8,000 year old ancient relic sand under Petronas pilings

On Tuesday, October 18th, 2016 in Articles by Elizabeth, Island Tides
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How corrupt is the environmental review process? Or how is it that DFO, CEAA and NRCan decided that Petronas LNG was not a threat to the Skeena Salmon?

I do not use the word ‘corrupt’ lightly. If not for a fairly random connection, I would merely be heart-broken at the environmental and climate atrocity wrapped up in the approval of Pacific NorthWest LNG. Instead, I am angry and deeply concerned that the Cabinet ministers who made the decision were denied key scientific evidence by the very civil servants who are mandated to provide them with the facts.

The random event was the Saanich Inlet Round Table on May 26, 2016. The immediate local issue is, of course, the proposed Steelhead floating LNG facility for Saanich Inlet. Organizers decided a local scientist who had done extensive work for the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation on the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG would be of interest. Dr McLaren’s presentation, ‘Lessons to be learnt from the Petronas Affair—Prince Rupert’, had no scientific parallels for us. The ecological and scientific issues are unique to Lelu Island. But the political lessons are chilling.

What Dr McLaren shared made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I have worked for the last forty years with various branches of government and regulators. It is not that they were always perfect. DFO’s blind stupidity cost us one of the world’s most abundant fisheries, the North Atlantic cod, to name one example. But overall, I have come to expect professionalism and a dispassionate willingness to examine the evidence.

That is what Patrick McLaren expected. Back in the 1970s and ’80s he had worked as a government scientist with the Canadian Geological Survey. He specialized in coastal geology, left Canada for a while as a visiting scholar at Cambridge, and returned with his own consulting firm. He was the first scientist to scuba dive under the North Pole to study the ice. In other words, he’s no slouch when it comes to science. So when he presented his findings to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Natural Resources Canada, he thought they would be interested. Instead, they were hostile. His findings were inconvenient. They did not accord with the numerical modelling by Petronas that said everything would be fine.

Lelu Island in Prince Rupert Sound is the now approved site for a massive LNG development. In addition to the acknowledged increase in GHG and threat to local porpoises, a huge issue is whether the project will endanger the second largest salmon run in BC—the Skeena salmon fishery. The Skeena salmon depend on the rich eelgrass habitat found almost exclusively on a huge extent of sand called Flora Bank.

Up until Dr McLaren was hired by the Lax Kw’alaams to check out the sediments and how they were transported, everyone assumed that all the sediments came from the Skeena River. Instead, Dr McLaren found that, using his technique known as Sediment Trend Analysis (STA), the sands of Flora Bank were not from the Skeena at all—nor from anywhere else one can find on the British Columbian coast.

In fact, they were from a glacial dump of sediments occurring between 15,000 to 8,000 years ago. The sands of Flora Bank are 8,000 years old. Dr McLaren describes them as ‘ancient, relict sands’.

So the question for science is not ‘will building a giant terminal, pounding 500 pilings, more than a metre each in diameter, into the sand banks hurt the eel grass?’ The question is ‘what is keeping this unique geological feature in place?’

And that raises other troubling questions. If the waves and currents hold the sands in place, what impact will the pilings and huge LNG tankers parked along more than a quarter of Flora Bank’s perimeter have on the ancient formation? Dr McLaren predicts that they will reduce the energy of the processes impinging the bank enabling the sand to ‘escape’ to the surrounding deep water. The eel grass and its fish habitat will be removed with the sand, effectively destroying Flora Bank.

Not only Petronas, but CEAA, DFO and NRCan did not like this prediction. At first they dismissed Dr McLaren’s work. Then he made it stickier for them by getting the research published in a peer-reviewed journal. (Journal of Coastal Research ‘The environmental implications of sediment transport in the waters of Prince Rupert, BC, Canada: A comparison between kinematic and dynamic approaches.’)

Once published, CEAA made Petronas re-do their numeric model to at least acknowledge the troublesome prediction made from the STA. Petronas produced new versions until CEAA accepted their incredible claim that the wave action and currents along Flora Bank would not be sufficient to impact the sands and that the STA actually supported the findings of their numeric model. Incredible because in order to produce that result, Petronas had to suppress their own findings that currents were actually up to three times more intense than their model had predicted. And NRCan and DFO and CEAA all knew that the information was being suppressed.

In questioning Petronas about their model, Dr McLaren was interrupted and told to stop by CEAA officials. He felt it was because the Petronas modellers were becoming uncomfortable. As he recalled, ‘It was the most important point in that meeting to get straight. And I was told to ‘move on,’ and stop asking about numbers that made no sense. It made me believe the modellers had not looked at their own numbers.’

His conclusions are personal and powerful:

‘If you cannot explain the present, and the Petronas model certainly cannot, why would you use it to predict the future?

‘We know that this model is not science. You cannot use a model to prove a preconceived notion: that building on Flora Bank will not hurt the salmon. That’s not science. And we know that the claim that STA supports the numerical model is just simply not true.

