November 30, 2012
The Middle Sand Hills Area of Concern lies forty miles north of the city of Medicine Hat, to the west of the South Saskatchewan River, and to the south of the Red Deer River.
It is approximately 2480 km2 in size. Relatively untouched until recent years, the near-native conditions in the Middle Sand Hills area are reminiscent of the Great Plains as they once were. The extensive mixed grasslands, sand hills, coulees and wetlands that comprise the Middle Sand Hills Area of Concern are home to 1,100 native prairie species, including 13 federal Species at Risk and 78 provincially listed “at risk” species.
A large portion of the Middle Sand Hills Area of Concern lies within the boundaries of the Canadian Forces Base (C.F.B.) Suffield military reserve. As such, the military is intricately tied to the history, and fate, of this wildland. In addition, once contained within the oil access area in the northwest corner of the military reserve (just outside of the Area of Concern) but now occurring even in protected areas, industry plays a powerful role in the Middle Sand Hills. Twelve thousand well sites owned by various companies are located on the Base alone, including as many as six hundred abandoned wells in need of restoration. The oil company EnCana holds approximately ninety-five percent of the mineral leases in CFB Suffield.
The provincial government cancels the mineral lease of a company, Crew Energy, which violated provincial legislation by building an active oil well too close to a ferruginous hawk nest.
The seven-group Suffield Coalition applauded the government’s decision to deny approval of Cenovus’ (previously EnCana) proposal to drill 1,275 natural gas wells and construct associated infrastructure in the Suffield National Wildlife Area (NWA). Suffield NWA was established in 2003 to protect endangered native prairie and the many species of animals and plants at risk in the area, including at least 15 federally listed species threatened with extinction.
The Government responded to the January 2009 recommendations of the Joint Review Panel that conducted an environmental review of Cenovus’ proposed expansion. It agreed with the Panel’s conclusion that the proposed project would result in significant adverse effects on certain species at risk and would interfere with the conservation of wildlife. This decision sets a high bar for protecting the integrity of this unique area of fragile native prairie.
Because the NWA lies within Canadian Forces Base Suffield, the Department of Defence was delegated authority over the NWA when it was established under the Canada Wildlife Act. “The Government’s decision shows the Department is serious about its commitment to the protection of the NWA”, says AWA’s Cliff Wallis. “It is very good news for the species that rely on Suffield NWA and it also sets an excellent precedent about the Government’s commitment to preserving the integrity of other protected areas.”
The Suffield Coalition comprises seven groups: Alberta Wilderness Association, Nature Alberta, World Wildlife Fund Canada, Nature Saskatchewan, Southern Alberta Group for the Environment, Grasslands Naturalists, and Nature Canada.
For the first time, hunters are allowed to hunt elk on Canadian Forces Base Suffield. Elk were introduced to the area in the 1990s but, with no natural predators, their numbers have exploded. AWA questions the motives for the hunt – intended to deal with damage to surrounding crop lands – questioning whether a hunt is the only, or indeed the best way to deal with this issue.
Cernovus Energy receives approval from the Energy Resources Conservation Board to drill 47 sweet gas wells in Canadian Forces Base Suffield. This is despite the objections from the Department of National Defence. Low gas prices mean that the wells are not likely to be drilled immediately.
In November 2010, Harvest Operations Corporation was fined $125,000 for a 2008 leak of approximately 14,500 litres of crude oil which killed at least 300 birds in the southwest corner of Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Suffield, approximately 48km from the CFB Suffield National Wildlife Area. The spill, from an ‘abandoned’ well site, affected 1,200 square metres of land and was estimated to have been leaking for three months before it was detected. There are more than 45,000 wells in Alberta which have been abandoned but not certified; as the Globe and Mail pointed out in a September 2008 editorial, with only 100 Energy Resource Conservation Board Inspectors for 164,000 active well in the province, “the agency necessarily relies on oil and gas companies to regulate their own operations.” Clearly this self-regulation is not working very well.
The dead birds which, according to Environment Canada included migratory birds, songbirds and raptors.
The seven organizations in the Suffield Coalition write to federal Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, to express concern about the Department’s failure to identify critical habitat for Burrowing Owl within CFB Suffield National Wildlife Area. A revised proposed recovery strategy once again failed to identify critical habitat for Burrowing Owl in accordance with the Species at Risk Act.
“There is no scientific basis for the conspicuous exclusions of habitat biologically critical for Burrowing Owls from the current critical habitat designation for Burrowing Owl,” says the Coalition. “While the recovery strategy identifies critical habitat in land currently under federal jurisdiction… the valuable habitat within CFB Suffield NWA is overlooked and the occurrence of the species within the Suffield block is misrepresented.
“It appears that the exclusion of this biologically critical habitat from the identification of critical habitat for Burrowing Owl is not based on scientific considerations as required by SARA. Information is clearly available to identify critical habitat within CFB Suffield National Wildlife Area and such habitat should be identified in the recovery strategy.”
The Crown unexpectedly stays the case against EnCana on charges of violating Canada’s Wildlife Act. EnCana was scheduled to be tried on March 19, 2010, almost five years after installing a section of pipeline in the Suffield National Wildlife Area without a permit (in March 2005). Numerous adjournments and a preliminary hearing were held in Medicine Hat, but now there will be no trial. The reasons for the Crown’s decision to abandon the case are not fully clear though the many deficiencies in the environmental management of the NWA seem to be part of the reason.
