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Southern Resident Orcas

In extremely disappointing but not unexpected news from Canada last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion – a project long opposed by First Nations, coastal communities, and environmental groups in both Canada and the U.S., in addition to the British Columbia provincial government and the state of Washington.

Approval from the Canadian government was all but inevitable following the recommendation by the National Energy Board (NEB) in February.  The NEB was ordered to re-review the Trans Mountain project after a Canada Federal Court of Appeal ruled in favor of environmental and First Nations groups opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline.  In particular, the court ordered the NEB to consider input from affected First Nations, and the marine impacts of the pipeline expansion – including the potential effects on the endangered Southern Resident orcas.  In a report issued in February, the NEB determined that the project would cause “significant adverse environmental effects” on the Southern Residents.

“After a week of exciting and positive news from Canada, including outlawing whale and dolphin captivity and recognizing the current climate emergency, to cap it off with this announcement is extremely disappointing,” said Colleen Weiler, Jessica Rekos Fellow for WDC.  “The Trans Mountain pipeline hurts Southern Resident orcas at every step – from harming salmon streams to increasing noise and the catastrophic risk of an oil spill.”

After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office, Canada’s Federal Government announced an ambitious initiative to protect Canadian waters and endangered whales, including North Atlantic right whales and Southern Resident orcas.  At the same time, however, Trudeau has committed to increasing Canada’s development of oil sands facilities, which are connected to shipping ports in British Columbia through the Trans Mountain pipeline – contrasting efforts that directly threaten the health of coastal waters and the Southern Resident orcas.

Canada took its commitment to the Trans Mountain pipeline even further by purchasing the project from the original owners, Kinder Morgan, last spring.  The ongoing court battles and continued strong opposition had created uncertainty about the future of Trans Mountain, and Kinder Morgan was ready to give up on the project when Canada stepped in.  The pipeline expansion is now estimated to cost up to $7.4 billion CAD.

Although construction work on the Trans Mountain expansion was halted after the court ruling, scientists noted that salmon habitat has already been destroyed by work on the pipeline, and that many concerns remain about the impact on salmon streams.  Fraser River Chinook salmon are the primary food source for the Southern Residents during the summer, and returns this year are so low that the orcas have yet to return to their summer foraging area.  Other potential impacts on the orcas include a sevenfold increase in tanker traffic through critical habitat, increasing noise and the risk of ship strikes, and growing risk of an oil spill in an area where difficult sea and weather conditions may hinder response efforts.

Multiple First Nations and environmental groups in Canada have committed to continuing to fight the project, and WDC will continue to work with our allies in Washington to oppose Trans Mountain from the U.S. side, and support those leading the charge against the pipeline across the border.

Read more about why the Trans Mountain pipeline is bad for Southern Resident orcas.

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