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Will Harper fail to protect whales for the Energy East pipeline?

BelugaCBC reports, “The Canadian government is downgrading the protection of humpback whales off the coast of B.C. under the Species at Risk Act. The move is being made as the government readies for a decision on the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would feed oil onto a tanker shipping route that overlaps with what environmental groups describe as ‘critical habitat’ for the whale.”

“Environment  Minister Leona Aglukkaq, with advice from Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, is recommending that the Northern Pacific population of humpback whales be downgraded from ‘threatened’ to ‘species of special concern’. The recommendation for the change to the Species at Risk Act was published in the Canada Gazette Saturday.”

Will we see the same move by the Harper government with respect to the Energy East pipeline?

Last December, CBC also reported, “A beluga whale habitat near Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec may be in jeopardy if plans go ahead for the Energy East pipeline. TransCanada wants to build a pipeline to ship oil from Alberta to refineries in Eastern Canada and put a port in Cacouna, just northeast of Rivière-du-Loup, to help get it there. But these plans put a port right in the middle of an at-risk beluga population.”

In its pre-application for the pipeline, TransCanada says, “The Cacouna marine terminal will be located on the eastern shore of the St. Lawrence River in the immediate vicinity of the existing Port of Gros-Cacouna, QC. The marine terminal will be developed to support the loading of crude carriers which have a capacity of 700,000 to 1.1 million barrels of oil through a two-berth arrangement and a single trestle. These carriers are known as ‘Aframax’ and ‘Suezmax’ respectively.”

The CBC report adds, “The deep water St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population is a species at risk of extinction and is protected under the Species At Risk Act. According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the St. Lawrence is home to an estimated 1,000 belugas. Because of the species’ protected status, the federal government has to protect its habitat.”

A federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans webpage says, “The St. Lawrence Estuary beluga whale population is listed as threatened and protected under the Species at Risk Act. …Although whaling for belugas has been banned since 1979, there has been no noticeable recovery in the population. A number of factors seem to contribute to the lack of recovery of this species in the St. Lawrence. Among them, pollution, reduced food resources, disturbance by humans and habitat degradation are considered to be the main threats to the recovery of the population. Beluga whales can also be the victim of ship strikes and become entangled in fishing gear.”

Additionally, export tankers fed by the 1.1 million barrels per day Energy East pipeline creates concerns about whales in the Bay of Fundy. The Globe and Mail has noted, “(St. Andrew-based Matt) Abbott, who works with the NBCC Action, the advocacy arm of the New Brunswick Conservation Council, (says) the tanker traffic is already disrupting whales and other marine mammals, and a double or tripling of traffic (with the Energy East pipeline) will only make matters worse.”

For more on our campaign against the Energy East pipeline, please click here.