EnCana splits its holdings into two companies. The leases within Suffield now belong to Cenovus, the new company.
Finally, at the tenth time of asking, EnCana makes an appearance at a Medicine Hat court to answer charges of violating the Canada Wildlife Act. Judge Darwin Greaves decides that EnCana’s evidence is not sufficient to prevent the case from going to trial. Speaking at the preliminary enquiry is retired Suffield base commander Lt.-Col. Ken Steed. Judge Greaves expresses his admiration of the retired base commander: “I think some day history will one day look upon the good lieutenant-colonel as being heroic, not only in concerns to the environment but also taking on this unusual task.”
The Suffield Joint Review Panel releases its report and recommendation regarding EnCana’s proposed shallow gas infill project. The Panel recommends “that certain key requirements must be met before the proposed project or a variation of it could proceed.” The three requirements are as follows:
Fri, 31 Oct 2008
The final day of the Suffield hearing began with the Government of Canada’s closing argument. The government reiterated its position that the evidence provided by EnCana to the Joint Review Panel is inadequate to support EnCana’s conclusion that the environmental effects of the proposed project are not likely to be significant. Counsel for the Suffield Coalition then responded by briefly reminding the Panel of the unresolved issues of enforcement and authority on CFB Suffield, including the National Wildlife Area.
EnCana had the final word. Included in Mr. Denstedt’s last statement was the point that, should the Panel choose to decide in favour of the Coalition’s recommendation to deny EnCana’s application, with prejudice (i.e., with no opportunity for EnCana to re-apply), then there should be a corollary recommendation that the Government of Canada acquire EnCana’s rights.
The Panel chair then concluded the hearing, stating that the Panel will make a recommendation to the federal Minister of the Environment by the end of January, 2009. The Panel’s report will “set out the rationale, conclusions and recommendations of the Panel relating to the overall Project and the reasons for the decision associated with the three wells.”
With the hearing now closed, the Panel will not accept any more submissions, letters, or documents.
Thu, 30 Oct 2008
After a hiatus of several days, the hearing resumed for the closing arguments of the proponent and interveners. EnCana emphasized its claim to be a leader of sustainable development, its commitment to working with all interested parties, and its compliance with the precautionary principle in its project application. All of these claims have been disputed by both the Suffield Coalition and the Government of Canada throughout the hearing.
The Suffield Coalition’s counsel, Ms. Klimek, reiterated the Coalition’s position regarding the proposed project: “That this Panel should recommend that this application for the 1,275 wells and the 3 wells before the ERCB should be denied in its entirety. It is our position that no further drilling should be allowed in the National Wildlife Area – not now, not ever. There cannot be a compromise. A pilot in the NWA is not acceptable. Staging development over a longer period of time is not acceptable. This is an important area and it must be protected. What should be occurring in this area is that it should be restored, not degraded.”
The Coalition also holds that the Joint Review Panel should recommend that a regional cumulative effects assessment of the area be completed and a management plan for the NWA developed. The Coalition is willing to participate in both of these initiatives.
Ms. Klimek ended by quoting the earlier testimony of Coalition expert Dr. Brad Stelfox: “You have a choice. You can have an NWA or you can have a gas field. You can’t have both.”
Mr. Henry Binder then present his closing argument, on behalf of the Coalition, regarding the gas reserves in the NWA, concluding that “incremental reserves are much smaller than what EnCana’s analysis forecasts.… The Panel must now consider whether the much smaller incremental amount justifies the incremental environmental and economic costs.”
Sat, 25 Oct 2008
Today the Joint Review Panel’s experts presented their evidence regarding EnCana’s proposed project. Mr. Jay Woosaree concluded: “We should consciously, purposely, protect the biological, functional and genetic diversity” of the Suffield National Wildlife Area.” At the same time, he stated that “appropriate mitigation” could “lessen the impact” of EnCana’s project and that we should “proceed cautiously.” The Panel’s second expert, Mr. Troy Whidden, concluded that “without a formal management plan, it remains difficult now and it will remain difficult in the future to gauge the success of wildlife management in the National Wildlife Area.”
EnCana’s rebuttal followed, with the company’s solicitor, Mr. Denstedt, giving the floor to EnCana witnesses. They spoke to the issues of invasive species and reclamation; snake mortality, habitat fragmentation, and preliminarily assess habitat for SARA-listed species at risk; water resources and use for the proposed project; and EnCana’s track record. Cross-examination by the Suffield Coalition, the Government of Canada, and the Joint Review Panel was followed by re-examination by Mr. Denstedt.
The proceedings were adjourned at 3:00 p.m., with plans to reconvene for closing arguments at 8:30 a.m., Thursday, October 30.
