The Globe and Mail: Work on the contentious Coastal GasLink pipeline is under investigation by federal fisheries officers, as construction pushes through sensitive salmon-bearing rivers.
The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office has already issued dozens of regulatory warnings and orders, as well as fines, for the 670-kilometre-long, $11.2-billion project.
Dan Bate, spokesman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said officers from the conservation and protection branch are looking into the complaint of sedimentation in the Clore River as a result of the work being performed on the CGL pipeline project.
It’s the first time that DFO officers have investigated the project, which is in its final year of construction, and 80 per cent complete.
The Clore River, roughly 40 kilometres southeast of Terrace, B.C., is a fish-bearing tributary that eventually feeds into the Skeena River. The watershed supports runs of chinook, pink, chum, sockeye, coho and steelhead.
Shannon McPhail, executive director of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, said the DFO has not done enough to assure the public that the effects to salmon are being adequately monitored. “Much of our economy is dependent on salmon, and our ecosystems,” she said in an interview. “It’s past time the federal regulators step in and take a close look at this project. There are systemic issues with confusion of jurisdiction, and hopefully this can be the start of remedying that mess.”
The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office also received a complaint on Jan. 8 that CGL was crossing the Clore River without sediment control.
Even with other massive construction projects under way in British Columbia, including the Site C dam and the TransMountain oil pipeline expansion, the CGL pipeline has absorbed most of the EAO’s regulatory attention.
In the past two years, the EAO has issued 37 warnings, 17 orders, and a little less than $250,000 in fines, primarily related to sediment and erosion control concerns. A single order, from April, 2022, covered 33 waterways and wetlands after inspections found the company was not in compliance with the terms of its environmental assessment certificate. By contrast, the $16-billion Site C dam has received 12 orders and three warnings in the same time period.
The violations were so frequent that Coastal GasLink and the EAO signed a compliance agreement last July that requires CGL to follow more pro-active measures to control erosion and sedimentation for all new construction along the CGL pipeline route. However, the Clore River site is not included in the compliance agreement.
“The EAO has expanded inspections and enforcement activities in response to continued issues of non-compliance with the Coastal Gaslink pipeline project,” Sarah Plank, EAO spokesperson, said in a written statement. While the project has been cited for multiple violations, she said recent inspections indicate that compliance is improving.
The province has threatened that continued non-compliance could result in stop-work orders.
Kiel Giddens, Coastal GasLink’s director of public affairs, said in a statement that instream work in the Clore River is being completed in accordance with its permits. “Our regulators are closely monitoring progress and at this point have not identified any instances of non-compliance at the work site,” he said. “We take every opportunity to improve on our track record of environmental protection, and we are committed to working with our regulators to do so.”
TC Energy Corp. TRP-T is building the pipeline to transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat. The line will feed LNG Canada’s liquefied natural gas terminal that is being built at Kitimat. When the project was approved in 2018, it was billed as the single-largest private-sector investment project in Canadian history. The terminal, pipeline and drilling are expected to cost $45-billion.
But the pipeline is strongly opposed by some Indigenous communities, led by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who say the company does not have consent to cross their traditional territory.
Severn Cullis-Suzuki, executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation, said in a statement that it is time regulators followed through on that threat. “The lack of monitoring and enforcement for following the law on this project completely undermines those goals. The damage to B.C. salmon habitat is deeply troubling,” she said. “Fisheries and Oceans Canada needs to issue Coastal GasLink a stop-work order immediately and resolve these issues.”
STAFF B.C. POLITICS REPORTER VICTORIA, CANADA
Justine Hunter is a reporter for The Globe and Mail. Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics.