One longstanding complaint about high-voltage electric
transmission lines is the fear that such lines generate an
electromagnetic force which adversely affects people or the
environment. Opponents of such lines typically argue that they have
not been proved to be safe and therefore, under the precautionary
principle, should not be approved.
I have had cases where malfunctioning distribution lines next to
homes have, indeed, caused excess levels of EMF. But high voltage
lines, used for long-distance transmission, are built with
significant buffer distances. This issue was most recently
addressed in the decision of the Niagara Escarpment Hearing Office
on the twinning of the Bruce to Milton transmission line, Barlow v. NEC, who decided there was no ground for
"Ms. Thompson submits that nothing she has heard in this
Hearing has convinced her that electric or magnetic force
("EMF") effects of the twinned line will not have an
adverse effect on wildlife and people in the vicinity of the
corridor. She maintains that insufficient studies have been done in
this country to confirm one way or the other the lasting effects of
EMF on wildlife and human populations. She asserts that there have
been conflicting reports over the years as to the effects of EMF,
some indicating that EMF can cause illness in people living in
close proximity to transmission lines, others taking the opposite
view. She states that, as a non-expert, concerned citizen, she does
not want to see wildlife in the Escarpment put at risk if there is
another option. She argues for a cautious approach to be taken.
Although Mr. Crouse and Mr. Barlow do not address this issue in
their written submissions, their position during the Hearing is
reflected by Ms. Thompson's submissions.
The NEC made the following submissions with which HONI concurs.
The NEC notes that it is Ms. Grbinicek's opinion that HONI
undertook an appropriate literature review respecting this issue,
although she also notes that this is not an issue that the NEC is
in a position to independently verify. She notes that the NEC
relies on outside agencies for comments regarding issues such as
EMF, and no specific concerns were expressed by them. Based on her
review of the EA Report (Appendix O: Electric and Magnetic Field
(EMF) Modelling Report), Ms. Grbinicek had no specific concerns
regarding potential impacts on wildlife habitat. The NEC also notes
that Dr. Fitchko's opinion was that EMF will not have a
significant impact on humans or wildlife. In addition to the EA
Report, he relied on a brochure from Health Canada. Furthermore,
the NEC observes that it is Mr. Johnston's evidence that he is
satisfied that the EMF assessment, done as part of the
Environmental Assessment process, indicated that no significant
impact was expected on wildlife or humans although, in his opinion,
the NEP does not require the NEC to consider impacts on humans.
Findings on Issue #10:
The brochure referenced in the NEC's submission is published
by Health Canada, dated January 2010, and is entitled
"Electric and Magnetic Fields at Extremely Low
Frequencies". This brochure confirms that Health Canada
"does not consider guidelines for the Canadian public
necessary because the scientific evidence is not strong enough to
conclude that exposures cause health problems for the
The Hearing Officer does not need to address the issue of
whether the NEP requires the consideration of the impact on human
health. While the Hearing Officer accepts that a cautious approach
should be taken respecting the concerns raised by Ms. Thompson,
none of the Appellants adduced any evidence to establish any basis
for these concerns. The evidence adduced by HONI clearly indicates
that there is no significant impact of EMF on wildlife or
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The Alberta Court of Appeal's decision in Bokenfohr v Pembina Pipeline Corporation, 2016 ABCA 382 provides an important reflection on admissibility of evidence in the permission stage of an appeal in the oil and gas context.
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