The Quebec Minister of the Environment, Benoit Charette, does not rule out the possibility of rejecting entirely the projects of liquefaction plant of natural gas in the Saguenay and of gas pipeline to feed it if it turns out that they do not do not meet the criteria of environmental protection and social acceptability required.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Minister Charette recalled that these projects totaling investments of $ 14 billion are in their infancy and that it is still “unthinkable to say if it is a project that will go forward or if it is a project that, on the contrary, must be rejected, “an expression that had not been heard so far from the mouth of the Caquist government.
Mr. Charette insisted that Quebec always leaves “the margin or the latitude necessary to thoroughly evaluate all aspects” of the project.
Prime Minister François Legault, for his part, did not hide in the past his interest in this project, he who invoked not only thousands of paying jobs and a massive infusion of capital in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean but also the environmental advantage of using natural gas instead of oil or coal as a source of energy.
Nevertheless, Benoit Charette must walk a fine line between economic interests, environmental considerations, social acceptability and Aboriginal interests, directly involved in the passage of a gas pipeline in a corridor between Saguenay and Rouyn-Noranda which overlaps their territories in several places.
One of the major concerns, on the environmental side, is the protection of the beluga, an endangered species of which there are less than a thousand individuals.
However, the number of cargo ships transiting the Saguenay annually would increase from 450 to 1300 according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada with the entry into service of the liquefaction plant combined with other industrial development projects in the Saguenay Fjord, a reality whose Minister is conscious.
“We have to see how far we can make the project acceptable without threatening this species, which is already vulnerable and deserves special attention,” he said, referring to a reduction in the speed of ships as a measure of effective mitigation.
However, speed does not solve the main problem raised by the Scientific Director of the Marine Mammal Research and Education Group, Robert Michaud, in an interview with Canadian Press published Sunday, the increase in noise.
“We have to see how far we can make the project acceptable without threatening this species [the beluga] which is already vulnerable and deserves special attention”
– Québec’s Minister of the Environment, Benoit Charette
The researcher referred to the fact that belugas are “essentially acoustic” animals, which rely on sound to orient and find their food and whose vital functions are affected by the stress caused by noise.
At the same time, the Minister also emphasizes, like his Prime Minister, the advantages of natural gas over other energy sources and adds that the Énergie Saguenay plant would use a completely electric process to liquefy gas, a first , while this procedure usually involves the use of hydrocarbons or ammonia.
Quebec, however, has made its bed in terms of environmental assessments and refuses to conduct a comprehensive environmental assessment of the two elements of the project, as claimed by many stakeholders both some citizens and environmental groups and on the side of the opposition in Quebec.
Minister Charette repeats, however, as he has done since the beginning, that these are two separate projects even if they are led by the same shareholder, LNG Quebec, and that the two companies – Gazoduq and Énergie Saguenay – will become more and more distinct from each other over time.
Moreover, he argues that a regrouping would only delay the whole process since the requests for each of the projects were filed with several months apart, so that “if we had to group them, it would delay the study of the file. “. He also says that with two separate evaluations of the Office of Public Environmental Hearings (BAPE), “there could be a better bonus if the project were to move forward”.
The fact remains, however, that the two projects are interdependent as the plant requires the 750-kilometer pipeline to bring Western Canadian natural gas from an existing pipeline in Ontario.
As the pipeline is an interprovincial infrastructure, a federal assessment will also be required.