The Saint Croix Courier

St. Stephen, NB

2007 Oct 9

LNG report a victory for both sides

Developer says government report is clear: LNG tankers can transit Canadian passage


ST. ANDREWS — While the president of Downeast LNG says he finds nothing in a Canadian government study on the possible impacts of LNG on Passamaquoddy Bay that would prohibit the safe transit of tankers, Minister of Veterans Affairs Greg Thompson accuses him of desperately cherry picking.

Dean Girdis said he was pleased the Canadian government has finally released the long awaited study, but finds nothing that would prohibit Downeast LNG's proposed terminal in Robbinston, Maine.

"We welcome the additional information that this report provides, and if those who oppose our project hope to use this report as justification for their position, it falls way, way short of the mark," he said.

Girdis said the study concludes that, "by and large, it is possible to transit safely, but it is absolutely necessary to plan the passage in accordance with the tidal cycle."

He said Downeast has done just that with carefully planned shipping routes, tides, and currents, noting that they have engaged in highly sophisticated transit simulations with both Canadian and U.S. officials as observers.

"Our studies, as well as the working documents of the U.S. Coast Guard, go well beyond the self-admitted qualitative nature of this report.

"It seems very odd that the authors of the study never used any of the public reports or talked with the local pilots who have actually brought hundreds of large vessels through those very same waters without incident. "

Girdis said the ship transit simulations for his project were conducted by Marine Safety International which trains captains for the navy and commercial shipping companies, and that they clearly demonstrated that LNG tankers could safely navigate Head Harbour Passage under all sorts of adverse conditions and situations. He added that this conclusion was not disputed by the Transport Canada official who participated in the simulations.

He said the Canadian study used an incorrect vessel speed (14 knots vs 9 knots ) in evaluating LNG ship passage through Head Harbour Passage and totally failed to take into account the four tug boats and two pilots, including a Canadian, that would accompany the vessel, the planned transit at slack tide to avoid the Old Sow whirlpool, or the enhanced aids to navigation that [would] be in place before the terminal is operational.

Girdis said he also found it curious that the study makes no reference to environmental impact statements prepared for Canadian LNG projects such as the Canaport project in Saint John.

"If the objective is to analyze the risk of a proposed action, why not incorporate the risks evaluated for exactly similar projects done elsewhere in Canada?

"Presumably the Canadian government has already dealt with many of these same issues in approving Canadian projects, so it seems odd that there is no reference to them in this report.

"Could it be that the risk assessment approach used for Canadian projects includes beneficial assumptions that were not part of this study? "

Specifically, Girdis noted that the report addresses shipping impacts to marine mammals, mainly whales, but presents no information about the risk evaluations done for shipping associated with the Canaport project.

"The number of whales which may or may not be in Head Harbour Passage is miniscule compared to the number of whales in the Bay of Fundy along the transit route of the Canaport LNG vessels.

"There is no smoking gun here. In fact, to the contrary, the report contains reassuring statements such as ... no impact on Canadian land is expected as a result of an uncontrolled release of LNG so long as that release is in the transit path. This is exactly why we have safeguards like four tugs, two pilots on board, and slack tide transit only."

The report, said Girdis, simply reinforces what Downeast LNG has said all along — that with the careful planning they have undertaken, the safeguards they [would] employ and the coordination and cooperation of U.S. and Canadian officials, this [would] be a safe and environmentally sound project.

However Thompson, who is MP for New Brunswick Southwest and strongly opposed to any LNG in Passamaquoddy Bay, accuses Girdis of desperately cherry picking the report in an attempt to find something to hang his hat on.

"The fact of the matter is — there's significant risk there. The prime minister's made that perfectly clear. As regional minister and Member of Parliament I've made that perfectly clear, as well. Mr Girdis is involved in cherry picking. Although the report does identify significant risks, he just wants to ignore that."

Thompson also pointed out that this report is only one of many on the shelf and it is not the final report. All the reports identify significant risk inthe passage of LNG tankers through Head Harbour Passage, he said, and this one does nothing to change the Canadian government's position.

"What part of no doesn't he understand? I guess that would be the question only he could answer."

— GREG THOMPSON, Federal cabinet minister

"Our position was determined a few years ago as a result of reports already on the shelf as far back as 1976 when the government identified Head Harbour Passage as the most dangerous passageway in eastern Canada.

"It is our responsibility to protect our citizens, our economy, and our environment, and that is what we are doing. The report identifies some of these risks, which Mr. Girdis chooses to ignore, but none of these reports will do anything to change the government's position," Thompson said.

"As a sovereign nation we reserve the right to protect our citizens, our environment, and the economy — the fishery and tourism. As a sovereign nation that is the position we have taken, and we will use every legal and diplomatic means to defend our position."

Thompson noted that Girdis has had some significant setbacks in his quest to establish an LNG terminal in Maine and added, "But it's sort of like the Don Quixotes of the world continuing to tilt at windmills.

"The fact is, there's significant risk there and he should recognize that. What part of no doesn't he understand? I guess that would be the question only he could answer."

St. Andrews mayor John Craig, who is also fiercely opposed to any LNG development in Passamaquoddy Bay, said that this latest study is a non-story.

"You have to look at the big picture here. These LNGs projects would risk Canadian lives on Canadian soil and in Canadian waters. They would devastate the Canadian economy around Passamaquoddy Bay," Craig said.

"If you ask any fisherman or anyone around who has traveled through Head Harbour Passage they will tell you that even at the best it is tricky — and these are the people you have to ask. Travelling with potatoes or rock is very different than LNG.

"This is a dangerous cargo. This is risking Canadian lives, on Canadian soil on Canadian waters. That is the bottom line. Canada has rejected this and they have every right to stop LNG vessels in Canadian waters and Canada has already conveyed that message to the president of the United States and,as far as we're concerned,this story is over."

Jessie Davies, co-chair of Save Passamaquoddy Bay/Canada, said the Canadian government has assessed the risks based on this report and a lot of other information and decided the risks involved with LNG tankers going through Head Harbour Passage are unacceptable.

"I think the most important thing is that no means no. There are marine precedents elsewhere in the world that support this analysis,' Davies said.

She said the report does not have a lot of local content and uses a lot of old data as well as containing a lot of information that is readily available.

"There are a whole lot of things the report didn't deal with and I don't think it paints a full picture so clearly the government didn't only rely on this report. They said the risks are not acceptable to Canada and therefore you cannot go through.

"I would have been much happier if the report was clearer in identifying the risks. They didn't deal with the security zones, interruptions to other traffic, fishing, whale watching and tourism. None of that is in there.

"I don't think it is a particularly good report and certainly the government has consulted other sources as well and has concluded it is not acceptable. The government obviously went beyond this one report and decided the risks are totally unacceptable and there are no benefits to Canada."

While it is possible to take tankers through Head Harbour Passage, Davies said it is still inappropriate to do that and the government has come to a sound conclusion.

"The more LNG that is shipped, the more likelihood you are going to have a problem. You can still have human error and you can still have a catastrophic event. I think at the end of the day the government has made an assessment and they have said no."


© 2007 Advocate Media
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.

The Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB