A proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Quebec’s Saguenay region could be a serious threat to endangered beluga whales and striped bass, the Journal de Montréal reports, citing a federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans assessment obtained under access to information laws.
The department warns of habitat destruction, possible mortality, and “serious damage” if Énergie Saguenay GNL Québec is permitted to build its proposed liquefaction and export facility upstream from Saguenay-Saint Lawrence Marine Park . The port would bring 300-metre tankers to the area several times a week, an increase in traffic that would lead to “significant, negative impacts for the beluga,” DFO states.
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While the company already has a National Energy Board permit to export 11 million tonnes of LNG per year, the project still has a number of regulatory steps to complete, the JdM notes. Quebec environmentalists say that outcome may be in doubt given the tone of the DFO report.
“If they’ve declared themselves this clearly, the implications must be pretty certain,” said biologist Alain Branchaud, director of Quebec’s Société pour la nature et les parcs (SNAP). “With such an unfavourable review from a government agency, I can’t see how a project like this can go forward,” agreed Greenpeace Quebec’s Patrick Bonin.
At the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), Scientific Director Robert Michaud said Canada’s endangered species legislation “is fairly rigorous. You don’t have the right to destroy critical habitat, and the acoustic environment is a part of that habitat” for marine mammals.
On the other hand, he warned, “these questions aren’t always decided based on the science.”
The Journal de Montréal notes that beluga were listed as endangered last year, with a population of only 900 remaining. Striped bass have been the focus of a long-term recovery plan since the 1990s, and have only recently been making a comeback in the area.
Boréalisation President Philippe Dumont said the slumping global market  for natural gas may be enough to sink Énergie Saguenay’s plans. “An unfavourable opinion from Fisheries and Oceans, combined with economic factors and a lack of social licence, could cause the project to collapse,” he told reporter Anne Caroline Desplanques.
While the project’s backers are touting LNG as a better alternative for jurisdictions that still generate electricity from coal, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) author Damon Matthews cautioned that natural gas is anything but a “green” source of energy. It’s a significant source of climate-busting methane, he warned, adding that “we’ve underestimated the impact of short-lived greenhouse gases more potent then carbon dioxide.”