The Saguenay River region, including that part of the Saint Lawrence River into which the Saguenay flows, has long been known to tourists as a world-class gem and to biologists and environmentalists as an ecological treasure. Tourists are drawn to the scenic beauty of one of the longest fjords in the world. Scientists and environmental advocates are moved to protect the Saguenay River and its connection to the Saint Lawrence because it is – quite simply -- an ecologically exceptional region located at the special place where the waters of the Great Lakes, the Saguenay basin and the Atlantic Ocean meet.
While no stranger to industry and commerce, the Saguenay River region has successfully been defended against important threats from fossil fuel development projects such as the Energy East oil pipeline project. That project included plans for a new oil port at Cacouna on the Saint Lawrence River, about 25 kms opposite from the mouth of the Saguenay. Due to grave concerns about impacts on endangered Beluga whales, the Cacouna oil export facility was dropped. Eventually, the entire project was cancelled.
And now, here we are again. Yet another major fossil fuel project is being considered for this ecologically sensitive area. This time it’s a large pipeline carrying gas – mainly fracked gas from Western Canada – to a massive liquefaction and new export terminal planned for the Saguenay River’s south shore near the Grande-Anse Marine Terminal. (“Natural gas” is mainly methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases contributing to global warming and climate change). The pipeline would be one meter in diameter (same as Energy East) and cross about 700 kms of forested areas, local and indigenous communities and numerous rivers and protected areas in Quebec.
Like Energy East, this new gas pipeline-and-LNG plant project would be built for purposes of export – yet another project with large tankers crossing very important beluga habitat! Large LNG tankers would cross over 50 nautical miles of the Saguenay River before reaching the Saint Lawrence River, which means they would pass through nearly all of the Saguenay-Saint Lawrence Marine Park, a unique and national conservation area aimed at protecting not only belugas, but also other species at risk, like the blue whale, fin whale, harbour porpoise and marine birds like the beautiful Barrow’s Goldeneye duck.
The gas pipeline-LNG plant project would result in some 150 to 200 additional tankers per year. When added on top of other new industrial projects planned for the Saguenay River, along with other growth, this would mean more than double the large ship traffic through the Marine Park once the project begins operations in 2025. This could put belugas and other marine species at grave risk.
It should go without saying that after all the issues raised about Energy East project’s likely impacts on climate change, belugas, other marine life and local communities, this liquified natural gas (LNG) project should be rejected swiftly and loudly. But this project, being promoted by GNL Québec S.E.C., is already under review. So, here are the essential facts on these two integrally-related projects and what Équiterre – with your help – wants to see happen in response.
The Gazoduq pipeline, which would supply the liquefication plant on the Saguenay, would begin on the Ontario side of the border, where it would connect with TransCanada’s long-distance gas pipeline that brings Western Canadian gas east. Gazoduq would enter Quebec near Rouyn-Noranda and head east toward the southern shore of Lac Saint-Jean and then on to the Saguenay.
The LNG plant, known as Énergie Saguenay, would convert natural gas to its liquid form for marine export to markets such as Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America. It would include two to three separate processing units with a combined yearly LNG production of 11 million tons, processing about 44 million cubic metres of natural gas per day. The new marine terminal would be capable of loading two LNG mega-tankers at once. The type of tankers anticipated include the second-largest LNG tankers in the world, about 315 metres by 50 metres and able to carry 217,000 cubic meters of liquified natural gas.
Équiterre demands that government action connected to the review of this production plant/pipeline project adhere to three fundamentally fair and necessary rules:
- Ensure that the LNG Saguenay plant (known as the “Énergie Saguenay project”) and the gas supply pipeline (known as the “Gazoduq project”) are assessed as one project. Since neither project has any usefulness without the other, this is both fair and essential. The pipeline’s key purpose is to feed the LNG plant, and the LNG plant obviously cannot liquify gas without a pipeline supplying the gas. And let’s not forget that the gas pipeline and the LNG plant are being promoted by the same parent company, GNL Québec S.E.C.
- Ensure that the GNL Québec’s LNG plant/pipeline project are evaluated via a joint federal-provincial environmental assessment process. Combining federal and provincial assessment is essential in order to ensure that all key issues and connections between them are studied at one time, in one setting. Otherwise, environmental advocates may have to participate in four separate processes if both the federal and provincial governments evaluate the plant and pipeline separately!
- Ensure that the environmental assessment process evaluates both upstream and downstream impacts, particularly greenhouse gas emissions. The upstream impacts from gas production by fracking or other means, along with emissions of methane that happen not only during production but also during transport and processing must be accounted for, along with downstream emissions when the natural gas is re-liquefied and used at the export destinations. The impact of increased tanker traffic in sensitive marine areas also needs to be examined.
We urge Quebecers and anyone wishing to protect some of Quebec’s most valuable ecological treasures to join us in pushing for these three actions.
Blog by Shelley Kath, Strategic Advisor-Senior Analyst, Energy & Environment
 Governments of Canada and Québec. “The Confluence”, page on the website for the Saguenay-St.Lawrence Marine Park, 2019: http://parcmarin.qc.ca/the-confluence/.