Fri, 24 Oct 2008
With the return of the Base Commander of CFB Suffield to the hearing, the Government of Canada panel took the stand once again this morning or cross-examination, beginning with the Suffield Coalition. In response to Ms. Klimek’s questions, the Base Commander and other Department of National Defence witnesses confirmed (1) that EnCana has consistently resisted the authority of the Base Commander over the Base, including the necessity for permits to operate in the National Wildlife Area; (2) that Suffield Industry Range Control (SIRC; a wholly owned subsidiary of EnCana) has given landowner consent to well applications on behalf of the Base without the Base’s knowledge and against the Base’s wishes; (3) that EnCana has a history of non-compliance in the NWA, including an incident of road rutting/disturbance (summer 2008) that was discovered accidentally by an Environment Canada employee; and (4) that EnCana has resisted discussion with the Base regarding standards for operating on the Base.
The Base Commander emphasized that the results of this hearing may potentially have significant impacts across the full range of NWAs across the country, and Environment Canada witnesses testified to the critical importance of protecting species at risk and their habitat in the Suffield NWA.
Thu, 23 Oct 2008
Cross-examination of the Government of Canada continued today. The government’s position is clear: the information in EnCana’s environmental assessment is insufficient to determine whether there will be significant environmental effects if the project goes ahead. When questioned about EnCana’s reclamation plans, Environment Canada stated that neither the federal nor the provincial government knows what reclamation criteria, if any, will be applied. During their testimony (and in preceding days of the hearing), the glaring absence of Alberta Environment and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development at the hearing became obvious: issues related to water and wildlife were consistently deferred to these two provincial departments, who carry responsibility for these aspects of the project.
Two members of the three-member Suffield Environmental Advisory Committee (SEAC) took the stand for the evening session: the Alberta Environment member was noticeably absent. SEAC’s opening statement outlined the confusion about SEAC’s role, the uncertainty about the reporting structure and the authority of SEAC, the lack of clear direction on reclamation standards on the Base, the lack of resources within SEAC, the difference of opinion between the Base and EnCana as to SEAC’s role, and the need for revision of the 1975 Memorandum of Agreement. Cross-examination confirmed the extremely weak oil and gas monitoring and enforcement regime on the Base, which leaves wide-open doors for non-compliance, industry self-monitoring, and disregard for environmental concerns in the National Wildlife Area.
Wed, 22 Oct 2008
The Suffield Coalition’s counsel continued cross-examination of the Government of Canada today. Ms. Klimek’s questioning of the Department of National Defence (DND) revealed significant non-compliance issues with EnCana, especially in the area of CFB Suffield just across the river from the National Wildlife Area (NWA). EnCana’s infractions included violations of DND rules as well as of the company’s own Environmental Protection Plan for that “minimal disturbance” project. DND also testified to problems with regularly occurring gas leaks, lack of capacity to monitor and respond to industry’s infractions on the Base, and EnCana’s abandonment of the Appropriate Dispute Resolution process. The company walked away from the process because they took issue with setbacks for species at risk and for wetlands, the threshold that DND had set for 16 disturbances per square mile, and Base Commander authority. Cross-examination also revealed numerous gaps in monitoring and enforcement on the Base.
Ms. Klimek’s questions of Environment Canada focused on the application of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in the NWA, which contains at least 14 SARA-listed species. Environment Canada stressed the importance of the Panel’s consideration of the preliminarily assessed critical habitat for five of those species, which constitutes more than 90 percent of the Base.
EnCana’s counsel began cross-examination of the Government of Canada in the afternoon and will continue tomorrow morning. Tomorrow evening, the Suffield Environmental Advisory Committee will take the stand.
Tue, 21 Oct 2008
The formal hearing resumed in Calgary at 1:00 p.m. with the completion of the Government of Canada’s opening statement. Following on the Department of National Defence’s presentation last Friday citing “unacceptable risk” from the proposed project and recommending a “precautionary approach,” Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada both delivered strong critiques of EnCana’s EIS today, reiterating many of the Suffield Coalition’s points made last week. Environment Canada recommended that the Panel’s decision take into account the department’s preliminarily assessed critical habitat for five species at risk in the NWA, which covers well over 90 percent of the protected area. NRCan pointed out the deficiencies in EnCana’s assessment of the proposed project’s potential impacts on groundwater quantity and quality.
The Coalition’s solicitor began cross-examination of the Department of National Defence late this afternoon, focussing on the heavy workload that oil and gas activity imposes on military personnel, the deficiencies of the permitting and monitoring processes in Suffield, and the issues surrounding access to the Base. “Until this year it was harder for one of my own employees to get access on that Base than for an oil and gas worker,” said the Base Commander. “That was unacceptable.”
Mon, 20 Oct 2008
Today the Suffield Hearing moved to Medicine Hat for an informal session during which members of the public were invited to express their views. Several people, including Grasslands Naturalists’ Dawn Dickinson, Nature Saskatchewan’s Dr. Branimir Gjetvaj, and landowner Jessica Ernst, strongly opposed EnCana’s proposed project in their presentations, with the applause clearly showing community support. Two presentations from the petroleum industry supported EnCana’s application.
Sat, 18 Oct 2008
The Suffield Hearing informal session in Calgary was held today to give members of the public the opportunity to present their views about EnCana’s proposed project. It began with EnCana’s one-hour presentation about their proposed project in the Suffield National Wildlife Area. The summary once again contained multiple assurances of “no significant adverse environmental effects” should the project go ahead.
