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Delivering Community Power CUPW 2022-2023

Energy producers have an obligation to improve environmental reporting

Environment

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The social and environmental concerns over pipeline economics and oil transportation projects are growing across the continent. After losing the public relations battle with military tactics, the U.S. Army Corps is threatening to “close” the Standing Rock opposition camp to the Dakota Access Pipeline in early December.

Opposition to Canada’s involvement in the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion echo similar environmental protection concerns. It’s unclear why the Liberals were so quiet about the pipeline (which was approved on November 29), despite financial reports claiming the project would be a net job export, and that it could force the Chevron Refinery in Burnaby to shut down. Without clear economic benefit to Canada, justification for the project shifts from questionable to indefensible.

Hydroelectric power, though not without its own sets of social and environmental concerns, harnesses the energy of flowing water, and dams have a large capacity to store that kinetic energy. Unlike solar- and wind-generated electricity, which are both unreliable sources with limited storage capacities, water held by dams is stored energy potential.

The 2016-2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy strives to generate 90 per cent of Canadian electricity from renewable and non-emitting sources. In 2014, 64 per cent of Canada’s electricity came from renewable sources (mainly hydroelectricity), and 80 per cent from ‘non-emitting’ sources, including nuclear. About 10 per cent of electricity generated in Canada is exported to the United States, corresponding to 2 per cent of US consumption.

Yet hydroelectric developers struggle to win over public perceptions in part by not effectively communicating the social and environmental impacts, good and bad, to the public.

Manitoba’s Clean Environment Commission (CEC) recommended that Manitoba Hydro and the Provincial Government improve plain language information and documentation of environmental impact assessment processes related to hydroelectric generating projects.

Oil drilling, transporting, refining and burning is a multi-process, all-in-one environmental disaster. Environmental impact assessments for pipelines are precarious at best due to the dangers of climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.

There is no doubt that hydro development impacts neighbouring communities. Community project engagement is absolutely necessary to all energy projects. However, flooding is a physical process that we have the scientific knowledge to aptly assess, predict and monitor the environmental, social and economic impacts compared to non-renewable, greenhouse gas emitting fuel sources.

When it comes to transporting energy, effects from transmission lines are diminutive compared to oil spills from pipelines or tankers.

Producers of hydroelectricity have the opportunity to sell ‘clean energy’ slogans, but the logic and reasoning can get lost in scientific reports that are not necessarily clear to policymakers or the public.

Public demand for further consideration of environmental concerns from energy producers and transmitters will only continue to grow. Hydroelectricity has major social and environmental advantages as a renewable and non-greenhouse gas emitting energy source, but the industry is not meeting modern standards of corporate social responsibility as far as clearly reporting the planning and monitoring procedures to the public.

As the CEC points out, Manitoba Hydro and the Province are not fully communicating the environmental strengths and weaknesses of hydroelectricity generation in plain language.

The only resolution is a transparent environmental impact assessment process that is more clearly communicated to the public. Growing public concern and government reports show the demand for clear environmental and social impact reporting.

The hydroelectric industry has the opportunity to lead in social and environmental impact assessment, and given that most are Crown Corporations, they have an obligation to do so.

Samuel Swanson is a writer, editor and researcher who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, and a Master of Arts in Cultural Studies from the University of Winnipeg.

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