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The threatened white beluga whales of the St. Lawrence or high-noise pipeline work?

Earlier this month we blogged about Justice Claudine Roy’s decision granting a temporary injunction to environmental groups, blocking Energy East Pipeline Ltd. and TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. from conducting exploratory work in the St. Lawrence River near Cacouna, QC until October 15, when a critical beluga spawning period had passed. The purpose of the project is to study a portion of the sea-bed under the St. Lawrence River to determine where a marine terminal should be built to allow the export of Alberta tar sands oil. The temporary injunction expired on October 15, as scheduled, but the energy companies are still blocked from proceeding, this time by Quebec’s environment ministry.

The Montreal Gazette has reported the ministry as stating that “The company cannot resume its work of seismic tests in Cacouna as long as it hasn’t submitted a proposal judged to be acceptable by the ministry.” Quebec’s environment ministry wants TransCanada to promise in writing to lower the volume of their seismic tests, apparently because TransCanada has disobeyed the government’s rules for the project by using too many boats and exceeding the 120-decibel noise limit.

Hundreds of people protested the project in Cacouna on October 14, the day before the expiration of the court injunction. Environmental groups flew a large, inflatable beluga near the National Assembly and handed over to Quebec Premier, Phillips Couillard, a copy of an online petition, signed by 32,000 individuals seeking to prohibit the project.

Quebec’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Pierre Arcand, has been quoted as saying that the province has a year to assess the pros and cons of the project. Liberal MNA Jean d’Amour, for the riding of Riviere-du-Loup, where the project is located, says that “TransCanada has a communication challenge with the community. And it’s non-negotiable that TransCanada must comply with all requirements.”

In the 1880s, there were as many as 10,000 belugas in the St. Lawrence Estuary and Gulf, but today there are, at most, only 1,000 left.

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