Several presentations by concerned citizens followed. Doug Hutton identified himself as both a businessman and a friend of the environment and then issued a passionate defence of the Suffield National Wildlife Area as a refuge for wildlife where further industrial development should have no place.
Farmer Mary Kettenbach began her speech by addressing EnCana’s solicitor, with an obvious reference to his attack this week on one of the Suffield Coalition member’s credentials: “Mr. Denstedt, I’m not an expert and I haven’t published anything!” She then spoke from a local farmer’s perspective of the importance of native prairie ecosystems, especially the NWA, and strongly articulated her opposition to EnCana’s project.
Sandra Foss and Glen Semenchuk of the Federation of Alberta Naturalists spoke of the purpose of NWAs – to protect wildlife, biodiversity, and ecological integrity – and the importance of denying EnCana’s application so as not to set a dangerous precedent for national protected areas. They addressed the endangered status of native grasslands in Canada and the importance of the NWA as a rare intact remnant of this ecosystem, as well as EnCana’s poor environmental record on the base.
Finally, entomologist Dr. Rob Longair (representing the Entomological Society of Alberta) gave a PowerPoint presentation emphasizing the fact that by leaving out the arthropods (spiders and insects), EnCana’s EIS ignored approximately 95 percent of the wildlife species in the Suffield NWA. He pointed out that EnCana’s response to his written submission contained virtually useless generalizations and included the “outrageous statement” that “EnCana’s mitigation measures will minimize the effects of the Project on all wildlife.” “Wildlife is everything,” said Dr. Longair, “not just the furry, feathery things.” He referred to the lack of data regarding arthropods in Suffield and asked the Panel to recommend denying EnCana’s application: “Proceeding with something because we lack information is unacceptable.”
On Monday, the Panel moves to Medicine Hat for an informal session, then back to Calgary to resume the formal hearing at 1:00 p.m. Tuesday, October 21, with the completion of the Government of Canada’s presentation, followed by cross-examination.
Fri, 17 Oct 2008
With the re-appearance of EnCana’s Mr. Gerry Protti today, cross-examination of the project proponent resumed and carried on into the afternoon. During the Panel members’ questioning, EnCana committed to extending the project over 4 or 5 years, rather than the proposed 3, should the Panel so decide, using the first year as a “test” of the Pre-Disturbance Assessment process. They also made the expected commitments to openness and transparency, should the project be approved. In response, Panel member Dr. Bill Ross cited the Suffield Coalition’s past use of the Freedom of Information process to learn about EnCana’s compliance record on the Base as an example of EnCana’s lack of transparency in the past.
Just before the Government of Canada panel took the stand in mid-afternoon, the Joint Review Panel chair read the Panel’s decision regarding the Suffield Coalition’s request to compel Alberta Environment and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development to take the stand at this hearing because of their responsibilities in and knowledge of Suffield: the issuing of water licenses, knowledge of species at risk, regulation of reclamation, and participation in the Suffield Environmental Advisory Committee. The Panel was not satisfied that, according EUB criteria (Decision 94-2), there was enough reason to compel them to attend and the motion was denied.
The last few hours of the day were taken up with the opening statement of the Department of National Defence.
Tomorrow (9-12, 1:30-4) is the very important “informal session” in Calgary during which the general public may express to the Panel their concerns about EnCana’s proposed project and its potential ecological impacts in this internationally significant National Wildlife Area (ERCB Building, 640 – 5 Ave. SW). On Monday the hearing moves to Medicine Hat for an informal session (1-5, 7-10, Medicine Hat Lodge), and on Tuesday afternoon, it resumes in Calgary, probably until the end of October.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency adds the hearing’s written transcripts and audio recordings to its website daily for public access.
Thu, 16 Oct 2008
For approximately 8 hours today, the Suffield Coalition sat under cross-examination by EnCana’s solicitor, Mr. Denstedt; counsel for the Joint Review Panel, Mr. Mousseau; and the three members of the Joint Review Panel. Through their responses, Coalition members clarified and expanded on many of the points brought forward in their opening statements yesterday, once again revealing the numerous deficiencies in EnCana’s Environmental Impact Statement and in their reservoir analysis. In addition, the Coalition’s responses offered detailed information about the function, sensitivity, and importance of the grassland ecosystems in the National Wildlife Area; the potential effects of human-created linear disturbances and “edge” on NWA wildlife; the invasion by non-native species that is likely to accompany human disturbance in grassland ecosystems; the difference between reclamation and restoration, and the importance of the latter in the NWA; the purpose of NWAs to protect species at risk and ecological integrity; and the high public costs associated with EnCana’s proposed project.
One of the day’s light moments occurred when Panel member Dr. Bill Ross suggested the unlikely solution of radio-collaring arthropods (spiders and insects) to fill the knowledge gap that exists with respect to these species in the NWA.
