Coastal GasLink halted construction on a section of its pipeline route about 100 kilometres north of Prince George over failures to live up to a compliance agreement with the Environment Ministry.
The halt follows an Oct. 14 order issued to the company by the ministry, which confirmed the shutdown Monday.
In a response to The Tyee Monday evening, the company building the pipeline said work had been “temporarily paused” Friday but had again resumed.
The order had created confusion about whether work on the 670-kilometre gas pipeline under construction between northeast B.C. and Kitimat had actually stopped.
Last week, a spokesperson for TC Energy, the parent company building the pipeline, told The Tyee it was “working with the EAO [Environmental Assessment Office] to understand the specifics behind this order.”
But it added that no work had stopped along the pipeline route and it did not believe it was out of compliance with the agreement it signed with the province that aimed to stem the flow of sediment-laden water into waterways.
“The EAO has confirmed that it does not expect Coastal GasLink to stop any work provided the appropriate environmental mitigation is in place in the field,” TC Energy said. “Coastal GasLink understands that we were and continue to be compliant with this order.”
That appeared to contradict a statement from the ministry that said Coastal GasLink must cease construction activities where work was not following approved plans.
“Once CGL fixes activities so the work follows what’s in the work plan, or revises the work plan and gets EAO approval on it, they will be in compliance and can resume work in any area where work had stopped,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy said last week in an email to The Tyee.
The spokesperson said that inspectors had found “instances of noncompliance” but added that the environment was not impacted by the infractions.
The Oct. 14 order stipulates that Coastal GasLink must “cease all variations from an approved work execution plan” required under its July 14 compliance agreement with the province.
Under the agreement, the company must develop “work execution plans” for 32 specific sections along the pipeline route where construction has not yet begun. The plans must be developed by a qualified professional, independently reviewed and approved by the EAO before construction can go ahead.
Collectively, the sections cover about 100 kilometres over a 500-kilometre stretch of the pipeline route. Work has stopped in three sections of the pipeline route totalling about 10 kilometres, according to the ministry.
The order follows EAO inspections along a 14-kilometre stretch of the Anzac River Valley north of Prince George earlier this month. The valley has already been impacted by logging, according to local environmental advocacy group Conservation North.
Erosion and sediment-control issues were first identified along the pipeline route two years ago. Since then, the company has been issued more than a half-dozen orders for allowing sediment-laden water to flow into watersheds. It has also received two fines totalling almost $250,000.
BC Green Party MLAs have called on the provincial government to do more to protect watersheds impacted by pipeline construction.
Earlier this month in the legislature, MLA Adam Olsen, who represents Saanich North and the Islands, called on B.C. Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman to issue a stop-work order against the project as it begins drilling under the Morice River, known to the Wet’suwet’en Nation as Wedzin Kwa. The nation’s hereditary leadership has expressed fierce opposition to pipelines through its traditional territory.
“If this company is not in compliance with their agreements, orders and environmental regulations, the minister has a responsibility to issue a stop-work order,” Olsen said Oct. 5.
On Monday, Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau expressed mixed feelings about news that construction had been halted in a portion of the pipeline route.
“While I am heartened to see the EAO impose consequences and stop CGL’s work on this section of the pipeline, this does not address the fact that this company has not demonstrated that it can meet the environmental guidelines and requirements of their permit,” she told The Tyee.
“This should be a basic expectation of any company operating in B.C.”
When it signed the agreement with Coastal GasLink in July, the province said that “failure to comply with the agreement can result in escalating enforcement action, up to and including stop-work orders.”
On Monday, the Environment Ministry differentiated between the recent EAO order and a “stop-work order,” saying the latter would suspend all construction along the length of the project corridor.
The ministry added that independent environmental auditors and EAO compliance and enforcement officers continue to conduct spot inspections in areas covered by the compliance agreement.
“The order provides the Environmental Assessment Office with the necessary tools to take additional enforcement action if required,” it said.
In a response sent to The Tyee, TC Energy said the project faces “some of the most stringent regulatory requirements in the world.” It added that work had stopped over the weekend but had resumed by Monday evening.
“On Friday, we temporarily paused work on a short 11 km stretch in Section 3 near Prince George to review our work against the work execution plans,” a spokesperson said in an email. “Work has resumed and we identified areas where erosion and sediment control measures required additional work to address compliance concerns. We continue to address those areas and maintain close contact with the EAO.”
The company said it continues to work with the EAO to understand and address concerns associated with the order, adding that the project had been inspected more than 500 times.
“This action did not affect work anywhere else on the 670 km project route and we do not anticipate any impact on the project’s timelines,” it said.
* Story updated on Nov. 1 at 10:09 a.m. to include comments received from TC Energy.