‘The currents mean everything. The way Petronas presented the lie was to show that the currents on Flora Bank are too small to move the sediments… but they themselves (Petronas) had taken current data three times higher than what they used and they kept that secret with the collusion of CEEA, NRCan and DFO.

‘And we know the model doesn’t work. My conclusion is that the science and the model are fraudulent.’

He presented that conclusion, including using the word ‘fraudulent’ at a meeting with First Nations and representatives from the three federal agencies. No one challenged him. No one said a word.

Collusion. Fraudulent, Corrupt. These are not words I associate with the federal approvals process. We need to be raising hell before similar ‘science’ is used to approve Kinder Morgan.

This article was written with the assistance of Patrick McLaren, PhD, PGeo, President of SedTrend Analysis Limited in Brentwood Bay.

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  • http://canadachapterpbi.ca manifesto2000

    Thanks for this, Elizabeth. I would like your take on a matter that I feel has to be revisited in our post WWII history, that because of the matter being neglected, an opening for severe bad faith and pandering to corporate interests has become rampant.

    The goal of preventing systemic violence and pillage that was characteristic of much of WWII was responded to by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR] – as a proposed new way of creating responsible customs in society – so we could build up resistance against the forces of brutality – and allow economic, social and cultural self-determination to be protected rights. Canada’s parliament ratified the Covenant on these rights in 1976. Unfortunately, these transformative renovations were allowed to gather dust during the intervening years. The neglect allowed a vile form of predatory bullying known as “neo-liberalism” to fill the void.

    I have been suggesting lately on FB pages like Trade Justice Alliance and Eyes on Canadian Democracy that an authentic legal clinic network across the whole continent that is founded on the goal of acculturating the UDHR and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as fundamental principles of justice, would help to get a foundation in society for principles of putting the public and the ecological interests ahead of the colonial–based maximization of short term profit values, that could prove fatally destructive, if they are not reigned in.

    • kootzie

      WW II was about preventing systemic violence?

      • Terry Lawrence

        Obviously manifesto2000 inadvertently left out the word “the” in the sentence, as in: “The goal of preventing [the] systemic violence and pillage that was characteristic of much of WWII” . . .

  • Wreckless Ron

    This stinks to high heaven. We are in the process of ruining what allow us to live!
    Allowing Petronas to fudge data and keeping the Liberals in power will lead to the
    downfall of us all. They should change the spelling of Petronas to Petronass!

  • ilumin8

    While LNG is seen as more acceptable than oil because an LNG tanker accident would (only) involve a huge explosion instead of a toxic uncontained dilbit spill, both types of tankers need escort tugs. As the danger of tanker accidents in coastal waters got the attention it deserves, project proponents always responded by saying they would add more and more escort tugs.

    But it has become clear the tugs themselves pose pollution risks. And the more tugs running around, the higher the risk of them running aground, into each other, or into other ships. Such as the tankers.

    • kootzie

      Are you the star of the Irrelevance Show?
      Did you read this article ?
      Your post has nothing to do with
      Sand erosion or data falsification or fraud or bureaucratic duplicity and corruption

      • ilumin8

        It’s true I was guilty of topic drift. But in terms of the article being about an environmental threat posed by the LNG project, my post was relevant.

        The trouble with bringing up something that has not been commented on, is that it has not been addressed. One way to bring such a subject to attention is to attach it to a related matter.

        Yes, I could post it on my own, but few would see it. Do you apply this same critique to the often “irrelevant” signs protesters carry?

  • Lars Friis

    Even on the pristine, and now archaic, Flora Banks the bad words like collusion and fraudulent and corrupt cannot be escaped by the teeny tiny sweet little baby fishes?? Come On Elizabeth, the whole goddamn process is a highly flawed one, and the only way to stop it will be People putting their asses on the line, then be threatened, then jailed, and then hung out to dry by some idiot judge – I think we’ve got a couple of them around?? If the First Nations nor common sense nor science, will prevail against this lunacy and many others, then ACTION will, AGAIN, be the Call of the Day!! We are as bad as the damn Yankees for christ sake, and it’s high time The People realized IT.

  • pmagn

    would be good to get one maybe 2 more experts to weigh in on this. This is just outrageous. It’s now unacceptable in light of #climate that this sort of thing can get past proper assessment for #Paris action.

    We can not afford captured regulatory agencies if we are to have a hope in hell.. on this planet. 2C.

  • HasToBeSaid

    I had a bad feeling from the start about this project. It seems any project Christie Clark and her cronies come up with are suspect, rife with corruption.

  • preConfederation

    And now we know why the general population doesn’t trust the Government. And don’t expect Christy Clark and her entourage to have enough intellectual curiosity to investigate anything. If Proportional Representation gives us 10 more Elizabeth Mays, I say lets get at it and then clean out all non National Builders in the various Government Departments. It’s time to reboot and throw out the trash and save the Skeena River salmon habitat.

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