Wed, 15 Oct 2008
After the Joint Review Panel’s solicitor finished his cross-examination of EnCana this morning, the three Panel members had their chance to question the company. They spent several hours asking for clarification regarding a number of aspects of EnCana’s proposal, including the apparent contradiction in the company’s recognition of the importance of the National Wildlife Area while proceeding with the same pace of development in the NWA as in the rest of CFB Suffield. When asked about critical habitat for rare plants, Dr. Walker, a reclamation and plant specialist for EnCana, questioned the idea of critical habitat, stating that a REDUCTION in human activity, including traffic, might actually be a threat to rare plant habitat. Dr. Bill Ross, the Panel member who had asked the question, replied by asking Dr. Walker if he had “disdain for the idea of critical habitat,” which elicited laughter from the audience and “on the contrary” from Dr. Walker. EnCana stated several times today that this project could be beneficial to at-risk species by creating habitat, citing the Ord’s kangaroo rat as one example. When the Suffield Coalition members finally gave their opening statements, they pointed out that recent studies show that human-created kangaroo rat habitat in Suffield is actually “sink habitat,” where mortality exceeds recruitment of animals.
The Suffield Coalition’s three-hour opening statement began in late afternoon and included a presentation from each of the seven experts. The joint statement covered all aspects of the project including economics, biodiversity, species at risk, vegetation, cumulative effects, and legislative and policy context for the proposed project. Much of the opening statement focussed on the serious inadequacy of EnCana’s Environmental Impact Statement, which concluded that environmental effects of the project would be insignificant and negligible.
Tomorrow EnCana’s solicitor will begin cross-examination of the Coalition.
Tue, 14 Oct 2008
Because of the election, the hearing had a 2:00 p.m. start today and continued into the evening. The Joint Review Panel’s solicitor, J.P. Mousseau, spent the day cross-examining the project proponent, EnCana, about their calculations and forecasts regarding the amount of incremental gas recovery should the project be approved and the well density increased from the current 8 wells per section to 16 wells per section. EnCana stated that even if the additional 1,275 wells are drilled, only 43% of the resource could be extracted. Last week, when asked by the Suffield Coalition lawyer if they would commit to not returning in future to apply for further drilling to extract some or all of the remaining reserves, EnCana’s reply was “no.” Tomorrow afternoon the Suffield Coalition is expecting to make their opening statement.
Fri, 10 Oct 2008
The Government of Canada continued its cross examination of EnCana and particularly the role of the Suffield Environmental Advisory Committee (SEAC). They established that there are many gaps in the system and we learned that the Alberta government blocked a formal submission from SEAC to the hearing. At the request of the environmental coalition, the panel will decide whether to subpoena Alberta Environment and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, both members of SEAC, to appear before them. We also learned that the proper environmental reviews required under the master agreement between Canada and Alberta that established the rules for oil and gas operations on the Suffield National Wildlife Area were not carried out.
Thu, 9 Oct 2008
The Government of Canada continued its cross examination of EnCana today. During cross examination they confronted EnCana with many pictures of damage created by EnCana and they demonstrated that EnCana only has a superficial knowledge of the Species at Risk Act, which is significant given the number of SARA-listed species in the Suffield National Wildlife Area. Essentially, EnCana is asking for the permitted destruction of species at risk.
During cross examination, EnCana admitted that wildlife will be killed as a result of the project and that the development will have an impact in the areas outside the NWA in native grasslands. The impact was not considered in their cumulative effects analysis.
Government of Canada will finish its cross examination tomorrow and the hearings will reconvene at 2pm Tuesday.
Wed, 8 Oct 2008
The Environmental Coalition led by the Alberta Wilderness Association finished up its cross-examination of EnCana early this afternoon. Key areas covered today included pre-disturbance assessments that improperly locate wells and pipelines in wetland buffers, problems with reclamation, inadequate cumulative effects analysis, and EnCana’s behavior in and around the National Wildlife Area, including the construction of a pipeline without required authorization. The Government of Canada began its cross-examination of EnCana with significant coverage of the environmental effects of water use for the project.
Tue, 7 Oct 2008
The second day of the hearing for EnCana’s proposed shallow gas infill project in the Suffield National Wildlife Area (NWA) was largely taken up with the Suffield Coalition’s counsel cross-examining EnCana and their environmental consultants who prepared portions of the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed project. Ms. Klimek’s questioning focused on the sensitivity of the soils in the NWA to oil and gas disturbance, and on the introduction and spread of non-native species in the NWA. Mr. Henry Binder (Grasslands Naturalists, one of the seven Coalition groups) cross-examined the project proponent, challenging EnCana’s analysis of the projected incremental gas production from the proposed project. Counsel for the Suffield Environmental Advisory Committee (SEAC) questioned EnCana regarding their proposed expanded role for SEAC, should this project be approved.
Mon, 6 Oct 2008
The hearing for EnCana’s proposed shallow gas infill project in the Suffield National Wildlife Area began today in Calgary with strong media attention and an audience of approximately 50 people, in addition to 25 to 30 EnCana experts and panel officials. Most of the morning was taken up with EnCana’s opening statement, in which the company assured the federal/provincial Joint Review Panel that the project would have “insignificant” impacts on the area and its wildlife. The Suffield Coalition’s lawyer, Ms. Jennifer Klimek, then cross-examined the company representatives for the rest of the day. (AWA is one of the seven conservation groups making up the Coalition.) Much of Ms. Klimek’s questioning focussed on the amount of disturbance the project would create, both in the construction process and the ongoing servicing of wellsites, and on the weaknesses of EnCana’s Environmental Impact Statement. When asked if the company had done studies of rare plants, including three listed endangered or threatened by Canada’s Species at Risk Act, and of a number of sensitive and endangered wildlife species such as the burrowing owl, Ord’s kangaroo rat, and Sprague’s pipit, EnCana’s answer was consistently “no,” along with the assurance that those studies would be part of the Pre-Disturbance Assessments. PDAs are conducted AFTER the approval of a project. Ms. Klimek’s cross-examination will continue on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. The hearing is taking place at the ERCB building, 640-5 Ave. SW. Anyone can attend part or all of the hearing, which will continue until at least Oct. 24.
