Feds change underwater noise rules for sea lions after West Coast LNG project complaint

Construction of the Woodfibre liquefied natural gas project in Squamish, British Columbia, is expected to start in 2023, but the “curious and gregarious” nature of sea lions could make construction “not technically or economically feasible”.

Woodfibre LNG raised this concern with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, which released proposed amendments that would create less stringent rules for construction activities that impact seals and sea lions.

The Woodfibre LNG facility would be located seven kilometers southwest of Squamish on the northwest shore of Howe Sound. In January, Enbridge and Pacific Energy announced that they would jointly invest in the construction and operation of the 2.1 million tonnes per year LNG export facility with 250,000 cubic meters of floating storage capacity.

To protect marine mammals from underwater construction noise, project conditions require that work be halted if marine mammals enter an underwater noise impact zone – which varies by construction activity. The 14-page document says the “pervasive presence” of sea lions in Howe Sound would result in “regular and prolonged complete shutdowns of the project.”

The proposed solution is to change the boundaries for seals and sea lions, allowing them to stray closer to construction before triggering a shutdown. The rationale for the relaxation of the rules is that, unlike whales and dolphins, sea lions can lift their heads above water for an extended period of time or rise completely out of the water to avoid high-pitched underwater noises. , explains the document. Woodfibre LNG also noted that Steller sea lion populations are stable and increasing and harbor seal populations are stable in Howe Sound.

Woodfibre LNG is “trying to reduce their liability and eliminate some of the conditions they have,” said Tracey Saxby, co-founder of My Sea to Sky, a grassroots environmental organization focused on protecting Howe Sound.

“They try to minimize the area they have to manage,” Saxby said. National Observer of Canada. She pointed out that everything that lives underwater depends on sound, with top-down impacts all the way up the food chain.

As it stands, marine mammals should avoid a radius of 7,322 meters around the installation of impact piles, Woodfibre LNG said in its submission to the agency. This will still be the case for whales and other similar creatures, but the changes would allow seals and sea lions a distance of 125 meters, where underwater noise levels reach 190 decibels.

Ocean Watch Canada warns that underwater noise from shipping, construction, recreation and shoreline development has doubled in intensity every decade since the 1950s and is hampering the ability of whales and other creatures to hunt, communicate, rest and reproduce.

The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada wrote that changing these conditions “would not increase the extent to which the effects of the project, as assessed in the environmental assessment, are adverse.”

Construction of the Woodfibre LNG project in Squamish, British Columbia, is expected to start in 2023, but the “curious and gregarious” nature of sea lions could make construction “not technically or economically feasible”. #LNG #NoisePollution #bcpoli

The agency announced the start of a public comment period on November 17. Canadians have one month to vote on the proposed changes and can do so on its website. The short comment period and lack of notice will make it difficult for My Sea to Sky to hire experts to review the proposed changes in order to make a detailed submission, Saxby said.

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canadian National Observer

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