VICTORIA — Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna should reject a "flawed" environmental draft report for the proposed $36 billion Petronas-backed liquefied natural gas plant on British Columbia's northwest coast near Prince Rupert, says an open letter to the minister signed by more than 130 scientists.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency released its draft report last month, finding the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG project in the Lelu Island, Flora Bank area of the Skeena River estuary poses minimal risks to fish and fisheries.
The federal cabinet is expected to make its final decision this month on the CEAA project permit.
The letter to McKenna states the scientists conclude the CEAA draft report "is scientifically flawed and represents an insufficient base for decision-making. We urge you to reject the CEAA draft report."
The letter said the scientists identified five primary scientific flaws in the draft report.
Thy include misrepresenting the importance of the project area to fish populations, especially salmon; disregarding science not funded by the project proponent; and assuming a lack of information equates to few risks.
"The CEAA draft report for the Pacific NorthWest LNG project is a symbol of what is wrong with environmental decision-making in Canada," stated the letter. "An obvious risk of a flawed assessment is that it will arrive at an incorrect conclusion."
The letter further stated industrial development proposed by the project is associated with lasting damage to the salmon population in the second-largest salmon-producing watershed in Canada.
Otto Langer, a former Department of Fisheries and Oceans habitat assessment expert, was among those who signed the letter.
"A natural eel grass salmon habitat such as Flora Bank cannot survive if it is subjected to pile driving, dredging, lights, ship and dock noises, spills," said Langer in a statement. "We must keep industry out of this area."
Pacific Northwest LNG, backed by Malaysian energy giant Petronas, has proposed to build an LNG export terminal at Lelu Island.
The proposed project is billed as the largest private-sector investment in B.C.'s history, valued at $36 billion and estimated to create 4,500 construction jobs.
But the Lelu Island and Flora Bank region at the mouth of the Skeena River, is considered vital to the ecosystem of B.C.'s second-largest salmon-bearing waterway.
The 257-page draft report stated Pacific NorthWest LNG’s project would likely harm harbour porpoises and contribute to climate change, but could be built and operated without causing major ecological damage.
A coalition of First Nations, environmentalists and Opposition New Democrats signed a declaration demanding a protection zone near a proposed project zone.
Some area hereditary First Nations chiefs said the project is a threat to a centuries-old salmon-fishing culture, but other elected area chiefs said they were awaiting further scientific reports and rejecting the project was premature.
"This letter is not about being for or against LNG, the letter is about scientific integrity in decision making," said Jonathan Moore, a coastal science and management professor at Simon Fraser University.
By Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press