Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wildlife Act Charges Stayed Against EnCana

Federal wildlife charges against oil and natural gas giant EnCana Corp. have been stayed.

EnCana was accused of installing 300 metres of pipeline in March 2005 through the National Wildlife Area along the southeast section of Canadian Forces Base Suffield in southern Alberta. The crown's senior counsel gave no explanation, but a representative from EnCana was quoted that the Crown had advised him it was felt a conviction was not achievable. Read a news item here.

The charge of conducting industrial activity in a national wildlife area carries a maximum fine of $250,000. According to EnCana, workers inadvertently installed the pipeline while trying to avoid a wetland.

Suffield National Wildlife Area near Medicine Hat, Alberta, is home to nearly 100 plant and animal species at risk of extinction, including the burrowing owl, loggerhead shrike and Ord's kangaroo rat. It contains one of the largest remaining blocks of unploughed grassland in Prairie Canada, and is one of the last large areas of unaltered Dry Mixed Grass Prairie. It is estimated that only 6 percent of this important sub-region of Alberta’s Grassland Natural Region remains unaltered by human disturbance.

Last year a government-appointed Joint Review Panel denied EnCana’s application to install three shallow gas wells inside Suffield National Wildlife Area, and determined that EnCana’s larger proposal to expand gas development inside the federally protected area could not be approved without compromising the conservation of wildlife. However, the Coalition the Panel fell short of recommending against any further oil and gas development in the NWA.

Incidents like the installation of the pipeline in 2005 -- accidental though this one may be -- are a reminder that development in or near protected areas is simply too risky for the rare plant and animal life that cling to a precarious existence inside these so-called safe zones.

Allowing development inside a federally protected area risks rendering the very concept of “protected area” meaningless. What message does EnCana receive when violations of federal wildlife laws are waived? Will they be inclined to be more careful in the future?
(Photo by Andy Teucher)