Canada: Federal Environmental Assessments Will Be Rushed

Last Updated: August 15 2012
Article by Dianne Saxe

Now that federal environmental assessments are gone, the federal government will only assess very large, very important projects. But it's going to do them in a hurry.

The new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012), which came into effect last month, allows the federal government to create mandatory timelines for assessments of even the largest and most important projects, regardless of public opposition.

On Friday, August 3, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced timelines for nine projects under review, giving us our first look at how much time the government will allow for federal environmental assessments.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review Panel (JRP) will receive 543 days (18 months) – the maximum time available for the panel to complete its work. 17 months will be allowed to review the Deep Geologic Repository Project, a proposed nuclear waste disposal site in Northern Ontario. An 1100-megawatt hydroelectric generating station and an open pit copper and gold mine with a 20-year mine life, both in British Columbia, will be reviewed in just 7.5 months.

In contrast, the Mackenzie Gas Project JRP was appointed in August 2004 and submitted its report 64 months later in December 2009. The proposed project included construction of natural gas fields, gathering lines, processing facilities, and a 220-kilometre natural gas pipeline system from Inuvik to north-western Alberta. It affected many different groups and interests, all of whom wanted to be heard.

What is environmental assessment for?

As described by Justice La Forest in Friends of the Oldman River v. Canada (Minister of Transportation):

Environmental impact assessment is, in its simplest form, a planning tool that is now generally regarded as an integral component of sound decision-making. Its fundamental purpose is summarized by R. Cotton and D.P. Emond in "Environmental Impact Assessment," in J. Swaigen (ed.), Environmental Rights in Canada (1981), p. 245, at p. 247:

The basic concepts behind environmental assessment are simply stated: (1) early identification and evaluation of all potential environmental consequences of a proposed undertaking; (2) decision making that both guarantees the adequacy of this process and reconciles, to the greatest extent possible, the proponent's development desires with environmental protection and preservation.

As a planning tool it has both an information-gathering and a decision-making component which provide the decision-maker with an objective basis for granting or denying approval for a proposed development: see M.I. Jeffery, Environmental Approvals in Canada (1989), at p. 1.2, § 1.4; D.P. Emond, Environmental Assessment Law in Canada (1978), at p. 5. In short, environmental impact assessment is simply descriptive of a process of decision-making.

Failing to allow adequate time for project review jeopardizes the effectiveness of the EA by curtailing the information-gathering component of the EA process. In particular, insufficient time limits the ability of individuals, not-for-profit groups, and communities to assist decision-makers through their comments on the value and/or potential impacts of the project. Under the new regime, the public will have very little time to review and comment on far-reaching projects that will permanently change their communities and environments:

Project

Description

Time line

Marathon Platinum Group Metals and Copper Mine Project The proposed project would include three open pits, an ore processing plant, tailings and mine rock storage facilities, site access roads, a 7 km power transmission line, explosives factory and magazines, water management facilities, ancillary mine infrastructure and associated activities. The rate of production would be approximately 22,000 tonnes per day with a proposed operating mine life of approximately 11.5 years. JRP Report:13 months (from the coming into force of CEAA 2012)

Minister's Decision Statement:

4 months

(from submission of JRP Report)

Site C Clean Energy Project The proposed project consists of constructing and operating a dam and 1100-megawatt hydroelectric generating station on the Peace River in north-eastern British Columbia. The Project would be the third in a series of dams on the Peace River in British Columbia. The Project components are an earthfill dam 1050 metres long and 60 metres high, an up to 1100-megawatt generating station and associated structures, an 83-kilometre long reservoir, re-alignment of four sections of Highway 29 and two 77-kilometre transmission lines along existing transmission line right-of-way connecting Site C to Peace Canyon. Establish JRP: 8.5 months (from coming into force of CEAA 2012)

JRP Report:

7.5 months

(from est. of the JRP)

Minister's Decision Statement:

6 months

(from submission of JRP Report)

Deep Geologic Repository Project The project is a proposal by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to prepare, construct and operate a deep geologic disposal facility on the Bruce Nuclear Site within the municipality of Kincardine, Ontario. The DGR would be designed to manage low and intermediate waste produced from the continued operation of OPG-owned nuclear generations at Bruce, Pickering and Darlington, Ontario. JRP Report: 17 months (from coming into force of CEAA 2012)

