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The Rabaska problematic issue

Lévis Environmental Protection Association (APPEL)


(2 October 2006) - AT THE DAWN of the 21st century, in the era of Kyoto, when we hear from all sides that our planet can no longer withstand the assaults that are imposed on it, major corporations, indifferent to this irrefutable fact, continue their gold rush under the complacent eye of our governments. Their leitmotiv - the economy at any cost - is applied with the utmost disregard for people and the environment.

Rabaska, the terminal error

For more than two years, three multinationals, that is, Gaz de France, Gaz Métro and Enbridge, in large part representing foreign interests, have been trying to impose their will to install an liquefied natural gas LNG terminal in the magnificent river landscape formed by the triangle of Lévis, Beaumont and Île d'Orléans, at the maritime entrance of Old Québec, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

According to its proponents, this project would be a source of wealth for all concerned. It would save us from an appalling dependence on Western Canada for fossil fuel, would be 200% safe, and would help us reach the objectives of the Kyoto protocol while reducing the cost of natural gas.

Incredible but true? Incredible? Yes. True? Not so sure.

According to the Québec Act regarding sustainable development,[1] sustainable development is based on a long-term vision that takes into account the indissociable nature of the environmental, social and economic dimensions of development activities.

The proponents of Rabaska, therefore, at the outset cannot legitimately build their installations on the territory that they themselves unilaterally chose for their sole benefit and with the utmost contempt for the people who live there and the environment that characterizes it.

Despite repeated requests by environmental groups, the Government of Québec has still not produced a credible assessment of the real natural gas needs in Québec. This assessment must consider the current and future needs based on a sustainable development approach and, most importantly, must be completely free of any corporate influence. We have a long way to go, yet. It goes without saying that nothing credible has been produced on the issue of the supposed need for Québec to possess natural gas terminals, unless you count the "heartfelt cry" of Messrs. Charest, Corbeil (minister of Natural Resources) and Béchard (minister of the Environment) proclaiming that natural gas terminals are a good business opportunity.[2]

Why???

Why such a frenzied desire to build natural gas terminals in Québec? First it is important to note that while the United States consumes a considerable share of the planet's natural gas (±30%), their reserves are nearly used up. Our neighbours to the south know better than we the truth about natural gas terminals, since they already have four in operation.

Americans on the East and West coast refuse to have such installations, for environmental and safety reasons, but would ask their "Canadian friends" to bear the appalling consequences in their stead and serve as a transit hub to satisfy their insatiable appetite for natural gas. Furthermore, the accelerated exploitation of the oil sands of Alberta in view of exporting even more oil, this too to the United States, also requires considerable quantities of natural gas. Participating in increased American supply of oil and ready-to-use natural gas is therefore the driving force behind this aberrant project.

Furthermore, the profits expected by the three members of the Rabaska limited partnership amount to billions of dollars; these staggering profits are what fuel the gas industry.

The controversial Rabaska project: an aberration

About energy security

According to the proponents of Rabaska, it would be a matter of ensuring Québec's energy security. Those who still remember the unfortunate experience of the Suroît power plant will have a definite feeling of déjà vu.

The proponents of the natural gas terminals claim that these would shore-up Québec's energy security, but this is nothing more than DECEPTION. In fact, under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the quantity of natural gas that Canada must supply to the United States -- already more than 65% of its production[3] -- would increase with every new import of this fossil fuel. However, if a foreign supplier were to reduce the quantity of natural gas that we import from them, the American quota would remain unchanged, which would force Canada to export provisions which we might need.

A look at the text of the Agreement in matters of energy, says much about the fate that awaits us, in the event of the interruption of our supply of natural gas, if it were henceforth imported by natural gas tankers from the most unstable regions of the world.[4]

When Canada signed NAFTA, it made a commitment to export to the United States the same proportion (based on those of the previous three years) of the total supply of energy resources, even in times of shortage and even to the detriment of the needs of Canadians.

All imports being included in this total supply, not only is it questionable to claim that natural gas terminals would ensure the energy security of the provinces that play host to them, these projects to import massive amounts of natural gas destined for the United States should be seen as a threat to energy security -- and therefore to the economy -- of the entire country, and even more for the province henceforth dependent on this type of installation.

