Pipelines and Salmon in Northern British Columbia

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In Northern B.C., the Upper Fraser, Skeena and Kitimat provide some of Canada’s best salmon habitat. There are currently four proposed pipeline projects that would traverse these watersheds and potentially threaten the salmon they are home to. Of these four proposals, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project has generated the most interest and concern for a number of reasons. Of note are the sheer volume of highly toxic petroleum products that would be transported in the proposal’s twin pipelines (more than 700,000 barrels per day1), as well as the role of the project in expanding production in Alberta’s oil sands and bringing supertankers to B.C.’s coast. Questions about the project are also timely, because the proponent is planning to submit the project to regulatory review in the near future.

Some of the questions being asked include: How would construction of the project impact salmon and their habitat? What is the likelihood of minor or catastrophic spills? What would the impacts of an oil sands petroleum and condensate spill be for salmon and their habitat? Could the salmon and their habitat be protected when those pipeline failures happen?

These questions are especially relevant because the ecosystems in question have already been stressed, and will be further stressed by impacts such as mining, forestry, and climate change.

This report was prepared to begin evaluating those questions. Having robust answers will help communities understand the potential impacts of Enbridge’s proposed pipeline on the five species of salmon (sockeye, pink, chum, Chinook and coho) and steelhead. The report is structured as follows:

  • Section 2 describes the salmon resources in the three affected watersheds, to identify the salmon populations that could be potentially affected by pipelines.
  • Section 3 provides summary descriptions of the proposed Enbridge pipeline and other pipeline projects proposed for similar routes.
  • Section 4 presents the impacts that pipeline construction and operation would have on salmon and other fish species using freshwater habitat.
  • Section 5 discusses the impacts that pipeline failure would have on salmon and other fish species using the same freshwater habitat.
  • Section 6 considers potential pipeline failure mechanisms and presents some examples of failures that affected aquatic resources in Northern B.C. and Alberta.
  • Section 7 analyzes the combined risks to salmon from pipelines and other human activities in Northern B.C. and provides a preliminary cumulative impact evaluation.
  • Section 8 summarizes the key conclusions.

— Excerpt from the report’s Introduction