Energy giant Petronas seeks to build an LNG terminal on Skeena Estuary eelgrass beds.


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Skeena Estuary

Energy giant Petronas seeks to build an LNG terminal on Skeena estuary eelgrass beds.

In the race to win contracts and export LNG to Asia, there is hot competition for a place to put a terminal.  Unfortunately for the Skeena salmon one highly unsuitable site is seriously in the running to be developed.

Petronas is well positioned to actually pull off an LNG export facility but BG group (previously British Gas) has rights to the best site in the Port of Prince Rupert.  So rather than looking further up the coast at Grassy Point sites or dealing with BG, Petronas has chosen to gamble on a terminal site, Lelu Island which was already assessed and rejected, in a five volume report by the Northcoast Environmental Assessment Team in 1975, because developing it would require a causeway across Flora Bank, an important area for salmon, herring and waterfowl.

Does a trestle over Flora Bank matter?

We probably have good agreement that the millions of Skeena salmon should be protected. In terms of food security they are very significant; not only do they number in the millions but ocean caught Skeena sockeye have one of the highest oil contents in the world, far higher than Bristol Bay and even higher than the much touted Copper River.  They are central to local First Nations culture.  They are crucial to the sports fishery, local food fishing, the local ecosystem and commercial fishing jobs. They matter.

There is less understanding of the importance of Flora Bank, but Canadian scientists have called it critical: “Inverness Passage, Flora Bank and De Horsey Bank, in that order, are habitat of critical importance for the rearing of juvenile salmon.”  R. J. Higgins and W. J. Schouwenburg Department of the Environment- Fisheries Service 1973”

Millions of salmon come down the Skeena, turn right through Inverness Channel and come across Flora Bank.  This is where they are changing from living in freshwater to sea water; they are especially vulnerable and in need of shelter and food.  The smoltification process takes a lot of energy and causes them to be less active. Estuary eelgrass beds provide both food and shelter from predators.

“Flora Bank supports 50-60% of the eelgrass in the Skeena Estuary”; a study of the Skeena Estuary (Hoos, 1975) refers to this estimate in a 1972 Fisheries Service study.

One might think that putting monopiles along Flora Bank and through the eelgrass beds won’t have much effect and if the wide trestle superstructure is above water it will be okay, but that is not the assessment suggested by NOAA or the EPA. Recently, a US project, Capewind, proposed just pilings 70 feet from eelgrass and the proponents stated that the impacts would be minimal.  This reference to minimal impacts was specifically rejected and the proponent was told: “… steps should be taken to ensure that adverse impacts on this area do not occur.” -  NOAA re Capewind project. NOAA went on: “Eelgrass is very sensitive to changes in light, thus it is not unusual to see impacts well outside the footprint of projects that may be causing sediment resuspension” and “To minimize impacts from construction vessels to eelgrass, EPA suggests that the project proponent mark off the edge of the eelgrass meadow with buoys and implement a “no wake” zone for construction vessels for 200 feet from the edge of the meadow.”  Imagine what Petronas’ proposed trestle right over and through the beds would do.

So it does matter: Skeena salmon are very important, they need the Flora Bank eelgrass beds, eelgrass is very fragile and Petronas’ Lelu site would require pilings right through those eelgrass beds.