A schematic of the proposed Goldboro LNG plant. Graphic: Pieridae Energy

Canada’s Impact Assessment Agency is now considering a request from Ecojustice and other environmental groups to launch an environmental assessment of a $13 billion Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility proposed for Goldboro. 

The confirmation comes fromJaclyn Sauvé, a communications advisor with the federal agency once known as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Last week, Ecojustice and the other groups submitted a letter to Jonathan Wilkinson, the federal minister for Environment and Climate Change, which sets out the reasons why the LGN project should be reviewed:

1. There has been no valid federal assessment for the Goldboro LNG project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), and the project does not comply with the requirements of CEAA (2012) and the Impact Assessment Act (IAA) 2019;

2. There have been substantial changes in the understanding of the potential adverse impacts of the Goldboro LNG project on climate change, methane and GHG emissions reduction commitments and the economic benefits associated with LNG projects; and 

3. There is significant public concern regarding the project and its impacts.

“We’re in the midst of a climate emergency and Nova Scotia needs to phase out fossil fuels immediately,”Gurprasad Gurumurthy, renewables energy co-ordinator for Ecology Action Centre, tells the Halifax Examiner. “Nova Scotia has worked hard to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and approving the Goldboro LNG project would add 3.7 million tonnes each year- setting the province back half a decade.”

The news release from the environmental groups quotes the result of an analysis carried out by Dalhousie Engineering professor Larry Hughes:

The province recently stated its commitment to reduce its emissions to 53% of 2005 levels by 2030, however this project will cause Nova Scotia to exceed this emissions cap by about 33%.

For the same period and baseline, the federal government recently announced an increased target of 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030. 

“The federal government must assess the proposed Goldboro LNG project under the Impact Assessment Act,” says James Gunvaldsen Klaassen, a lawyer for Ecojustice Canada. “Without this lawful assessment, our clients are concerned that Canadians will not have a clear picture of the project’s potential impact to our environment and climate commitments.”

The history of the Goldboro site

Keltic Petrochemical first proposed a Goldboro natural gas project back in 2007, and it was approved by the CEAA soon after. But that Keltic plant never materialized.

Then, in 2012, federal CEAA considered Pieridae’s reboot of a Goldboro project, and decided not to get involved with it, saying that its 2007 approval of the Keltic project sufficed.

In 2014, the province granted its approval of the Pieridae project.

But last week’s letter to federal Environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson states the LNG project being proposed by Pieridae Energy today is “vastly different” from the project first proposed by Keltic Petrochemical back in 2007.

The Keltic Project proposed using liquefied natural gas (LNG) derived from the liquids plant at Goldboro that was built to process byproducts of offshore gas development at Sable Island. Keltic planned to “gasify” the liquids for use in the production of plastic pellets that would be exported as a “value added” product across North America. Leftover spent NG would be recycled through a co-generation plant to supply electricity to the facility.

The LNG project proposed by Pieridae Energy reverses the process. It starts with natural gas piped from Alberta to Nova Scotia and then “liquefies” it at a $13-billion facility to be built at Goldboro. The LNG would be transported by tanker ship and sold as a fuel to countries across the Atlantic seeking to lower their carbon emissions from other fossil fuels.

According to the letter from the environmentalists, the biggest and most concerning difference between the two projects is the amount of carbon or GHG emissions.

“The federal assessment of the Keltic Project (2007) assessed cumulative GHG emissions as ‘a minor contribution to Nova Scotia’s total GHG emissions.’ The federal assessment stated that while the Keltic facilities’ main contributor to GHG emissions would be the 200 MW co-generation plant, regasification of LNG would also be a contributing source.”

The letter to Wilkinson goes on to argue:

In contrast, the provincial assessment of the Goldboro LNG Project recognized that it would increase the province’s GHG emissions by almost 20% (above 2010 levels) and that the Goldboro LNG facility would be the largest single GHG emitter in the province. The report states that despite the commitment to developing a GHG management plan and contributing to carbon offset programs, ‘it is still likely that the province’s ability to achieve the goals laid out in the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act would be compromised.’ As the 2020 EGSPA target has passed, this increase in emissions will also threaten Nova Scotia’s intended minimal targets for 2030 and 2050, set out in the Sustainable Development Goals Act (SDGA).

Seven years later, it’s worth noting Pieridae Energy has not yet submitted the GHG Management Plan referenced in its Environmental Assessment. And the provincial assessment did not consider emissions related to transporting gas across Canada or shipping it around the world.

“Unlawful” Goldboro decision

In 2014, the Goldboro LNG project received provincial approval of its environmental assessment report. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA, the precursor to the current Impact Assessment Agency) decided in 2012 that a federal environmental review of the project was not warranted, relying instead on a previous federal assessment for a different project on the same site from 2007. 

