaborative effort to address the concerns raised in the report.

“Our decision to address the United Nations Permanent Forum on this matter reflects the Anishinabek Nation’s unwavering commitment to ensuring Canada upholds its international obligations as a member of the global community,” states Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe.

The Anishinabek Nation and Bay Mills Indian Community believe that protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the environment should be a top priority for both governments. The Permanent Forum’s recommendations serve as an important reminder of the need to work together to protect our planet and ensure a sustainable future for all.

Background information:

  • VIDEO: UNPFII reads out the recommendation on Line 5
  • The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was established in 2000 by the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Its purpose is to serve as a coordinating body to emphasize the importance of protecting the economic, social, and cultural development of Indigenous Peoples, and raise awareness of indigenous issues within the U.N. system.
  • The advocacy at the Forum follows a submission focused on Line 5 by representatives of 51 Tribal and First Nations to the U.N. Human Rights Council for Canada’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  The submission highlights how Canada’s support for Line 5 violates its human rights obligations and calls on Canada to reverse course and respect and protect the human rights of affected First Nations.

The UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review petitioners are:

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For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Paula Gray, Environmental Defence, media@environmentaldefence.ca

Laura Barrios, Communications Coordinator, Anishinabek Nation, (705) 498-1957, laura.barrios@anishinabek.ca

Shannon Jones, Media Coordinator, Bay Mills Indian Community, newspaper@baymills.org