Graham Richard —
This winter three scientists and a conservationist toured BC communities to discuss the results of the only Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) export facility to be located in a salmon estuary.
The delegation arrived from Sakhalin Island, where Shell constructed an LNG facility called Sakhalin-II in Aniva Bay. The estuary once hosted the planet’s third largest ts’iit’an Pink salmon run which supported a strong, sustainable fishery. Since construction of the LNG facility started in 2003 30 kilometres from the closest ts’iit’an river, the population has collapsed the scientists said.
“The Sakhalin LNG Site is over 30 km away from the closest major salmon river, while the PNW LNG site is located right on top of the most critical salmon habitat in the Skeena estuary — the impacts will be much greater here in the Skeena.”
— Salmon Ecologist Dr. Aleksandr Shubin
Now Malaysian crown-corporation, Petronas, is proposing to build a very similar fracked gas export facility on top of Lelu Island and Flora Banks, an important salmon estuary at the mouth of the Skeena River.
The Flora Bank environment provides for 25 times more returning salmon than any other place in the estuary and over 200 million juvenile salmon leave the Skeena River watershed each year.
Construction would involve blasting and dredging for a 2.7-kilometre, Golden Gate-sized bridge, driving 464 pilings into the seabed for a super-tanker berth and burying an underwater gas supply pipeline under the Skeena River.
Skeena Wild Conservation Trust executive director Greg Knox showed the visiting scientists around Flora Banks. “When they saw the proposed site they basically said this is a really crazy place to put an LNG facility,” said Knox. “[The scientists] said they wouldn’t even do this in Russia.”
Reiterating the concerns of Canadian scientists, Geomorphologist and marine erosion expert Dr Viktor Afanasev expressed serious concern that the project will likely erode Flora Bank completely.
“The construction of a tanker loading jetty, suspension bridge, and loading dock could destabilize Flora bank. The pilings, bridge abutments and pipeline will totally alter the currents and cause erosion, which could collapse Flora Bank,” he said.
“This can only result in one thing – an abrupt, catastrophic decrease in the Skeena River salmon population.”
Dr. Vikotr Afanasey
“The choice of the location shocked me,” Dr Afanasev continued. “In terms of protecting salmon, it is hard to imagine a worse possible place. The plant is proposed to be built right in the middle of the migration path of adult salmon going up the [Skeena] river to spawn, and also right in the way of the juvenile salmon migrating down to the open ocean. Also, the off-loading LNG terminal is proposed to be built in the area where juvenile salmon spend several weeks to months during the most vulnerable time of their lives. This can only result in one thing – an abrupt, catastrophic decrease in the Skeena River salmon population.”
In addition to erosion, ocean noise expert Dr Alexander Vedenev expressed concern about how construction and shipping noise will affect salmon.
“The noise from tankers and the operation of the LNG facility will effect salmon behaviour up to three kilometers away, so juvenile salmon will likely avoid this critical habitat,” he explained. “During the three years of construction, pile driving, underwater blasting and dredging will kill fish close to these activities, and cause changes in behaviour and avoidance of this habitat”.
Dr Vedenev also criticized the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s draft environmental impact assessment for the proposed Lelu Island facility, noting “the complete lack of analysis of the acoustic impacts on salmon”, even though it is located immediately in the way of a primary salmon migration route and rearing habitat.
“It is well documented that salmon can hear infra sound, the same type of sound produced by operating LNG facilities and tankers,” he explained. “Salmon avoid areas of intense or prolonged infra sound exposure. During the operation phase there will be infra sound from tugs and carriers and the LNG facility itself. This can lead to decreased survival and can interfere with the life cycle of juvenile salmon.”
In Russia, the Sakhlin-II LNG plant is supplied by three offshore oil and gas platforms connected by 800 kilometres of pipeline. While a direct cause and effect relationship between the industrial facility and salmon stocks has not been conclusively established to some, its construction was followed by declines in populations of salmon as well as scallops, crabs, sea cucumbers, smelt, and others.
Since construction started, Aniva Bay and the surrounding area has coped with extensive dredging, the dumping of pollutants like methylene dichloride and lubricating oil, illegal construction of a pipeline through a national reserve, illegal dumping of a million cubic metres of waste, landslides and mudflows, riverbank erosion, and the destruction of spawning rivers and creeks.
In 2006, the Russian Natural Resources Ministry claimed that the Sakhlin-II plant had caused $50B in ecological damage
Even so, Russian law requires proponents to assess at least three potential sites for such projects, whereas the Province of BC required Pacific NorthWest to assess only one – Lelu Island. Furthermore, Sakhalin-II needed to adhere to World Bank environmental, social and health standards to receive funding for construction. It appears the Province of BC currently maintains lower environmental assessment standards than their Russian neighbours in these respects.
“We have a chance to help the people of the Skeena watershed protect one of the most famous and rich wild salmon sanctuaries in the world,” Director of Sakhalin Environment Watch and conservationist Dimitry Lisitsyn concluded. “With the dramatic decline of our wild salmon [in Aniva Bay], I really hope this will not be replicated in the Skeena estuary.”
“The study of the interaction between seafloor topography and fluid hydrodynamic processes, seafloor morphologies and the dynamics of changes in the motion of sediment.”