Documents show that the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources provided publicly funded forest age class data, currently being withheld from the public, to Texas-based Bear Paw Pipeline Corporation Inc., a firm set to build a natural gas pipeline in DNR Minister Lloyd Hines’ riding of Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie.
In December 2016, Nova Scotia Environment (NSE) granted approval to Bear Paw Pipeline Corp., a subsidiary of Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd. (LNG), to build a $200 million pipeline from Bear Head LNG in Goldboro to the future location of the $4 billion LNG export terminal at Point Tupper on the Strait of Canso. According to documents filed with the Utility and Review Board, the project is expected to cover approximately 1,087 hectares of land, of which approximately 50 per cent is Provincial crown land — some of it identified as protected areas or proposed protected areas. All in all, the pipeline corridor will be roughly 62 kilometres long and construction is set to begin in 2018.
In order for Bear Paw Pipeline to get approval from the Nova Scotia Department of Environment (which it got in December 2016), an Environmental Assessment was required. Bear Paw contracted Stantec Consulting Ltd. to do the job. Page 147 of Part 2 of Stantec’s EA reads:
For non-wetland areas in the LAA [local assessment area] data from the NSDNR forest inventory (NSDNR 2015a) were used to classify forest stands into several land cover classes, including hardwood, mixedwood, and softwood forest vegetation types of four age classes: regeneration-young, immature-pole, mature-overmature, and uneven. 1
The reference cited (NSDNR 2015a) is none other than the GIS forest inventory data, specifically age class data based on satellite and aerial photography — the same data this reporter has been trying to obtain from the DNR since March 2016 in order to update historical trend lines dating back to the 1950s showing the provinces forests are getting significantly younger. 2
Around the same time Bear Paw was filing its EA with the province — an EA that cited these very same data — the DNR was sending me on a wild-goose chase for it, first telling me it was in a Data Sharing Agreement (it wasn’t) and then telling me (twice) it was in the Open Data Portal (it wasn’t there either).
Less than a month ago, I reported in Part 4 of this series that after an eight-month review, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) for Nova Scotia had closed my file regarding my request for the age class data from the DNR. After digesting the DNR shenanigans, OIPC Intake Officer Mary Kennedy concluded that the “information does not exist” and that while age class data may have been used in the past, that was no longer the case. “Age class is not an attribute of the inventory files” and “records of age class do not exist as DNR does not use age class to define forests.” In her final letter Kennedy continued: “The only recourse to address this issue would be to recommend to the public body [the DNR] that it be clearer when responding to applicants about whether or not a requested record actually exists, which recommendation I have already made to DNR.”
But the EA for Bear Paw Pipeline shows the data do exist. The question is, how and why did they get it when the public doesn’t have access to it?
Sara Wallace is a senior associate with Stantec and a project manager who worked on the Bear Paw EA. When I asked her about how Stantec was able to get the GIS-derived age class data for the EA, she said “it was not a big secret,” but that I should contact the client — Bear Paw Pipeline — to find out details.
But contacting the “client” wasn’t as easy as it sounds. A Google search pointed me to an office on Upper Water Street in Halifax, but no name, number, or email was provided. Bear Paw’s US headquarters in Houston, Texas lists Darshi Jain as the project director — he is also who the Nova Scotia Minister of the Environment, Margaret Miller, addressed her December approval of the pipeline to — but according to the company’s receptionist in Houston, Jain is no longer with the company. She said one of the company’s reps in Canada might be able to help. One of them is Ghislain Pitre, manager of Bear Paw Pipeline and Bear Head LNG.
I spoke to Pitre on the phone and he confirmed that the DNR did provide the company with the data, but he wasn’t able to comment on how they got it or in what form they got it. Pitre says that because of a confidentiality agreement with the province, the only data he’s allowed to comment on is what the company collected itself in the field.
In a follow-up email, Stantec’s Sara Wallace said that since the data is “client-owned” she couldn’t comment either, but she suggested I speak to the DNR directly, “since it was NSDNR that provided that information.”
I asked the DNR how a pipeline company is able to access information that the public isn’t. Department spokesperson Bruce Nunn responded by email, saying that in 2015, DNR did provide Stantec with age class information “for a small portion of the province” through a data sharing agreement. “Upon review, this attribute should not have been provided because the DNR no longer provides GIS derived age class. This is an isolated instance and has not been repeated.” 3
So the data does exist and it was provided to a pipeline company in the Minister’s riding.
Clearly we are light years away from the “culture of transparency” the department purports to foster.
- According to Stantec’s EA, the LAA or “local assessment area” includes the assessment corridor, footprint of the compressor station, and areas within 1 km of these features. The LAA was established to consider the area in which the proposed activities and facilities could have direct or indirect effects on wildlife and wildlife habitat and take into consideration potential zones of influence (i.e., area of reduced use or avoidance). ↩
- The DNR has been collecting data on the “age classes” and “species composition” of forest in this province since 1953. Field strip cruises were replaced with field sampling and photo interpretation. The more recent inventories, since 1985, were derived from aerial photographs and photo interpretation of roughly two million forest stands, which were then verified by field sampling. Over a 45-year period (1958-2003) the GIS data indicated that Nova Scotia’s forests were becoming significantly younger and that the old forests were disappearing. Between 1958 and 2003, the percentage of young forest up to 20 years increased by more than 300 per cent and the 21- to 40-year-old age class increased by 103 per cent. During the same time period, the 61- to 80-year-old age class dropped by 65 per cent; the 81- to 100-year-old age class by 93 per cent; and the 101+ year-old age class by 97 per cent. ↩
- The DNR also noted, as they have in the past, that they currently favour permanent sample plot data over the GIS data for “computing age categories in our forests,” because they say it’s more accurate. However, as I reported in Part 4 of this series, the accuracy of the PSP data is highly suspect. The PSP system, which has been in place since 1965, maintains more than 3,250 randomly placed plots across the province and was always “designed to track volume growth and mortality of the natural forest.” The first time it was ever used as a forest inventory was 1994-1998, so it lacks historical depth. But the other, more crucial problem with these plots is no one seems to know if they are in fact representative of anything. In order to extrapolate the measurements on these plots to the province as a whole, it must be assumed that the plots are treated in exactly the same manner as the surrounding lands and not given preferential treatment. In other words, if the land is clearcut around a PSP plot, then the PSP plot has to be clearcut too. But the numbers — as well as off-the-record interviews with people in the field — seem to suggest this is not the case. PSP data show higher volumes and proportions of old trees, which indicates that the plots might not be harvested at the same rate as the adjoining lands resulting in exaggerated numbers. For example, when GIS data was indicating that less than one per cent of the forests were between 80 and 100 years old, the PSP plot data was saying it was closer to 14 per cent. That’s a significant difference. Furthermore, permanent sample plots have never been audited to ensure they aren’t given preferential treatment. When asked recently about the issue of accuracy with regards to PSP data, the DNR said that “if a plot being re-measured has not been treated in the same manner as the immediate (adjacent) surrounding area, the location of the plot is evaluated and, if necessary, the plot is relocated in the same area to reflect the new stand conditions. If relocation is not possible, the plot is no longer measured and excluded from our measurement cycle.” I’m still trying to find evidence that this is the case. ↩