Flora Bank is a resilient area that would emerge unscathed in the event that liquefied natural gas is produced on Lelu Island, a report commissioned by Pacific NorthWest LNG concludes.
Visible at low tide, Flora Bank contains eelgrass that nurtures juvenile salmon in the Skeena River estuary near Prince Rupert. Pacific NorthWest LNG, led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, wants to build an $11.4-billion export terminal on Lelu Island, which is located next to Flora Bank.
"The technical work completed to date indicates that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat," according to the consortium's 36-page summary of its findings.
The findings contrast sharply with research carried out by the aboriginal-backed Skeena Fisheries Commission, which is sounding the alarm about significant risks to Flora Bank.
Plans call for the Petronas-led group to build a suspension bridge and pier that would carry LNG through a pipeline from Lelu Island to a deep-berth loading dock for Asia-bound tankers in Chatham Sound.
Pacific NorthWest LNG conducted new studies after the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) requested more details from the consortium. Since that June 2 request, Stantec Consulting Ltd., Hatch Ltd. and other consultants have spent months gathering research in response to what CEAA had described as a lack of information.
On Tuesday, Pacific NorthWest LNG said it remains committed to science, noting its research dating back to last spring. "The latest submission to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is the culmination of tens of thousands of hours of scientific research over the past eight months to address and answer questions posed by the regulator," said Spencer Sproule, the consortium's senior adviser of corporate affairs. "Throughout this process, PNW LNG has worked constructively with interested area First Nations, various government agencies and stakeholders to build a science-based report."
Consultants said they identified five sites where eelgrass could be created to improve the overall productivity of fish habitat in the Skeena River estuary. "Mitigation and habitat offsetting measures will protect and enhance the productivity of the fish habitats in the vicinity of Lelu Island and support the long-term sustainability," the summary said, adding that Flora Bank is able to withstand fierce storms. "The shape and extent of Flora Bank have not changed significantly over a period of many years."
Pacific NorthWest LNG said it will also have a program to monitor fish habitat and continue to discuss its plans with groups ranging from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to First Nations.
The Lax Kw'alaams Band Council has expressed its opposition, citing concerns about the project's impact on Flora Bank and Lelu Island, which are part of the traditional territory of the Allied Tribes of Lax Kw'alaams.
"Based on our data, the proposed destruction of eelgrass habitat by PNW LNG poses huge risks to salmon populations," according to a briefing document last month by Charmaine Carr-Harris of the Skeena Fisheries Commission and biologist Jonathan Moore. "Furthermore, our research makes it clear that planting eelgrass elsewhere will almost certainly fail to mitigate these impacts."
CEAA is expected to produce a draft report before rendering a final decision on the Petronas-led project by the spring of 2016.
The Tsimshian Environmental Stewardship Authority, formed in July by the Metlakatla and four other native groups, believes there could be an acceptable way to export LNG from Lelu Island.
Industry analysts say only three or four out of 20 LNG proposals in B.C. might come to fruition, warning that the province is facing fierce global competition and weak LNG prices in Asia.
Consulting firm Hatch said its analysis "indicates that Flora Bank is very stable." The 1.6-kilometre suspension bridge and 1.1-km pier (a trestle supported by pilings) are designed to vastly minimize dredging.
Pacific NorthWest LNG's summary said its engineering team will follow up on "design refinements for the marine structures."