Mon, 6 Oct 2008
Today is the first day of the high-profile hearing for EnCana’s application for a large shallow gas project in the Suffield National Wildlife Area (NWA) in Calgary. Anyone can attend the hearing and anyone can present to the Joint Review Panel, time permitting.
September 18, 2008: EnCana appears in court for the eighth time on charges of violating the Canada Wildlife Act and a preliminary hearing is set for April 20-24, 2009.
August 26, 2008: During EnCana’s seventh appearance in court on charges of violating the Canada Wildlife Act, the case is set over to September 18 to set a trial date.
August 12, 2008: EnCana appears in Medicine Hat Court for the sixth time on charges of violating the Canada Wildlife Act and enters a plea of Not Guilty.
June 26: EnCana appears in Medicine Hat Court for the sixth time on charges of violating the Canada Wildlife Act. The case is adjourned to August 12, 2008. EnCana has not yet entered a plea. “This is the third counsel in a row who has come on with respect to these matters,” said Judge Legrandeur, when EnCana changed lawyers once again. “They’ll certainly require more time to review the disclosure.”
May 29: EnCana appears in Medicine Hat Court for the fifth time on charges of violating the Canada Wildlife Act. The case is adjourned to June 26.
April 24: EnCana appears in Medicine Hat Court for the fourth time on charges of violating the Canada Wildlife Act. The case is adjourned to May 29.
April 22: Nature Canada’s Carla Sbert appears at the EnCana AGM in Toronto on behalf of the Suffield Coalition. During the question period, Sbert makes a statement about EnCana’s proposal to drill in the Suffield National Wildlife Area and asks the following questions:
March 4: EnCana appears in Medicine Hat Court for the third time on charges of violating the Canada Wildlife Act. The case is adjourned to April 24.
March 3: The Joint Review Panel announces that it is granted EnCana’s request for a delay of the hearings, which are now scheduled to begin on October 6, 2008.
February 22: In response to the Joint Review Panel’s request for comments on EnCana’s request for a delay in the hearings, the Suffield Coalition’s lawyer lists a number of reasons to deny the request, concluding: “It is unfair to the Coalition to grant EnCana extra time to attempt to bolster a deficient EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] through an IR [Information Request] process and is an abuse of the process.”
February 21: EnCana requests a delay of the Suffield hearings, currently scheduled to begin on March 10, proposing September 29 as the start date. The company claims that it needs time to ask for clarification on the submissions of the Suffield Coalition, of which AWA is a part, and the Government of Canada.
February 18: The Suffield Coalition – comprising AWA and five other conservation groups – files its submission opposing EnCana’s development to the Joint Review Panel. The Coalition’s submission contains a wealth of information. Among the many topics addressed are analyses of the following aspects of the project:
February 13, 2008: AWA initiates a FOIP requests, asking for the amount of EnCana’s original payments (going back to Alberta Energy Corp.) for the mineral leases within the Suffield National Wildlife Area. AWA also requests information about the total amount paid by EnCana (since 1975) in surface access fees/compensation in the National Wildlife Area since Alberta Energy Corporation’s first exploration of the NWA.
Jan. 17: EnCana appears in Medicine Hat Court for the second time on charges of violation the Canada Wildlife Act. The case is adjourned to March 4.
December 6: EnCana appears in Medicine Hat Court on charges of violation the Canada Wildlife Act. In 2005, the company constructed a 265-meter pipeline within the SNWA without a permit. EnCana is also being investigated for disturbing an endangered plant, the sand verbena.
AWA, as a part of a coalition that includes Federation of Alberta Naturalists, Grasslands Naturalists, Nature Canada, Southern Alberta Group for the Environment, and World Wildlife Fund, asks the federal government to prohibit all new industrial activity in the Suffield National Wildlife Area.
A Suffield Training Area Management Plan notes that oil and gas activity is having significantly more impact than military training. Impacts include habitat fragmentation, spread of invasive species, poor reclamation practices, and a lack of recovery in most areas. Military activity has not occurred in the National Wildlife Area since 1971 because of the area’s sensitivity, yet industry use continues despite a litany of environmental impacts documented in the government record.
Coalition receives $140,430 from the Participant Funding Program set up by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. The funds are to be used by AWA, Nature Canada, and Grasslands Naturalists to review guidelines for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), to the review the EIS itself, and to participate in the public joint federal-provincial hearings.
A coalition of conservation groups, including AWA, file a petition with Federal Environment Minister Rona Ambrose asking her to protect the tiny cryptanthe and small-flowered sand verbena. Both of these grassland species are at immediate risk of extinction, yet Alberta has no endangered species legislation in place to protect them. The coalition gives the minister 60 days to recommend federal protection for these two endangered plants, or face a lawsuit aimed at compelling the minister to take action.
After being pressured by AWA and several other environmental groups, federal Environment Minister Rona Ambrose announces that an independent panel will review the EnCana proposal to drill as many as 1,275 gas wells, with associated infrastructure, in the National Wildlife Area.
Lt.-Col. Dan Drew, CFB Suffield Base Commander, states, “There should be no further oil and gas activity in the National Wildlife Area.… This is one of the last vestiges of untouched prairie that exists in Western Canada. To me, it’s a national treasure” (Edmonton Journal, “Skirmish over Suffield’s Sanctuary”).
December: AWA meets with EnCana representatives. AWA is informed that CEO Gwyn Morgan has said that if the science says EnCana should not drill in the National Wildlife Area, they won’t (WLA, December 2005).
October: The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announces the commencement of a federal Environmental Assessment (EA) to review the EnCana shallow gas infill project proposal in the Suffield National Wildlife Area.
EnCana proposes to drill 300 to 400 new shallow sweet natural gas wells each year for the next three years, totaling 1,275 wells, in the Suffield National Wildlife Area. This will result in 16 or more wells per section and 220 kilometres of additional pipeline, doubling the number of wells in this area. This development means significant new infrastructure, including new access roads, water development, areas for disposal of drilling fluids (sumps), and increased compressor capacity. In response to this proposal, Canada’s Department of National Defence, as the responsible authority, declares its intention to undertake a comprehensive study and provide opportunities for public participation.
September: On the eve of the strict deadline set by the Base Commander, EnCana removes the well drilled in 2004 in a wetland area, on the threat of being barred from the base.
October: EnCana drills a well in a wetland area in Nishomoto Flats in the Middle Sand Hills Area of Concern. Federal policy on wetlands stipulates no industrial activity in wetlands on federal land, and provincial guidelines require a minimum distance of 100 metres from wetlands. The Base Commander immediately requests the removal of the well, to no avail.
The Base Commander implements a drilling moratorium. More than 1,100 wells now exist in the Suffield National Wildlife Area.
The CFB Suffield National Wildlife Area is formally established. Land-use activities – including resource extraction, agricultural development, and water management projects – will now be subject to approval and mandatory environmental screening.
Alberta Energy Company (AEC) merges with PanCanadian to form EnCana.
Alberta Energy Company (AEC) requests that the Alberta government put the mineral dispositions to deeper formations under CFB Suffield up for auction. In order to do so, some of the surface access rights assigned to AEC under the 1975 and 1977 MOAs have to be transferred back to the provincial government. The amendment, called the Partial Assignment Agreement (PAA) is signed in 1999 by the Province of Alberta, AEC, and a new entity, the Suffield Industry Range Control Ltd. (SIRC).
A herd of elk is introduced from Elk Island National Park. Elk ceased to be present in the area after 1960 due to poaching.
1,200 feral horses are removed from Middle Sand Hills/Suffield area.
The Department of National Defence and Environment Canada sign a Memorandum of Understanding to reserve approximately 458 km2 of the military base as a National Wildlife Area under regulations of the Canada Wildlife Act. Public and military access to this portion of land is prohibited.
AWA proposes that an area on the east side of the South Saskatchewan River, stretching north to include a portion of the Red Deer River and south almost to the Trans-Canada Highway, be designated a biosphere reserve as a part of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere program. Unfortunately, discussion of this proposal is terminated by National Defence Headquarters.
AWA requests a detailed assessment of the Suffield military reserve’s ecological resources and urges public involvement in management of the reserve.
March: Environment Canada releases “A Proposal to Establish the Suffield Cooperative Wildlife Management Area, Alberta.” The document proposes the creation of a 25,000-ha Suffield Cooperative Wildlife Management Area in the northeastern corner of the military reserve that would include the Middle Sand Hills as well as a 47-km length of the South Saskatchewan River valley.
The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) grazing lease expires. AWA proposes that the lease be cancelled as of the expiry date and a new system of grassland management implemented.
A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between Alberta and Canada allows for access to oil in Suffield. This, and the 1975 MOA, identify Alberta Energy Company Ltd. (AEC) as Alberta’s assignee to develop oil and gas in Suffield. As the sole operator, all mineral leases are granted to AEC.
The DND signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the PRFA allowing cattle to graze between June and October in areas not normally used for military practice and experimentation. There is no grazing in the Middle Sand Hills themselves.
In a report entitled “Effects of Livestock Grazing on Mixed Prairie Range & Wildlife in PFRA Pastures, Suffield Military Reserve,” the Canadian Wildlife Service and Alberta’s Fish and Wildlife Division conclude that grazing on C.F.B. Suffield has negatively affected vegetation and species of avifauna.
The PFRA closes pasture land in light of the absence of drought conditions and in order to allow for regrowth. Though the military enforces the grazing ban, many instances of trespassing and illegal grazing are reported.
A cursory examination by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) reveals that the land in the Middle Sand Hills is greatly overused, if not overgrazed. CWS requests that grazing be terminated and the impact of grazing studied in detail.
The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Agency (PRFA) again operates summer pasture to help alleviate the strain of drought conditions on local ranchers. Heavy usage has resulted in range deterioration and in insufficient forage, shelter, and cover for wildlife.
The Range-Wildlife Study Committee meets at CFB Suffield on November 3 and 4 to discuss the impact of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Agency livestock grazing on the Middle Sand Hills/Suffield area. The report finds that “preferred climax grasses were inconspicuous while unpalatable shrubs and forbs comprised most of the standing crop. Soil movement, hillside terracing and sand blowouts were evident while natural spring areas were being damaged.”
A Memorandum of Agreement between Canada and Alberta allows development of gas reserves. Before development proceeds, Alberta Energy Corporation (AEC) must identify archaeological sites in the Suffield Block so that protective measures can be taken. Oil development, production, and transmission for the South Saskatchewan River Bank Zone must be limited to wells recommended for approval by the Suffield Environmental Advisory Committee (SEAC). No oil development in the Middle Sand Hills Zone is allowed until completion of an Environmental Impact Assessment.
Representatives from various national and provincial environmental agencies form the Suffield Environmental Advisory Committee (SEAC) to advise the Base Commander on the environmental impact of development.
In March, AWA presents ideas to the Alberta Land use Forum. The AWA believes that exploration and exploitation of oil and gas is acceptable so long as damage to the fragile vegetation cover is minimized; and that cattle grazing must be ended when drought conditions subside.
The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Agency operates summer pasture to help alleviate the strain of drought conditions on local ranchers.
An agreement is signed between the Department of Regional Economic Expansion (DREE) and the Department of National Defense (DND) allowing grazing in the sensitive areas of Suffield.
The Canada Wildlife Act is passed in order to protect significant wildlife habitat.
The military reserve is transferred back to Canadian Armed Forces.
A Resource Evaluation of the Suffield Block is prepared for the Province of Alberta. The evaluation describes the area in detail, suggests the conservation of various tracts of land, and suggests that the absence of a temporary management plan should not preclude the initiation of oil industry activity.
The Canadian Forces Base Suffield is established as a live fire training area. However, sensitive areas, including the Middle Sand Hills, are declared off-limits to the military.
October: AWA receives a letter from Jean Chretien, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, acknowledging receipt of AWA correspondence and agreeing that the Suffield area possesses national park potential. However, Chretien states that until the land becomes surplus to the needs of the Department of National Defence, there is no possibility of creating a national park.
August: A Government of Canada report entitled “Environmental considerations on the use of the Suffield Military Reserve for tank and artillery training,” by W. E. Stevens and J. G. Stelfox of the Canadian Wildlife Service and A. A. Kjearsgaard of the Department of Agriculture, Soil Survey, is released. The report suggests that three natural reserve areas (a Middle Sandhills Natural Area, a Mixed Grasslands Natural Area, and a one-mile River Buffer Strip) be created for the protection of ecologically valuable areas.
June: an Ecological Appraisal by S. C Woynarski of the Canadian Wildlife Service is published.
The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Agency operates summer and winter pasture to help alleviate the strain of drought conditions on local ranchers.
The Middle Sand Hills area is transferred to the Canadian Research Board for chemical and biological weapons testing. The specific nature of this activity is classified and any possible effects are not known.
Suffield is designated Federal Crown land.
A large portion of the area is expropriated by the Dominion Government in order to secure the area as a chemical warfare testing ground for the British, who lost access to lands in Algeria following the German occupation of France.
Recovering populations of pronghorns result in the closure of Wawaskesy National Park (House of Commons Bill 154). In this same year, the area is declared unfit for agriculture under Alberta’s Special Areas Act.
Drought conditions result in the consolidation of small farms into large ranches.
The antelope sanctuary is officially designated Wawaskesy National Park, although this land is also initially used for livestock grazing. When livestock pushes out the population of pronghorns, measures are taken to limit the numbers of livestock.
140 km2 of the Middle Sand Hills area is designated as a pronghorn antelope sanctuary.
Canadian pronghorn populations are decimated by severe winters. To speed the recovery of pronghorns, refuges are established on federal land in both Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The Canadian government promotes settlement and cultivation on the Canadian plains. A first wave of homesteading occurs in 1911 and 1912, a second wave occurs in 1915, and a third wave begins with the return of World War I veterans in 1919, who are given land under the Solider Settlement Plan. Many homesteads in this area are dry and unsustainable, and are abandoned over time.
The coming of the Canadian Pacific Railway leads to the establishment of the nearby town of Suffield and surrounding ranches.
Cattlemen begin to settle the area.
Bison decline rapidly and are virtually exterminated.
Blackfoot First Nation signs lands to Dominion of Canada and moves onto reservations.
British expedition led by Captain John Palliser explores the Middle Sand Hills area.
“The military, grazing interests, and the oil and gas industry are a potent combination of human users that have not only placed their inexorable stamp on the landscape, but have created a labyrinthine management regime that defies easy comprehension. Regulations and agreements play out against a backdrop of history and politics.”
Dr. Shirley Bray, (WLA, December 2006, Vol. 14, No.6)
November 30, 2012