Minister's Decision Statement:

4 months

(from submission of JRP Report)

Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Gateway Pipeline Inc, on behalf of the Gateway Pipeline Limited Partnership (Gateway) proposes to construct and operate pipelines, 1150 km in length, between an inland terminal near Edmonton, Alberta and a marine terminal near Kitimat, British Columbia. About 500 km will be in Alberta and 650 km in British Columbia.The project will include:
  • an export oil sands product pipeline;
  • an import condensate pipeline;
  • terminalling facilities;
  • integrated marine infrastructure at tidewater to accommodate loading and unloading of oil and condensate tankers; and
  • marine transportation of oil and condensate.
JRP Report: 18 months(from coming into force of CEAA 2012)

Minister's Decision Statement:

6 months

(from submission of JRP Report)

Jackpine Mine Expansion Project Shell Canada is proposing to expand the Jackpine Mine project. The expansion would include additional mining areas and associated processing facilities, utilities and infrastructure. The project would be located about 70 km north of Fort McMurray on the east side of the Athabasca River. The expansion project would increase bitumen production by 100 000 barrels per day. JRP Report: 11.5 months (from coming into force of CEAA 2012)

Minister's Decision Statement:

4 months

(from submission of JRP Report)

Pierre River Mine Project The Pierre River Mine project proposed by Shell Canada includes the construction, operation, and reclamation of an oil sands surface mine and bitumen extraction facilities. The proposed mining project would be located approximately 90 km north of Fort McMurray on the west side of the Athabasca River. The proposed development includes an open-pit mine, ore handling facility, bitumen extraction facilities, tailings processing facilities, support infrastructure, water and tailings management plans, as well as the construction of a bridge across the Athabasca River. The project is designed to produce a total of 200 000 barrels of bitumen per day. JRP Report: 8 months(from coming into force of CEAA 2012)

Minister's Decision Statement:

4 months

(from submission of JRP Report)

New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine Project The Project consists of an open pit mine development and a 70,000 tonne per day concentrator facility with an average annual production of 108 million pounds of copper and 247 thousand ounces of gold production over a 20 year mine life. The project mine site, which includes the open pit, concentrator facility, support infrastructure, and associated tailings and waste rock areas, is approximately 125 km southwest of Williams Lake, British Columbia. The Project also includes an approximately 125 km long power transmission line corridor, an existing concentrate load-out facility at Macalister, BC, and existing access from Williams Lake with construction of 2.8 km of new mine road. JRP Report: 7.5 months(from coming into force of CEAA 2012)

Minister's Decision Statement:

4 months

(from submission of JRP Report)

Frontier Oil Sands Mine Project The Frontier Oil Sands Mine Project (the Project), proposed by Teck Resources Limited and SilverBirch Energy Corporation, includes the construction, operation and reclamation of an oil sands surface mine with a production capacity of about 277 000 barrels per day of bitumen. The Project is located in northeastern Alberta, approximately 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The Project is a truck and shovel mine which includes three open pits, ore preparation plants, bitumen extraction plants, bitumen froth treatment plants, tailings and tailings preparation and management facilities, cogeneration facilities, support utilities, disposal and storage areas, river water intake, fish habitat compensation lake, roads, airfield and camp. The estimated project area is over 29 000 hectares. If the Project is approved, the proponent proposes to start producing oil in 2021. Establish JRP: 8.5 months (from coming into force of CEAA 2012)

JRP Report:

10 months

(from est. of JRP)

Minister's Decision Statement:

4 months

(from submission of JRP Report)

EnCana/Cenovus Shallow Gas Infill Project EnCana Corporation is proposing to drill up to 1275 new shallow gas wells within the boundary of the Canadian Forces Base Suffield National Wildlife Area (NWA) over a three-year period, essentially doubling the existing 1154 gas wells installed over the past 30 years. The proposal would see the development of a maximum of 16 wells per 640-acre section. Associated with these wells will be pipelines to connect the wells to existing and new infrastructure for delivery to market using low-impact ploughing equipment and conventional ditching techniques. The infill drilling proposed under this Project is necessary to efficiently produce the sweet shallow gas reserves within the NWA, located by previous drilling programs. The Project is anticipated to fulfill all the infill development necessary in the NWA. Minister's Decision Statement: 5 months (from coming into force of CEAA 2012)

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