Science behind Petronas LNG approval 'fraudulent,' says former
By Elizabeth May
October 19, 2016
How corrupt is the environmental review process? Or how is it that DFO,
CEAA and NRCan decided that Petronas LNG was not a threat to the Skeena
I do not use the word "corrupt" lightly. If not for a fairly random
connection, I would merely be heartbroken at the environmental and
climate atrocity wrapped up in the approval of Pacific NorthWest LNG.
Instead, I am angry and deeply concerned that the Cabinet ministers who
made the decision were denied key scientific evidence by the very civil
servants who are mandated to provide them with the facts.
The random event was the Saanich Inlet Round Table on May 26, 2016. The
immediate local issue is, of course, the proposed Steelhead floating LNG
facility for Saanich Inlet. Organizers decided a local scientist who had
done extensive work for the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation on the proposed
Pacific NorthWest LNG would be of interest. Dr. McLaren's presentation,
"Lessons to be learned from the Petronas Affair -- Prince Rupert," had
no scientific parallels for us. The ecological and scientific issues are
unique to Lelu Island. But the political lessons are chilling.
What Dr. McLaren shared made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I
have worked for the last forty years with various branches of government
and regulators. It is not that they were always perfect. DFO's blind
stupidity cost us one of the world's most abundant fisheries, the North
Atlantic cod, to name one example. But overall, I have come to expect
professionalism and a dispassionate willingness to examine the evidence.
That is what Patrick McLaren expected. Back in the 1970s and 80s, he had
worked as a government scientist with the Canadian Geological Survey. He
specialized in coastal geology, left Canada for a while as a visiting
scholar at Cambridge, and returned with his own consulting firm. He was
the first scientist to scuba dive under the North Pole to study the ice.
In other words, he's no slouch when it comes to science.
So when he presented his findings to the Canadian Environmental
Assessment Agency, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Natural
Resources Canada, he thought they would be interested. Instead, they
were hostile. His findings were inconvenient. They did not accord with
the numerical modelling by Petronas that said everything would be fine.
Lelu Island in Prince Rupert Sound is the now approved site for a
massive LNG development. In addition to the acknowledged increase in GHG
and threat to local porpoises, a huge issue is whether the project will
endanger the second largest salmon run in B.C. -- the Skeena salmon
fishery. The Skeena salmon depend on the rich eelgrass habitat found
almost exclusively on a huge extent of sand called Flora Bank.
Up until McLaren was hired by the Lax Kw'alaams to check out the
sediments and how they were transported, everyone assumed that all the
sediments came from the Skeena River. Instead, McLaren found that, using
his technique known as Sediment Trend Analysis (STA), the sands of Flora
Bank were not from the Skeena at all -- nor from anywhere else one can
find on the British Columbian coast.
In fact, they were from a glacial dump of sediments occurring between
15,000 to 8,000 years ago. The sands of Flora Bank are 8,000 years old.
McLaren describes them as "ancient, relic sands."
So the question for science is not "will building a giant terminal,
pounding 500 pilings, more than a metre each in diameter, into the sand
banks hurt the eel grass?" The question is "what is keeping this unique
geological feature in place?"
And that raises other troubling questions. If the waves and currents
hold the sands in place, what impact will the pilings and huge LNG
tankers parked along more than a quarter of Flora Bank's perimeter have
on the ancient formation? McLaren predicts that they will reduce the
energy of the processes impinging the bank enabling the sand to "escape"
to the surrounding deep water. The eel grass and its fish habitat will
be removed with the sand, effectively destroying Flora Bank.
Petronas wasn't the only one to dislike this prediction. The CEAA, DFO
and NRCan were likewise unhappy. At first, they dismissed McLaren's
work. Then he made it stickier for them by getting the research
published in a peer-reviewed journal. (Journal of Coastal Research "The
environmental implications of sediment transport in the waters of Prince
Rupert, B.C., Canada: A comparison between kinematic and dynamic
Once published, CEAA made Petronas redo their numeric model to at least
acknowledge the troublesome prediction made from the STA. Petronas
produced new versions until CEAA accepted their incredible claim that
the wave action and currents along Flora Bank would not be sufficient to
impact the sands and that the STA actually supported the findings of
their numeric model. Incredible because in order to produce that result,
Petronas had to suppress their own findings that currents were actually
up to three times more intense than their model had predicted. And NRCan
and DFO and CEAA all knew that the information was being suppressed.
In questioning Petronas about their model, McLaren was interrupted and
told to stop by CEAA officials. He felt it was because the Petronas
modellers were becoming uncomfortable. As he recalled, "It was the most
important point in that meeting to get straight. And I was told to 'move
on,' and stop asking about numbers that made no sense. It made me
believe the modellers had not looked at their own numbers."
His conclusions are personal and powerful:
"If you cannot explain the present, and the Petronas model
certainly cannot, why would you use it to predict the future?
"We know that this model is not science. You cannot use a model to
prove a preconceived notion: that building on Flora Bank will not hurt
the salmon. That's not science. And we know that the claim that STA
supports the numerical model is just simply not true.
"The currents mean everything. The way Petronas presented the lie
was to show that the currents on Flora Bank are too small to move the
sediments… but they themselves (Petronas) had taken current data three
times higher than what they used and they kept that secret with the
collusion of CEEA, NRCan and DFO.
"And we know the model doesn't work. My conclusion is that the
science and the model are fraudulent."
He presented that conclusion, including using the word "fraudulent" at a
meeting with First Nations and representatives from the three federal
agencies. No one challenged him. No one said a word.
Collusion. Fraudulent, Corrupt. These are not words I associate with the
federal approvals process. We need to be raising hell before similar
"science" is used to approve Kinder Morgan.
This article was written with the assistance of Patrick McLaren, PhD,
PGeo, President of SedTrend Analysis Limited in Brentwood Bay.
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