Beluga whale presence halts TransCanada oil terminal work

All work by TransCanada Corp. at an oil terminal in Quebec will be halted following concerns a Beluga Whale (white whale – Delphinapterus leucas) habitat could be harmed. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, since 2008 the Beluga Whale has been listed as “near threatened”.

The Calgary-based energy company said yesterday that is was “standing down” on all work in Cacouna following a federal government wildlife committee conclusion that the whales are endangered.

The company plans to build a pipeline from its oilsands crude operations in Alberta to refineries in New Brunswick and Quebec. When completed, they say the pipeline will be 4,600 kilometers (2,858 miles) long and will carry 1.1 million barrels per day.

The Cacouna terminal was expected to be one of the last stops for crude deliveries from the Energy East pipeline, before being shipped abroad in oil tankers.

Tim Duboyce, on behalf of TransCanada, says the firm will “review all viable options” after examining the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada’s (COSEWIC’s) environmental report.

Beluga Whale

Thirty-five years ago there were 10,000 Beluga Whales in the St. Lawrence Estuary, compared to fewer than 1,000 today.

According to the COSEWIC, the St. Lawrence Estuary, which is one of the world’s most heavily industrialized waterways, is home to several species of whales, including the Beluga. The estuary, which once had 10,000 Belugas, now has fewer than 1,000.

In an official statement, COSEWIC said:

“(Since 1979) this majestic whale has become a conservation icon for the province of Québec and a major draw for tourists. Today, St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga face a new suite of mounting threats, including toxic algal blooms, pollution, noise disturbance, and industrial developments. There are worrying signs of recent declines and unexplained deaths of calves.”

“This small population is now at considerably greater risk of extinction than when it was assessed as Threatened by COSEWIC 10 years ago. Without protection of its critical habitat, this population is expected to shrink further. The St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga was assessed as Endangered.”

Mr. Duboyce insisted that the Beluga Whales’ presence in the St. Lawrence Estuary is very important to TransCanada, as well as to Quebecers. “And when an organization like this one makes a recommendation suggesting those belugas are becoming an endangered species, it’s pause for thought for us,” he added.

Also on Monday, Joe Oliver, Canada’s Finance Minister, warned that if the Energy East pipeline is blocked the consequences for the country’s economy would be serious.