Are current environmental assessment processes protecting Canadians? Geographer Kevin Hanna says B.C.’s system would get a “D” in his report card
Kevin Hanna, an associate professor of Geography in the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences at UBC’s Okanagan campus, has been working with colleague Bram Noble, from the University of Saskatchewan, to evaluate the effectiveness of environmental assessment processes in Canada. This work is particularly timely given the current debates in B.C. over mines, pipelines and other energy projects.
Are environmental assessment (EA) processes in Canada adequate?
Not all of Canada’s EA systems are equal. The federal government and each of the provinces and territories have their own processes. I can’t say that B.C. has a particularly strong EA process. It certainly needs a substantial review and more than a few changes to ensure that environmental protection really is at the fore. If I were to give it a grade, it would be a D; it needs much improvement.
Should British Columbians be worried about the prospects of a major expansion of oil pipelines in Northern B.C.?
Yes. But expanding an existing pipeline is a very different prospect from building a new one through an undeveloped or settled landscape. Expanding an existing route may entail fewer problems, potentially fewer impacts, and for a variety of reasons such projects tend to be less contentious with the public. And right now our capacity to respond to pipeline or tanker spills is not adequate.
Industry and governments need to be transparent about accidents, less evasive or secretive when mistakes happen, and more open about their clean-up efforts or the difficulties they face when dealing with mishaps. Openness helps build trust.
What’s in it for British Columbians if these pipeline projects are approved?
At this point we cannot say with much accuracy what is in it for B.C Even if B.C.’s five conditions are really met, we may assume much risk for few returns. There are numbers bandied about that say we’ll reap billions in revenues, but I’m not sure how accurate they really are. Experience tells me that the public benefits of such projects are never as high as proponents estimate or as scant as opponents suggest.
More information about Kevin Hanna’s work on environmental assessment can be found here