QUEBEC – TransCanada Corp. will halt all work on an oil terminal in eastern Quebec in response to concerns the project could hurt a beluga habitat.
The company said Monday it is “standing down” on all work in Cacouna after a report by a federal government wildlife committee concluded that the whales are endangered.
TransCanada (TSX:TRP) wants to build a 4,600-kilometre pipeline to carry 1.1 million barrels per day of oilsands crude from Alberta to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick.
The planned Cacouna terminal was supposed to be one of the last stops for the crude from the proposed Energy East pipeline before being loaded onto oil tankers and shipped overseas.
TransCanada spokesman Tim Duboyce said the company will “review all viable options” after it analyzes the environmental report from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
The committee announced after its meeting last month that the beluga’s numbers have dwindled to 1,000 from a high of 10,000.
“Without protection of its critical habitat, this population is expected to shrink further,” it said in a news release. “The St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga was assessed as Endangered.”
Duboyce said TransCanada knows the belugas are a “fragile species.”
“The fate of the beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River is very important to us and we know it’s very important to Quebecers,” he said in an interview.
“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.”
TransCanada’s announcement came just a few hours after federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver warned of serious consequences for Canada’s economy if the Energy East pipeline is blocked.
In Quebec City for pre-budgetary meetings, he said he understands Quebec’s concerns about the $12-billion pipeline.
He noted the federal energy regulator has the means to determine if the project is environmentally friendly and that the pipeline should go ahead if approved by the National Energy Board.
The premiers of Quebec and Ontario said recently the Energy East project should proceed only when it is environmentally sustainable and has local support.
Oliver said Monday it is “absolutely essential” for the Canadian economy to transport the country’s resources to foreign markets.
“We have to create infrastructure to transport oil and gas to the ocean — that’s the reality,” he said. “And the consequences to not doing that will be very painful for the economy and for Canadians.”
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice was also asked about the belugas being listed as an endangered species.
“I was aware that this was going to happen, that the beluga whale would be moved to the endangered species list,” he told reporters after a speech about energy development to the Vancouver Board of Trade.
“These projects, this one included, need to be subject to a rigorous environmental assessment.
“And the purpose of a rigorous environmental assessment is to deal with exactly these kinds of issues, so we’ll have good experts working on it and I trust that the proponents will be in a position to respond.”
Prentice was not asked specifically about TransCanada’s announcement.