The environmental groups argue there are two significant problems with the federal CEAA’s decision in 2012 that the Pieridae proposal fit within the approval given to the earlier Keltic proposal.

First, the environmental groups argue the CEAA didn’t follow its own rules or process before deciding the Goldboro project didn’t need a federal assessment. Ecojustice lawyer Klaassen argues that makes the 2012 decision by CEAA “unlawful” and not in compliance with regulations governing large projects such as Goldboro.

It’s a technical argument Klaassen claims is supported by the language contained in the 2012 version of the governing legislation. The Reader’s Digest version goes along the lines (1) the CEAA failed to conduct adequate public consultation before deciding no Environmental Assessment was required and (2) there is no documentation (at least not in the public domain) to demonstrate the provincial government formally requested Ottawa to stand down and substitute Nova Scotia’s less rigorous environmental assessment process. 

Here’s the actual legalese contained in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act when CEAA passed the buck in 2012:

Under CEAA 2012, even if a project was designated by regulation, thereby making it subject to federal environmental assessment, an assessment may still not occur in two scenarios: (1) The Agency may make a decision under subsection 10(b) that no environmental assessment of the designated project is required and post that decision on the Internet site. The Agency may make such a determination only after the requirements of subsection 10(a) are met. It must be established through the review of the project description and public comments received on the project description following posting of a notice regarding the project, that the designated project has no potential to cause adverse environmental effects, or has the potential to cause minor environmental effects that can be adequately managed through other existing legislative or regulatory processes; 

or (2) The federal government may decide not to conduct its own environmental assessment of a designated project on the basis that the project is being, or has been, assessed provincially, only after following the process set out in sections 32 through 37 of CEAA 2012. These sections provide for substitution of the process for an environmental assessment, if a province requests such a substitution. 

“Neither of the above scenarios appear to have occurred with respect to the Goldboro LNG project,” says the letter to Wilkinson. (Klaassen says efforts to obtain correspondence about Goldboro between the two levels of government have been hampered by the costs associated with using Freedom of Information legislation).

The second problem with the 2012 approval of the Pieridae project is that it couldn’t have recognized the subsequent request from Pieridae that public money be dumped into the project.

“This corporation has been lobbying members of the federal government to support the proposed Goldboro LNG project and their near billion-dollar funding request,” notes Angela Giles, Atlantic organizer for the Council of Canadians. “The federal government has an obligation, through the Impact Assessment Act, to ensure a comprehensive and transparent approval process, including public consultations.

Where does the premier stand?

On March 31, NDP leader Gary Burrill posed this question to Premier Iain Rankin during Question Period in the Legislature.

Burrill: Will the premier admit that his support for this LNG project is inconsistent with Nova Scotia’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals?

Rankin: We on this side of the House believe that we can grow an economy and protect the environment at the same time. We have committed to a number of environmental platform pieces that will continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We introduced cap and trade, which the members opposite voted against. We introduced programs that will continue to reduce emissions, modernize our transportation, and continue to protect more land in the province so that we can sequester more carbon. I do support economic development in the province.

Pieridae Energy is promising the construction of the LNG facility would create approximately 5,000 jobs for five years in rural Guysborough County. The camp to house workers would be built through an agreement with a Mi’kmaq First Nation. 

On April 9, Rankin was quoted in The Reporter, a Port Hawkesbury newspaper, as saying the province won’t put any money into financing Goldboro LNG but does support the development. 

“If we want to spend money on electrifying transportation and look at becoming a net-neutral province, the kind of revenue that would be brought in from this kind of project while at the same time helping the global community transition off coal are a couple of positives I see that work well,” the Rankin told the newspaper. “And we would have to adjust our carbon pricing system to accommodate the facility, if it were to come to fruition,” he added.

Rankin’s suggestion that increasing carbon emissions in Nova Scotia to help offset emissions elsewhere — Pieridae has touted Germany as a potential customer for Goldboro, although that interest may have evaporated as reported in the Examiner by Joan Baxter — is not something James Gunvaldsen Klaassen thinks Nova Scotians should accept.

“It seems conceptually wrong to do that since we are in a climate crisis,” said the lawyer. “It’s not enough to say ‘oh well, we will sell that to somebody else and they can have part of our crisis.’ We actually have to deal with it and not build new infrastructure that is going to perpetuate our addiction to fossil fuels. We have to make changes.”

EcoJustice launched an advocacy campaign May 3 to oppose federal financing to the LNG Project. Pieridae has previously indicated it must make a decision about whether to proceed by the end of June. Meanwhile, the federal Environment Minister has three months in which to decide whether a new assessment of the Pieridae project is warranted. 

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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