A final decision on the Pacific NorthWest LNG proposal has been delayed by three months.
Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was expected to receive a final report about the proposal on Tuesday, but McKenna granted the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency a three-month extension.
CEAA asked for more time after receiving 34,000 public comments on its February draft report, along with newly submitted documents from Petronas regarding the project’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
Petronas, a Malaysian state firm, proposes to build a $36-billion export terminal for liquefied natural gas on Lelu Island, which stands at the north end of the Skeena River estuary, south of Prince Rupert.
The Haida Nation passed a resolution in November opposing LNG tankers, which would eventually make near-daily calls to the Pacific NorthWest facility, or 350 per year.
Speaking before the three-month extension was announced, local Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP and NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen said he has questioned the location of Pacific NorthWest from the very start.
“When I remain in support of LNG broadly, this specific project has raised concerns for years,” said Cullen, who supported the Alta Gas LNG and LNG Canada projects in Kitimat, but believes that if built on Lelu Island, Pacific NorthWest poses too much risk to nearby eelgrass beds on Flora Bank that provide habitat for juvenile salmon and other fish.
Cullen has offered to broker an expedited move to another site, an idea he laid out in a recent letter to Petronas, the Canadian government, and to First Nations affected by the proposal.
“I believe, if the right conversations were to happen, the project could go ahead in a much less controversial, and a much less dangerous site,” he said, noting that Royal Dutch Shell may have an already developed a site available on Ridley Island.
In a draft report, the CEAA concluded the project would not pose a significant risk to fish habitat, once mitigation measures are taken into account. But the agency did highlight the significant impact its lights and noise could have on nearby harbour porpoises.
“I just don’t run into a lot of people who are raising concerns about other species,” said Cullen, referring to the porpoise issue.
“It’s somewhat of a distraction.”
In the draft report, the CEAA also concluded that Pacific NorthWest LNG would have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
If built, the gas-powered facility could become Canada’s third-largest source of GHG emissions — only the Syncrude oil-sands mine and upgrader near Fort McMurray and the Sundance coal plant west of Edmonton would emit more.
“I don’t know if that’s the leading concern with the project,” said Cullen, noting that Pacific NorthWest could greatly reduce its emissions if it ran off B.C.’s main power grid, rather than its own gas-fired plant.
Cullen said he hears far more concern from First Nations leaders and local biologists about the project’s potential impact on salmon habitat by Lelu Island.
Nearly three years in, Cullen still hopes an “off ramp” can be found to move Pacific NorthWest LNG to another site.
“Location matters in business, and salmon matters in the northwest,” he said.