Written by Anne Lin Arghirescu
Edited by Bhromor Rahman
We are currently going through the second wave of Covid-19 infections, with the number of tested positive cases escalating at dizzying speed. However, this is not yet another COVID article; we are in the midst of public consultations for “the largest industrial project in Quebec’s recent history”, namely, GNL/Gazoduq.
GNL/Gazoduq is a two-part project initiated in 2015 by the American company GNL Québec. It would greenlight the construction of a 750km pipeline transporting gas from Western Canada to the Saguenay port, as well as the parallel building of a gas liquefaction plant and storage infrastructure in Saguenay plus an expansion of the export port. The project would also include three compressor stations, a metering station, approximately 25 block valves and an associated control center. I could go on and on, but this is merely a brief and condensed summary.
It is no surprise that this project has a plethora of grave underlying impacts. Due to the concurrent world health crisis, GNL/Gazoduq has not received nearly enough media traction as one would expect for a project of this magnitude. This situation is concerning as citizens need to be well informed in order to be able to maximize their influence in the decision-making process. Have some catching-up to do on what exactly GNL/Gazoduq entails? Here is an article for you, then.
The most comprehensive threat that this project poses is evidently ecological in nature. Although the promoter vehemently advocates the project’s supposedly “green” contribution to the economy thanks to its carbon-neutral liquefaction plant, a great number of environmental organizations have highlighted that the company failed to assess the upstream and downstream emissions of the project. Natural gas, which GNL would extract, is primarily composed of methane and has a warming potential up to 84 times greater than CO2. The transportation of gas is particularly noxious in this regard, even though the company persists in believing that an underwater leak would produce harmless bubbles which would rise to the surface and “quickly disperses in the atmosphere without leaving a trace”. Unfortunately, as outlined by Caroline Brouillette from Réseau action climat Canada and Alice-Anne Simard from Nature Québec, the emissions of GNL/Gazoduq would translate into fugitive emissions between 46 and 72 megatons of CO2 equivalent for a pipe. If the governments of Quebec and Canada were to support the project and provide public funds for its implantation, the country’s international commitments on climate change would be virtually impossible to meet. What is more, the planning area delineated by the company is highly unsuited for the project. The pipes to scar the land over 780 km and 60m of forest width will be cut down. If I just whisk out my calculator here, this represents an area of 60 x 780 = 46 800 km of deforestation! Devastating news for 18 plant species and 17 vulnerable or threatened wildlife species (including the wolverine and the Blanding’s turtle) at risk of assisting to the destruction and fragmentation of their essential habitats. Does it get better on water? Well—Given the narrowness of the Saguenay waterway, the passage of 160 LNG carriers per year would imply significant maritime transport risks for other vessels. An LNG tanker explosion would cause ignition within a radius of 1.6 km to 3.5 km. And, believe it or not, it gets worse. The LNG carriers’ route crosses the fjord at the heart of the critical habitat of the St. Lawrence beluga, an iconic but endangered species, which would risk losing its refuge. Scientists are calling for a 3-year moratorium to fully assess the impacts of GNL/Gazoduq on beluga populations.
Tied to this environmental dimension are non-negligeable social consequences. GNL/Gazoduq would jeopardize sustainable and culturally important jobs in the tourism industry of the region, considered to be exceptionally profitable. The dischargement of ballast waters from LNG carriers into the Saguenay waters could lead to the appearance of invasive species (pests) which would greatly upset biodiversity and fishing activities. Visual pollution, noise pollution, disruption of local agricultural activities: in essence, the project amounts to a degradation of the quality of life for local residents and First Nations.
Not only is GNL/Gazoduq impractical from an environmental point of view, it is also precarious from an economic standpoint. According to Colin Pratte from IRIS (Institut de recherche et d’informations socioéconomiques), its production costs far exceed those of rival projects, especially those initiated in Canadian provinces where exemption from the carbon tax is granted. Consequently, to be brought into effect, the project would have a great dependence on public funds. Generally, its implementation would affect the competitiveness of renewable energies on the market and thus further impede the country’s energy transition.
Alright, so GNL/Gazoduq is a horrendous project to undertake in the midst of a global environmental crisis and growing alarm around climate change in the international community, but is there any way at all for us to kill it? Do you want to stop it? Can you? YES! Here is an efficient bullet point list of citizen involvement actions you can undertake, complete with resources and links:
(1) By clicking on this link, you can sign the ongoing “GNL/Gazoduq non merci!” petition of the coalition Fjord, created in 2018 in opposition to the project.
(2) Participate in the second part of the public hearings for the project, starting on October 26th and organized by the BAPE (Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement). Register before the 22nd of October by filling this form. More details on the location of these sessions will appear on the Quebec Environmental Law Center’s page you can consult here.
(3) Get informed on the project. Read the Public Participation Plan , the Indigenous Engagement and Partnership Plan, the Tailored Impact Statement Guidelines and of course, the Detailed Project Description submitted by the company to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. Additional documentation and French versions can be found at the bottom of this webpage on the Canadian government’s website.
(4) Use this information to write a brief detailing your opinion on GNL/Gazoduq and submit it to the BAPE at the bottom of this form. Write a comment on the website of the Canadian government (notice: you will have to sign up using an email address in order to take part in the public consultations). To read the comments that have already been submitted to the government by other stakeholders, environmental organizations, Indigenous groups and other citizens, press here.
(5) On January 22, 2020, the Canadian Impact Assessment Agency (the Agency) determined that an impact assessment would be required for the Gazoduq Project (the Project), pursuant to Section 16 of the LEI. Watch out for the release of the environmental analysis of the project on the website of the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment, and Fight Against Climate Change.
(6) Stay updated on the project’s timeline, especially with regards to the Public consultation by the CSA on the provisional version of the final environmental assessment report and on the potential conditions to be imposed on the project.
(7) Spread the word! Send this article to a friend, read an announcement at the beginning of a class, make a post on Facebook, call up your family on Skype. This project concerns us all and every individual action is crucial in inhibiting its approval.
Author’s note: This article was written using information communicated to the public in the GNL/Gazoduq conference, hosted by 8 organizations working in the realm of the environment among which Nature Québec and Greenpeace Quebec, and held on Monday September 14th.