Concern is growing in northwest British Columbia that a flurry of activity related to liquefied natural gas pipelines is taking place without government permits or a sense of the overall impact on the region.
"At this point, it's a free for all … it's a gold rush mentality," said Pat Moss of the Northwest Institute for Bioregional Research, a non-profit environmental organization based in Smithers.
She said residents of the Hazelton area have been complaining about LNG survey crews working in the watershed of the Kispiox River. One crew has been doing preliminary work related to the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project, in which TransCanada Corp. would build a $5-billion, 750-kilometre line across the province. Spectra Energy, which has proposed an 850-kilometre line linking northeast gas fields to the West Coast, also has crews in the area.
Government and industry officials say the work is being done legally and with respect for the environment.
During the last election campaign Premier Christy Clark promised to fast track LNG development in B.C., and activity has increased throughout the north since then, as companies explore potential pipeline routes from the northeast gas fields to proposed new terminals on the West Coast. Two provincial ministers have recently toured the region to talk about LNG development, but that has done little to assuage the fears of residents who are worried that too much is happening too fast, and without adequate government oversight.
Brennan Clarke, a spokesman for Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, said in an e-mail government officials are aware of the concerns around Hazelton.
"Ministry compliance and enforcement staff visited the area and confirmed that legal requirements were being met," said Mr. Clarke. He said the work is preliminary and the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission would be responsible for permits when the projects reach a more developed stage.
Trevor Halford, TransCanada's senior adviser for corporate affairs in B.C., said his company is doing preliminary survey work along several possible routes. And he rejected the suggestion by some residents that crews did not have the appropriate approvals.
"Absolutely not. … That's just not how we operate. We've got a very specialized team that's quite familiar with the legislation and the required permits. So we are very by-the-book when it comes to that kind of stuff," he said.
Mr. Halford said the crews around Hazelton are doing what is known as "line of sight" work, in which they clear vegetation for survey lines as they map possible pipeline routes.
Rosemary Silva of Spectra Energy also said crews are doing "non-invasive work" looking at possible pipeline routes and river crossings.
She said the company does not need permits at this point and will get them when required, when more intensive work begins.
Ms. Silva said Spectra is striving to keep local communities informed and has had 13 open houses along the proposed route.
However, Graeme Pole, who has founded a website, nomorepipelines.ca, said he is concerned about how much work is going on.
"They are all over the place here," he said. "There are literally armadas of trucks going up these roads with ATVs in the back. And they are flying helicopters overhead, going to places we can't reach."
Kaleigh Allen, whose family runs Bear Claw Lodge on the Kispiox River, expressed her worries in e-mails to Lou Tromp, Skeena Region natural resource officer with the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resources.
"I'm absolutely furious that these people are cutting all over the valley with no management or order and without permits!" she wrote, saying a Spectra crew was busy near her lodge. "For us to cut a trail on our own recreation tenure, we need permits, plans, and it's a long process that focuses on environmental impact … yet this company can go wherever it want to cut trails and helipads right down to the rivers? Seems a little off kilter to me."
Mr. Tromp replied that licensed surveyors do not need a permit to cut trees to clear a survey line.
Doug Donaldson, NDP MLA for the region, said he has organized a community meeting for later this week so people can get information on the flurry of LNG activity.
"A lot of people in the Kispiox are concerned," he said. "People have been contacting my office to ask 'Who's doing all this work?' 'Do they have permits?'"