BY BRIAN DUNN
Almost from the time it was announced six years ago, the Laurentia project at the Port of Quebec faced a ground swell of opposition, mostly from environmental groups, but also from politicians and academia. The same can be said for another major initiative, the liquified natural gas (LNG) project in the Saguenay.
The $775 million Laurentia project, backed by CN, was to be a deep-water container terminal that was being reviewed by Ottawa for security reasons since one of the partners in the project, Hutchison Ports Canada, is a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based C.K. Hutchison Co. The terminal was expected to be completed by 2024 and have an annual capacity of 700,000 TEUs.
Then the environmentalists started to flex their muscles. Last November, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, a division of Environment Canada, said the Laurentia project will have “significant adverse environmental effects (direct and cumulative) and that it is now up to the federal government to judge whether these are justifiable.” The Port Activities Vigilance Committee (CVAP), representing citizens and groups affected by port activities, issued a report also last November that stated that, “due to the facts that have been documented by the expert assessors on the negative impact that the Laurentia project will have on the air quality in the neighbourhoods and the quality of life in the central neighbourhoods of Quebec City, CVAP is opposed to the realization of the expansion project of the Port of Quebec.”
Last December, a report by the Quebec Ministry of Environment’s environmental and strategic assessment branch, said that due to already high concentrations of nickel in the air, the Port of Quebec must reduce its “current and future” nickel emissions if it wishes to carry out the Laurentia project.
Even members of Quebec’s cultural community opposed the project, claiming it will destroy wildlife habitats and be harmful to human health. Several Quebec City council members had second thoughts about the project which had also faced opposition from both University of Laval, professors and students.
At first, the Laurentia project was delayed in January by the Port of Quebec, citing the filing of a negative preliminary report of the Federal Impact Assessment Agency, before the federal government finally pulled the plug in June. It cited harmful effects on human health, the environment and air quality, among the main pitfalls. “We are obviously very disappointed by this outcome,” Mario Girard, the Port’s President and CEO, said in a release. “We remain convinced that there were workable solutions and that Laurentia was a fundamentally good project, both for the economy and for the environment. But… we need to accept the verdict of the federal authorities and look to the future,” he added.
Naturally, those opposed to the project were overjoyed. “A year or two ago hardly anyone really knew what it was, Laurentia. But the mobilization was very broad and several people from various backgrounds took a stand against it, including even municipal councillors from (Quebec City) Mayor Labeaume’s team (who remained in favor of the project). The citizens have done their job,” said Québec Solidaire (provincial party) member Sol Zanetti.
According to the Port Authority, it spent close to $14 million to study, analyze, document and promote the Laurentia container terminal. Of that amount, $712,000 was spent on lobbying, $463,000 on media strategy and $446,000 on newspaper articles and infomercials.
The Saguenay LNG project also had its challenges, not the least of which was the decision by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway to pull its $4 billion funding from the project. The decision was partially blamed on the “instability” created by rail blockades 18 months ago, according to GNL Québec, the company behind the project. But the loss of Berkshire’s backing wouldn’t kill the project, said Tony Le Verger, Interim President of GNL Québec, because “Canadian and international investors who have supported the project since 2014 are still firmly committed to its development.” In addition to construction of an LNG liquefaction storage facility and marine terminal, the $9.5 billion project also involved the construction of a pipeline across a 782-kilometre stretch of the province from northern Ontario to Saguenay to transport natural gas from Western Canada. The goal was to export 11 million tonnes of LNG per year to European and Asian markets.
Once again, environmentalists piled on, including Greenpeace Canada, Équiterre and the David Suzuki Foundation, in addition to Innu leaders due to its environmental impact. Their opposition clearly worked and in July, the Quebec government pulled the plug on the project. “This project has more disadvantages than advantages” and was economically “risky,” environment minister Benoit Charette explained why the LNG plan was rejected by the provincial cabinet.
A study by the International Reference Center for Life Cycle of Products, Services and Systems. concluded the plant would emit the equivalent of 704 kilotonnes (704,000 tonnes) of carbon dioxide per year. But GNL Québec said its project would instead reduce the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions because it would replace more polluting sources of energy, including coal.
Carl Laberge, President of Port de Saguenay, said he was disappointed in the cancellation. “It is extremely difficult to develop significant industrial projects in 2021,” he wrote in an email, adding the Port would keep working to attract new projects. “With the death of the Energy East pipeline in 2017, the setback of Goldboro LNG (processing facility, storage tanks and marine works in Nova Scotia) and the rejection of GNL Québec, we can finally look forward to a future without new pipelines in la belle province,” a coalition of environmental groups said in a statement. What’s next?
The mayor of Quebec, Régis Labeaume, said the Laurentia container terminal project should have been more environmentally friendly. He reiterated that the city will encourage promoters of major projects to “analyze their projects according to the UN’s sustainable development objectives. “Maybe if the Port of Quebec had set itself the objective of passing through the filter of the UN’s sustainable development objectives, maybe it could have been given a different result.”
The port of will conduct an in-depth analysis of the federal government’s decision in the coming months to support the port’s future growth in service of the community and the economies of Québec and Canada, said Mr. Girard. The decision does not block future potential work at the port, but any new projects will be assessed under the new Impact Assessment Act, which replaced the previous assessment tool in 2019, the federal government said.
As for the Saguenay LNG project, the Quebec Energy Association is challenging the government’s decision. It accuses the Office of Public Audience on the Environment of not having sufficient expertise to assess global markets and criticizes the government because of its lack of conviction that risks scaring away future investors. “The rejection of the LNG Quebec project leaves a bitter taste for the Quebec Energy Association, which believes that the Quebec government is largely responsible for this abandonment due to its indecision. “We also fear that this story will scare away foreign investors. The failures of Rabaska (LNG terminal project in Levis), Cacouna (ferry terminal) and more recently Énergie Est and the expansion of the Port of Quebec will leave foreign investors with a bad impression which from the outset limits their potential interest.”