Pipeline would stress whales: group

Pipeline would stress whales: group - image

FREDERICTON – The company planning to build the Energy East pipeline says concerns raised in a new report about the potential impact of the project on whales and some fisheries in the Bay of Fundy are unfounded.

A report released Wednesday by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick said noise from tanker traffic causes heightened levels of stress for the North Atlantic right whale, the most endangered large whale in the world.

It said studies show that tanker traffic impedes on the whales’ ability to communicate, forcing them to “shout” over tanker engines and when the noise reaches a certain level, they are not able to communicate at all.

“Right whales form social groups while in the Bay of Fundy, an important part of their life cycle, relying on their ability to communicate to form these groups,” the report by the council’s Matthew Abbott said.

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But Tim Duboyce, Energy East spokesman for TransCanada Corp., (TSX:TRP) said the council is just trying to replicate the issue that caused TransCanada to cancel plans for an export terminal in Cacouna, Que.

The company said there were concerns for Beluga whales near the site, but Duboyce said the plan for a proposed export terminal in Saint John, N.B., is different.

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“First of all, the proposed Canaport – Energy East terminal and tank farm are not located near the critical habitat of the right whale in the Bay of Fundy at all,” he said.

Duboyce said while the proposed terminal would see an extra 115 ship visits for the port each year, the traffic should not be an issue for the whales.

“Those shipping lanes were shifted out of the habitat of the whales more than 10 years ago and there hasn’t been a single reported strike with a ship since then. The population of whales has shown signs of significant growth since then.”

The council’s 22-page report said the Bay of Fundy’s world-famous tides and thick fog would make it difficult to clean up oil spills quickly.

It provides examples of past spills in the Bay of Fundy, including an incident in February 2007 that was not assessed or tracked due to adverse weather and fog.

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It also said bitumen is likely to form into tarballs when mixed with salt water and sink, which could harm the region’s fisheries, such as bottom-feeding lobster and scallop.

But Duboyce said the company will have emergency plans in place.

“The fact of the matter is, what we’re doing is putting in place measures to try to ensure that a situation like that never happens in the first place. Zero incidents is our aim,” he said.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant was again promoting the Energy East project Wednesday during a breakfast speech to the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce.

Gallant said every natural resource and energy project comes with some risk, and that’s why it will get a thorough review by the National Energy Board.

“I think it’s important to respect the process that’s happening now with the National Energy Board. I think it’s important for the many organizations and individuals that raise their hand to be an intervenor, be heard,” Gallant said.

“It has been well documented that pipelines are safer than what we’re doing at the moment, which is rail.”

The council’s report makes a number of recommendations, including that the federal Fisheries Department conduct an assessment of marine traffic noise in the Bay of Fundy to determine its impact and the potential impact of increased traffic noise on whales and other marine life.

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It said Ottawa should also assess its oil spill response capabilities in the Bay of Fundy with respect to the bay’s unique characteristics, such as extreme tides and fog.

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