About the prospect of building natural gas terminals in Canada and with regard to NAFTA, member of parliament Dennis Bevington, a critic in matters of energy for the NDP, stated: "Canada's energy security will be undermined as we come to rely on imported sources of energy, when we could be self-sufficient."[5]

The solution to these alleged problems with our energy supply is, therefore, not to be found in the even more massive import of fossil fuel from countries all more unstable than the next, much to the contrary, but rather, in part, in the correction of certain clauses of the NAFTA treaty, in the responsible management of our energy resources, and, most importantly, in energy self-sufficiency.

Environmental threat

According to Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman, business executives have only one responsibility, a moral imperative, which is to yield as much profit as possible for its shareholders. He is quoted as saying that the social and environmental responsibility of the company may only be tolerated if it is not sincere.[6]

According to its instigators, Rabaska would contribute to reaching the objectives for reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) set forth in the Kyoto protocol by reducing the consumption of heating oil and coal.[7]

Aside from the emissions generated by the extraction, liquefaction and transport of LNG and not to mention the consumption of all the gas processed, Rabaska would produce, alone, emissions of nearly 150,000 tons of GHGs annually, according to its proponents. The latter justify this by claiming to ultimately reducing the emissions of the United States and Ontario by replacing their fuel oil and coal consumption by natural gas. This is a hypothetical argument as it is highly unlikely that major industries use fuel oil or coal for the simple pleasure of polluting, but rather that these energy sources are less expensive. This is a "sustainable" fact. Knowing the American appetite for ever-expanding industrial development, it is more likely that this new energy source would be added to their existing consumption of fossil energy and would foster even more growth. Supplying our neighbours to the south with ready-to-use gas that is devoid of any social and environmental costs as well as of any risks (outsourcing) that are inevitably associated with it can only delay the raising of their awareness regarding their over-consumption of fossil energy, regardless of the type. We must categorically refuse to become the "gas bearers" of our neighbours to the south! Québec enjoys a prime situation in terms of energy thanks to its existing and potential resources of hydroelectric, wind, geothermal and even solar energy, while the conservation of energy that is already accessible, but all too often wasted, is the least expensive and cleanest energy "production" method there is.

Economically speaking, many studies (including the one by Professor Daniel Kammen of the University of California in Berkeley[8]) show the marked advantage of developing renewable energy and of energy efficiency in terms of job creation over that of fossil energy, irrespective of the type.

In view of helping us to meet the deadlines of this century in matters of the survival of humanity, it is imperative that we focus right now on clean, renewable energy that benefits us by making it OUR wealth. This is the very essence of viable development.

A serious safety threat


The Precautionary Principle adopted by the UN in 1992 states that when there is a risk of severe or irreversible harm, the absence of absolute scientific certainty must not put off the adoption of the measures.

The dangers related to natural gas terminals, to transport and handling of LNG are known, well documented and irrefutable. Unfortunately, the "word" of the major corporations is all too often doubtful and it is rather at this level that the Precautionary Principle must be applied.

To promote their projects and thus achieve their ends, the proponents of natural gas terminals consider mostly the "probability" aspect of the risks in their studies at the same time minimizing the consequences of potential accidents or acts of terrorism. However, these consequences are usually catastrophic. Thus, in its overview of the preliminary environmental impact studies distributed to the general public, Rabaska presents its project as "extremely safe" while in France, for example, this type of industry is ranked as SEVESO II, which there corresponds to the highest level of potential danger in the industry. Furthermore, like Transport Canada and the California Energy Commission, the Society of International Gas Transporter and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO) recommends that natural gas terminals be located far from maritime traffic, far from public roads and FAR FROM ALL POPULATED AREAS. [9] The same organization has stated that the LNG transhipment ports must be located far from busy waterways and outside of major traffic areas, and recommends that sites at the mouths of fluvial corridors be favoured over inland sites.[10] Rabaska infringes these basic safety rules by placing its jetty next to the St. Lawrence maritime channel, by having its LNG tankers in this narrow, busy channel several hundreds kilometres inland, by having its cryogenic LNG pipeline go under main road 132 and, especially, BY SETTING UP ITS INSTALLATIONS NEAR PEOPLE, RIGHT AT THE HEART OF A POPULATED AREA.

Limited democracy, unlimited corporation

"We will never force our project on the population."

