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The environmental assessment of the WesPac Tilbury Marine Jetty project in Delta, near Vancouver, has been put on hold following an Order from federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna that the scope of the assessment be expanded to include the effects of marine shipping activities from the project’s marine terminal to Canada’s 12-nautical-mile territorial limit.

If the purpose of a project is to export by sea, proponents should take heed, says Eugene Kung, a staff lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law, in a telephone interview with EcoLog News.

Following the Federal Court of Appeal’s rejection of the Trans Mountain Pipeline environmental assessment, consideration of marine shipping impacts may become commonplace. There’s even a possibility that assessments may be called upon to consider shipping impacts within 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

WesPac is proposing to build a marine jetty with berthing and mooring facilities to accommodate up to 68 LNG (liquefied natural gas) carriers and 69 bunker vessels each year. The vessels would serve both domestic and international markets.

The project is reviewable under both federal and provincial law. In 2015, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency accepted the government of British Columbia’s request that it substitute its own environmental assessment for the federal one. When that happens, the federal minister retains the authority to require additional information from a proponent.

In the case of the WesPac project, information had been submitted indicating possible effects beyond the original geographic scope of the assessment. That, coupled with the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision on Trans Mountain, was enough for the federal minister to call for a time-out.

In the Trans Mountain decision, the failure of the National Energy Board to include marine shipping within the project’s scope was considered to be a significant error.

The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office has, for now, suspended the 180-day time limit to review an environmental assessment application. It will set up a Marine Shipping Working Group consisting of representatives of Aboriginal groups and government agencies to examine potential adverse effects from marine traffic up to Canada’s 12-nautical-mile territorial limit.

That 12-nautical-mile territorial limit may not turn out to be the hard boundary for environmental assessments, Kung warns. Several First Nations are seeking leave to appeal decisions that limit assessments to 12 nautical miles. They argue that the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone should be the true boundary.

“It’s a live issue,” says Kung. Two hundred nautical miles represent the limit of Canada’s regulatory powers, he says. To put it in context, only half of the federally-protected critical habitat of the Southern Resident killer whale population is within the 12-nautical-mile limit, he says.

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