LNG terminals could collapse B.C. wild salmon run: SFU scientists

New science shows that Pacific Northwest LNG and Prince Rupert LNG are smack dab in the most sensitive spot for millions of Skeena salmon, treasured by fisheries, anglers, First Nations and sushi lovers.

Salmon LNG Skeena watershed Prince Rupert Lelu and Ridley Islands Ridley Island
Salmon underwater - Skeena Wild Conservation Trust
Netted salmon fry from Skeena estuary - Tavish Campbell
Aerial Skeena estuary at Lelu Island - Brian Huntington
Salmon fry in Skeena Estuary near Prince Rupert - Tavish Campbell
Juvenile salmon among protective eelgrasses of Flora Bank; and an aerial view of Lelu and Ridley Islands near Prince Rupert where two LNG terminals are planned - photos by Tavish Campbell and Brian Huntington respectively

The gas terminals couldn't be in a worse spot, say scientists.

Two multi-billion-dollar LNG marine export facilities slated for the province’s northwest are under fire for being smack dab in the most critically important waters for rearing millions of wild B.C. salmon, a new Simon Fraser University scientific study reveals.

“The worst case scenario is the [Skeena] salmon population would collapse, and to levels that would not allow commercial fishing,” said Assistant Professor Jonathan Moore with SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management.

Malaysia’s state-oil company Petronas is seeking to build the $11-billion “Pacific Northwest LNG” terminal on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert (1,500 km northwest of Vancouver).

Next to it, a British-company -- BG Group -- wants to build the $16-billion “Prince Rupert LNG” project on Ridley Island. 

“This area, right where this [LNG] development is proposed, has the highest abundance of some of the most important salmon species within the Skeena watershed," said Moore, an aquatic ecologist. 

The SFU researchers netted salmon in 2007 and 2013 in the five possible zones where juvenile salmon swim northward and southward from the Skeena River’s exit onto the Pacific (see graphic).

Skeena watershed salmon study LNG location map - Vancouver Observer

Graphic from SFU study, and modified by Mychaylo Prystupa - Vancouver Observer 

The area with the highest number of commercially important salmon (Zone #2 in blue-green) is where the two proposed LNG facilities are planned to go.  It contained:

  • 2-8 times more Sockeye in 2007 and 2013 than any other zone
  • the highest abundances of Chinook in 2007
  • the highest abundances of Coho in 2013

The study, available online, is under peer review, and was a collaboration between Simon Fraser University, Lax Kw'alaams First Nation, and the Skeena Fisheries Commission.

If granted environmental licences, both LNG projects would dredge hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of underwater sediment to construct berths, for 500 LNG carrier tankers to port each year.

Moore and his research team fear the construction and operation of these natural-gas-export facilities would destroy the salmon's protective grasses and rocky outcrops

SFU researchers Skeena salmon Tavish Campbell

Consequently, the industrial disruption could potentially ruin the Skeena salmon run -- the second largest in Canada, said Moore.

Dozens of B.C. communities, fisheries and First Nations depend on the salmon run for food, tourism dollars, and exports.  The salmon is popularly sold in Vancouver sushi restaurants and supermarkets.

Corporate reaction

Illustration of Pacific Northwest LNG on Lelu Island, near Prince Rupert

The two proponents took the scientists' statements guardedly.

"Pacific NorthWest LNG is committed to the long-term health of the marine environment in the area of our proposed facility. We intend on operating in the area - within the Prince Rupert Port Authority - for decades. Therefore, responsible construction and operation of our project is integral to our success," wrote the company's senior advisor, Spencer Sproule.

"As we stated in our [Environmental Impact Statement], potential effects to fish and fish habitat will be short term, localized and closely monitored to meet environmental standards. Additionally, our project is committed to a suite of mitigation measures and habitat offsetting that will be accompanied with long-term monitoring programs..." he added.

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Dave L wrote:

It seems like you don't understand the difference between Northern Gateway oil pipeline/export dangers, and LNG pipeline/export dangers. Why were you against Northern Gateway?....for most educated people, it is the risk of oil spills....the bitumen is impossible to clean up because it sinks (and of course is oil, which require emulsifiers to remove). LNG is a gas at earth's surface temperature...any spill will float and quickly evaporate. The issue thus, as the SFU professor indicated, is the POTENTIAL for damaging the salmon runs. [...] You do not need to sacrifice your economy to save salmon. Otherwise, you probably wouldn't even be living in BC as your presence is hurting BC's ecology.

Surely oil spills and the risk of damaging (or destroying) the salmon runs are cause for concern. But there's another, far more serious "danger" here that you fail to mention: supporting the LNG terminals (and the pipelines) means advocating for burning (even) more fossil fuels, leading to the warming of the planet and, ultimately, potentially irreversible damage to the climate and ecology.

In other words, if a sane person would like their grandchildren to live on a planet resembling the one we currently inhabit, then they logically have to be opposed to further fossil fuel development -- and be in favour of a radical and rapid transition to renewable energy, among other things.

The claim that opposing LNG and gas development and export amounts to "sacrificing the economy" is complete nonsense; it's nothing more than a scare tactic -- and an obvious one, at that. If we don't commit ourselves to burning more fossil fuels (and destroying the planet) there will be no other work to do? Really? Come on. Anyone that spends two seconds thinking about all the work involved in transitioning from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable resource-based economy can easily see this for themselves -- that is, if they allow themselves to see it.