Posted on March 21, 2013 (updated: June 20, 2019)

NGP hearings: Enbridge witness encouraged Obama to consider combined effects of tanker traffic

PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. – In the wake of a second round of cuts to Canadian environmental protection laws, the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel hearing the case for Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline heard that one of Enbridge’s environmental consultants wrote letters to the American president asking him to consider the cumulative effects of tanker traffic in a marine management plan.

Two letters co-signed by Jeffrey Green were submitted as evidence to the panel in Prince Rupert on Tuesday morning. The letters, written to President Obama and his environmental policy advisor and dated Oct. 7 and Nov. 24, 2009, were intended to influence a national planning strategy for the United States, Green said.

Along with discussing the importance of mapping the combined impacts — or cumulative effects — caused by tankers, the letter describes ocean noise from tanker traffic as “essentially a form of habitat destruction.”

“Have you given any thought about writing to the prime minister of Canada in the same fashion?” ForestEthics Advocacy lawyer Tim Leadem asked Green. Enbridge has been accused of lobbying the federal government to relax its laws protecting the marine environment, reducing regulatory hurdles before the Northern Gateway project.

As he wrapped up his cross-examination, Leadem turned to Enbridge president John Carruthers, asking whether Enbridge had directly lobbied the federal government with regard to environmental regulations. Carruthers said that “a numbers of discussions” he’d had with officials about the Northern Gateway project revolved around project updates. Carruthers denied lobbying for eased environmental regulations.

An official filing with the lobby registry shows that Enbridge has been advocating for “regulatory streamlining” and “improved efficiencies ” to environmental assessments through 16 meetings with senior government officials in 2011. The company also met an additional 25
times last year with MPs and senators.

Two omnibus budget bills passed this year in the House of Commons drastically reduce Canada’s waterway protection and specifically exclude pipelines from environmental assessments when looking at effects on rivers, lakes and oceans.

Earlier in Tuesday’s hearings, Leadem questioned Enbridge on risks posed by the project to a number of marine mammals — including humpback, killer and fin whales — that frequent Douglas Channel and
are listed as species at risk.

When asked whether marine mammals would be killed as a result of collisions with oil tankers, Enbridge witness Andrea Ahrens confirmed that: “There is unfortunately no mitigating factors that can
completely eliminate that risk.” Noise, which masks communication signals in humpback whales, would also increase, Enbridge witnesses confirmed.

Enbridge’s pipeline would bring 220 vessels per year, or 1.2 per day, to the northwest coast, increasing current shipping traffic in Douglas Channel by over 32 percent. Enbridge experts acknowledged that few studies have been done on the impacts of increased shipping on marine mammals and that vessels striking marine mammals and ocean noise were two main concerns.

Leadem pressed the panel about whether it would halt shipping in the face of marine mammal mortality or whether it would forego the project if further studies reveal a negative impact on endangered humpback whales.

“If you’re finding that there’s no way vessels can avoid the occasional whale strike, what are you going to do? Just keep on putting the tankers in and hitting the whales?” Leadem asked. “What if you learn more and Northern Gateway finds out that despite all the measures you put in place, you’re still going to have an impact of a significant nature on humpback whales. Will Enbridge say… we’re not going to build it because we’re going to potentially affect a species that is threatened?”

Enbridge’s response was inconclusive. Like its oil spill response plan, Enbridge says its Marine Mammal Protection Plan will be filed with the National Energy Board six months prior to beginning operations.

This is the first of five Enbridge panels to answer questions in Prince Rupert about risks to the marine environment and aboriginal culture. Tuesday’s panel was limited to only discussing spills of less than 15 parts per million, or those that do not leave a sheen on the surface of the water. Subsequent panels will address larger spills.

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