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Op/ed: Putting Development in the Context of Recovery — Woodfibre LNG: by Dr. Robert Falls

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During a lifetime of work on issues of energy, environment, and sustainability, I’ve come to realize that some of the old paradigms we take for granted, simply no longer apply.

For example, the notion that industry and environment are always at odds with each other is simply not true. There are cases of industrialized regions around the world, including here in BC, where the environment has improved over the past decades. These improvements have been fuelled by a variety of factors, including more rigorous environmental regulations, advancements in combustion engineering, as well as the development of highly efficient pollution abatement systems.

In the case of Howe Sound, a majestic body of water that I admire each morning over coffee, there is no question that since the decommissioning of old industrial sites such as the Woodfibre Pulp and Paper plant in 2006 and the Britannia mine in 1974, good things have begun to happen. Both operations had been impacting water and air quality since the early 1900s, but there is strong evidence that the tide has turned.

Dolphins, porpoises, orcas and humpback whales that were essentially gone from the Sound for many decades, have begun to return.

This recovery has led to renewed optimism about the future of the archipelago. It also poses a critical question for Howe Sound communities: Can a carefully planned industrial project actually catalyze and advance the recovery of the Sound – environmentally, socially and economically? In the case of the proposed Woodfibre LNG facility, there is a significant amount of evidence to suggest that at least with respect to the environment, it already has. And subject to rigorous government project approval and oversight, it can continue to do so before, during, and after construction.

Remediation and the issuing of a provincial certificate of compliance were conditions of the Woodfibre LNG land purchase from Western Forest Products. The certificate was recently issued only after soil was remediated, shoreline woodchips and sediment were dredged, asbestos was removed, and the disposal area was capped. All these actions represent significant improvements in environmental health, and local ecosystems are no doubt benefiting.

The company has stated it will continue with further cleanup. Plans for additional remediation call for the removal of approximately 3,000 creosote-coated piles from the waterfront in the project area, the creation of a “green zone” around Mill Creek, and the future closure of the on-site landfill. These represent further improvements to the local environment.

A similar remediation story can be told for Britannia. Industrial projects like those constructed over a hundred years ago, are long gone and never to return.

Clearly communities and industry can build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships. Beyond that, well-planned and strictly monitored infrastructure development, within a framework of recovery, can lead to environmental improvements, healthier communities and a stronger economy.

That’s the road to sustainability.

If the project proceeds, Woodfibre LNG expects to employ 650 people per year over the next two years during construction and at least 100 direct, full time staff, including environmental specialists, during the licensed 25 years of operations.

Estimated tax revenue for all three levels of government during the construction phase would hit $83.7 million, with $86.5 million per year in tax revenue flowing to all three levels of government over its 25-year life.

In a region where large industrial taxpayers have moved away and residents face progressively larger tax burdens, the tax revenues to be generated by this comparatively small LNG project are themselves anything but insignificant. More important, those 100 long-term jobs will support families with stable incomes for decades to come.

The Woodfibre LNG project presents an opportunity here. There is little doubt that the economic benefits that come with well-planned industry are needed in the area — but the opportunity is far greater than simple economics.

With proper stakeholder input, Woodfibre LNG can become a genuine showcase to demonstrate how industry can catalyze and support recovery and enhancement of the environment, the wellbeing of communities, and a strong local economy.

To the extent that the project proponents are willing to listen to the community and to environmental experts as to what’s appropriate and acceptable in terms of development, and to take real action to support the area’s continued recovery, they appear to be on the right track.

Dr. Robert Falls is a resource management scientist with an academic history in carbon sequestration and a business background in energy, environment, climate mitigation, and earth observation. He is an Adjunct Professor with UBC’s Forest Sciences Centre. 

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