A proposed $840-million port for liquified natural gas, known as the Rabaska project, has passed its environmental hearing with flying colours. The Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement, or BAPE, reviewed the proposal jointly with Ottawa's Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and the study resulted in a green light. Now it's up to Quebec Environment Minister Line Beauchamp to make a recommendation to cabinet.
Liquified natural gas (LNG) plants are controversial almost wherever they are proposed, and the politics of minority government might complicate the approval process for Rabaska. That's a pity, because the project - a joint venture of Gaz MEtro, Gaz de France and Enbridge Inc. - deserves to go ahead.
Natural gas is the cleanest burning fuel. The gas now used in Quebec comes from Western Canada. The idea of Rabaska is to bring in gas from Russia and Algeria, or elsewhere by ship, condensed to one-600th of its gaseous volume, and then to reconvert it to gas and pipe it to homes and businesses.
Canada's first LNG port is now under construction in New Brunswick. Another Quebec one has already been approved by the provincial government. That $1-billion project, at Gros Cacouna, about 250 kilometres east of Quebec City, is a joint effort of Petro-Canada and TransCanada Corp. The people of Gros Cacouna voted in favour of the plan in a referendum almost two years ago, and the plant is to open in 2010.
The BAPE-federal study said the plan fits in with Quebec's energy plan, and that the risks connected with the project are acceptable. The study deals not only with apocalyptic scenarios about explosions but also with, among other risks, concern about platanthera blephariglottis. This is an orchid-like plant that is not on anybody's endangered-species list but is "likely to be designated as threatened or vulnerable in Quebec." It's found along the right-of-way of the pipeline, and Rabaska's operators might be expected to transplant some of these plants. This was, in other words, a very thorough review.
Critics of the proposal focus not on bog plants but on explosions. In fact, LNG is harder to ignite than most hydrocarbons, and LNG has been shipped around since 1958 in more than 42,000 voyages "without any losses, conflagrations, or major fires," the review says.
But it's always easy to invoke the menace of terrorism and scare people. And in fact, nothing can rule out an accident or terrorism. But we can find little reason to agree with the critics who live near the Rabaska site and are calling for still more environmental review. Diversification of supply of a clean-burning fuel is part of Quebec's established energy strategy, the environmental assessment is positive, and the project should go ahead.
The joint environmental report is available, in English, at www.ceaa.gc.ca/050/documents_staticpost/pdfs/22149E.pdf