Various Rabaska representatives have spoken this key phrase many times. Despite a referendum in Beaumont with 72% opposing the project, despite two census surveys showing that 78% of the people within a two-kilometre radius around the site threatened by Rabaska (Lévis, Beaumont and Île d'Orléans) and 70% of those within a radius of five kilometres are opposed to the project, despite the fact that a resolution rejecting Rabaska was adopted unanimously by the Conseil municipal de St-Laurent, île d'Orléans, and despite a petition signed by more than 70% of the population of Ste Pétronille, Île d'Orléans, objecting to the natural gas terminal, Rabaska continues to push forward, like a steam roller.

The Rabaska project should be rejected by the Québec ministère du Développement durable, Environnement et Parcs as it respects neither the residential nor the agricultural zoning laws of this area of Lévis, nor does it respect Bylaw 523 of Beaumont on the storage of hazardous materials. Yet this government department remains silent on this subject.

To insist, such as Rabaska is insisting, on building a natural gas terminal near people, in the heart of a living environment blessed, moreover, with great natural and national value, is socially irresponsible and irrefutably shows a total lack of respect, on the part of Gaz de France, Gaz Métro and Enbridge, for human beings and their environment.

Mulcair loses fight against Charest's right hand man

In February 2006, Michel Corbeil, columnist for Le Soleil, wrote that Thomas Mulcair [former Quebec Minister of the Environment - Editor] was the first to try to derail the Suroît power plant project to produce electricity by burning natural gas.[11] Corbeil said that Mr. Stéphane Bertrand, head of the prime minister's cabinet, comes from Gaz Métro and it was his heartfelt desire to realize this idea, so it is said. The author reported that it is however another industrial proposal, based, too, on natural gas, that precipitated the events, and that sources told Le Soleil that the Rabaska project played an important role in the turn of events. [12] In March 2006, Mulcair stated that he was convinced that Rabaska should not come to be where it was projected ... if the Rabaska project makes it to the BAPE (Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement), which he doubted because of legal issues.

He went on to say that Rabaska is the classic example of an attempt to force a project from the top down.[13] On March 30, 2006, Mulcair stated on TVA that attempts had been made to shut him up on the Rabaska project.[14]

Several questions need to be raised

How are citizens to interpret the government taking a soft line toward the three multinational partners in Rabaska? What are we to make of the statements of the new minister of Environment, Mr. Claude Béchard, who, barely nominated to the position, announced that he was in favour of the natural gas terminals, in particular the Rabaska terminal? Does it make sense to damage an environment, threaten the Environment and destroy lives for fifty jobs, at the very most? What would be the impacts of Rabaska on the Québec economy given the terms of NAFTA, given the importance of the tourism industry (top industry in the world in terms of jobs), and given also that an accident or a simple incident on the river involving an LNG tanker could stop all maritime traffic on the St. Lawrence (the only navigable access route into the heart of America), for days, even weeks? Are we to believe that our government leaders, rather than assess the soundness of major projects according to the needs of society and future generations, are about to sell out our province, without question to our neighbours to the south and foreign corporations???

Professor Bernard Vachon, Ph.D., retired from the faculty of Geography of UQAM, had much to say about the issue. He said that in an era when the value and power of money occupies such an important place in the process of making personal and collective choices, it is understandable that those who govern us are also, in large part, drawn into the spiral of the "economics first" culture. They are nonetheless accountable and are required to break free from it to elevate their action to the height of the fundamental mission of the elected representatives of the people, that is, to bring together the conditions for the development and fulfillment of the populations that they govern.

Endnotes

1. Loi sur le développement durable, Government of Québec, April 2006.
2. PC, May 2, 2005.
3. Statistics Canada, October 31, 2006.
4. Chapters 601 to 609 including the appendices. http://www.dfaitmaeci.gc.ca/nafta-alena/chap06-en.asp/
5. http://www.ndp.ca/page/3925.
6. The Corporation, Joel Bakan, Free Press, 2005.
7. Overview of the preliminary environmental impact studies, page 6, www.rabaska.net.
8. http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~rael/papers.html
9. www.PembrokeshireTV.com, January 2006.
10. SIGTTO, Sites selection and design for LNG ports and jetties.
11. Thomas J. Mulcair, Québec ministère du Développement durable, Environnement et Parcs, 2003-2006. He was removed from his functions as minister of Environment in February 2006; Quebec owes him its law on sustainable development.
12. "Mulcair a perdu sa bataille contre le bras droit de Charest," Michel Corbeil, Le Soleil, 28-02-06.
13. Thomas J. Mulcair, Université Laval, March 29, 2006.
14. Thomas J. Mulcair, TVA, March 30 , 2006.




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