First Nation fights to quash environmental approval for petro facility

The Metlakatla First Nation has filed a federal court petition to quash an environmental review approval of Dutch company Vopak’s $885-million bulk liquid petroleum storage facility in northwest B.C.

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The Metlakatla First Nation has filed a federal court petition to quash an environmental review approval of Dutch company Vopak’s $885-million bulk liquid petroleum storage facility in northwest B.C.

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The facility — the second facility for the company on Ridley Island near Prince Rupert — would store and load products such as light diesel, gasoline, butane and methanol for its customers to ship by sea to Asia, as well as to Central and South America.

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In its court filing last month, the 1,000-member First Nation cited significant concerns over greenhouse gas emissions from the project and its effect on climate change, and on air quality and wetlands.

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Filed on behalf of Metlakatla chief Harold Leighton against the Attorney-General of Canada and the Prince Rupert Port Authority, the petition says the First Nation’s concerns were not meaningfully addressed during the review.

In a written response Tuesday, Canadian government officials said only that Canada intends to appear in court to respond to the petition.

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The Prince Rupert Port Authority said it was aware of the Metlakatla petition, but declined comment.

Vopak officials in B.C. referred questions to officials at the company’s headquarters in Holland, who did not immediately respond.

The facility would include 14 storage tanks and two gas-powered turbines for power generation on a 38-hectare land parcel on Ridley Island, and a 1.2-kilometre-long jetty.

A federal environmental review that approved the project in November 2022 found the facility was not likely to cause significant environmental effects, including from greenhouse gas emissions.

The Metlakatla’s petition calls the federal authorities conclusion “perverse” and argued Canada cannot meet its carbon reduction targets with projects that emit GHGs throughout their life.

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The First Nation noted the environmental assessment report concludes the effects of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions are moderate, global, long-term, continuous and irreversible. Environment Canada determined it is unlikely Vopak will be able to substantially reduce project emissions by 2030 using proposed mitigation measures, adds the Metlakatla.

Vopak has promised within the next two years to create a plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, but the Metlakatla said there is no mechanism to ensure any plan is developed.

“In other words, the key mitigation measure that the federal authorities are relying on is a plan that has not been developed, which no one can verify now or in the future, and which cannot be enforced,’’ states the First Nation’s petition.

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Project environmental assessment documents show estimated annual GHGs are 97,000 tonnes, although they do not include upstream or downstream emissions. The amount is about 0.1 per cent of B.C.’s annual GHGs.

The environmental assessment concluded the project’s contribution to climate change is expected to not be significant, based on the low magnitude of GHGs and provincial and federal program to reduce total GHG emissions over time.

Use of electrical power from B.C. Hydro, which would significantly reduce GHGs, was rejected as the power is susceptible to outages and the capacity of existing power lines are almost maxed out, according to the environmental assessment.

Located about 10 kilometres south of Prince Rupert, Vopak’s facility would be able to handle 240 rail cars of petroleum products a day. An estimated 171 ships — up to nearly 300 metres in length — are expected to be loaded annually at the terminal.

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The company already holds a stake in a $475-million propane export facility on Ridley Island whose majority owner is Calgary-based AltaGas, which started shipping to Asia in 2019.

The environmental review of the project was led by the B.C. government which gave its approval in April 2022 after finding “significant adverse effects are unlikely to occur.”

The Metlakatla have not taken legal action against the province’s approval, according to a search of online B.C. court records.

Vopak, headquartered in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, operates 68 terminals in 23 countries and had revenues of $1.2 billion in 2021.

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