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Northern Gateway pipeline review panel refuses to consider new data on dangers to whales

Posted Nov 21

By: Peter O'Neil, The Vancouver Sun

The New Democratic Party denounced Thursday a federal panel’s refusal to reopen hearings on the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal in order to consider a new report on the protection of humpback whales.

The report from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans identified critical habitats along the B.C. coast and warned of potential dangers to the species that is officially recognized as “threatened.”

“Even with very low odds and excellent safety records, catastrophic events can lead to undesirable outcomes,” the report, published last month, said.

“Proposed pipeline projects, associated tanker traffic, and possible offshore oil and gas exploration and development in coastal British Columbia all increase the likelihood of toxic spills in humpback whale habitat in the future, and underscore the importance of protecting critical habitat and supporting mitigation measures and plans.”

But the National Energy Board-Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency joint review panel, noting that it must report to the federal cabinet by Dec. 31, said there’s no time to consider the new report.

The panel’s notice published last week pointed out that final arguments were made in June, so new evidence is likely to “prejudice” some parties.

NDP House leader Nathan Cullen, whose Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding includes Kitimat, sent an open letter denouncing the decision in an open letter to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Fisheries Minister Gail Shea.

“It begs the question of why we even have a federal government agency devoted to ensuring the health and viability of our fisheries and our waters when the research and recommendations they produce are ignored by the very same federal government,” Cullen stated.

The report said the B.C. humpback population is estimated at 2,145, compared to at least 4,000 estimated off the West Coast of Vancouver Island in 1905.

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