TransCanada Corp. is putting on hold studies for the Cacouna oil export terminal in Quebec as part of its proposed Energy East pipeline project after a nearby beluga whale population was assessed as endangered.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada said yesterday that the beluga population in the St. Lawrence River is at greater risk of extinction than a decade ago and is now considered endangered. The organization is made up of provincial, territorial and federal wildlife agencies and non-governmental advisers.
“We are standing down on any further work at Cacouna, in order to analyze the recommendation, assess any impacts from Energy East, and review all viable options,” Tim Duboyce, a TransCanada spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. The company postponed a Dec. 4 community meeting scheduled in the municipality of Cacouna.
The classification of the world’s southern-most beluga population as endangered is the latest hurdle for TransCanada’s C$12 billion ($11 billion) Energy East line, which would ship oil-sands crude from Alberta to refineries and export terminals in Quebec and New Brunswick. Environmental groups are seeking to block the project over the risks of spills and higher greenhouse-gas emissions in the oil sands.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said it will be difficult for TransCanada to build the terminal in Cacouna after the report on the belugas.
“It’s a very significant piece of information,” Couillard said today at a news conference broadcast by Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “It seems difficult to continue to plan for an oil terminal with that kind of news. Now it’s up to the promoter to decide to go to other sites.”
Last month the Ontario and Quebec governments gave TransCanada seven conditions it must meet to win their support. Some utilities in the two Canadian provinces have expressed concern that the project may disrupt natural gas supplies.
The World Wildlife Fund and some residents in Cacouna also have spoken out against Energy East because of the risks tanker traffic around the terminal may pose to beluga calving. Cacouna is across the river from a national conservation area known for its belugas.
TransCanada stopped underwater drilling and seismic studies for the Cacouna terminal in September after a Quebec court granted a temporary injunction against the work because of potential impacts to the belugas. The company had been in talks with the Quebec government to resume the studies when it decided to halt the work to review yesterday’s endangered species classification.
The St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population, which once numbered 10,000, has declined to less than 1,000, according to the Canadian wildlife committee. The species was the target of hunters until 1979 and is now in peril because of industrial activity.
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice met with Quebec’s Couillard in Quebec City today and tomorrow plans to meet with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in Toronto to discuss Energy East.
“This is a material consideration and certainly it will have to be assessed,” Prentice said about the endangered species assessment at a news conference in Vancouver yesterday. “Any of these projects, this one included, need to be subject to rigorous environmental assessment, and the purpose of a rigorous environmental assessment is to deal with exactly these kinds of issues.”
Energy East would be North America’s largest oil pipeline, carrying as much as 1.1 million barrels a day and stretching 4,600 kilometers (2,859 miles) from Alberta to New Brunswick.