ENVS 3430 Study Guide - Midterm Guide: Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, Intergenerational Equity, Oil Sands
Course CodeENVS 3430
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- Discuss environmental assessment from a critical/analytical perspective. What
potential roles can EA play? What are some characteristics or recurring problems
or shortcomings in EA processes? What are possible solutions? In your answer,
refer to the course textbook, lectures, films, and some examples discussed in
class. Your answer should address at least the following themes or concepts:
significance, uncertainty, complexity, alternatives, sustainability, and equity
– INTEGRATIVE ESSAY QUESTION – draw from all the material
mentioned – to get an A ON THIS QUESTION YOU WILL HAVE TO
MAKE A GOOD ARGUMENT AND BE COHERENT, PERSAUSIVE AND
WELL WRITTEN AND – pithy and concise - SOPHISTICATED – YOU
HAVE THE QUESTION SO EXECUTE IT – RHETORIC
-TWO OTHER QUESTIONS WORTH 5 EACH – should expect that these 2
5 point questions will focus on material from last week and this week 9, 10,
(In your example refer to everything possible)
Does EA work?
Example of when EA has successfully stopped, slowed down, or mitigated a project
include the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, where the Berger inquiry happened, which shows
us that EA can be effective if done right with the right amount of political interest and
public support. Eventually helped form the MVRMA and MVEIRB.
Examples where EA has failed include the Alberta Oil Sands deal shell made with the
Mikasew people, which has drastically altered and basically wasted the entire landscape
there, making it impossible for these people to survive. Goals of EA include: predicting
impacts, negating or minimizing impacts, and ensuring as much possible about
environmental damage through development is known. What’s notable about this is that
Environmental Assessment did occur, but Shell was the proponent and did it themselves,
and their “linkage diagram” was used to show that the impact they had was acceptable.
•Flaws in expertise
•General misuse of EIA (doing a simple soil test and calling it a full EIA)
•Not using all steps/processes (of the 3 classes, most projects just get screening,
rarely a comprehensive study or review panel)
•Alternatives often concerned but not taken (Mackenzie Gas)
•“build it and forget about it syndrome”
Steps in generic EIA Process: Description, Screening, Scoping, Impact prediction/eval,
Impact mgmt, Review, Follow up.
Overall, EIA has the potential to successfully mitigate or even completely stop
developments and processes that would have negative impacts (either short term or long
term) on the environmental and social aspects of the surrounding area. Potential is a key
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word here, because EA is only successful with the right amount of public interest and
How to improve on current EIA processes:
•Create a hybridized screening mechanism, one that uses more than just checklists
or matricies, but a mix of things
•Broaden focus of impact management
•Increased use of follow up programs
Arguably the biggest flaw of Environmental Assessment is that it is just a tool that the
proponent or other decision makers can use and it is not really binding in any way. This
means for example that, say there was development happening on an area of significance
(VEC) or otherwise. The likely situation would be that public opinion would be strong
and that an EIA would happen, with the possibility of a review panel and follow up
discussions. However, at the end of the day, this is just something for the proponent and
legal jurisdictions to look at, and they could simply write it off or consider it not
significant enough have any affect on the actual development.
Significance: Choosing how important something is (controversial because it makes
things more or less important than each other). Significance plays a hugely important part
in EA and can be seen as both useful and flawed because land is significant, but so is say
money, so choosing between the two causes issues. In the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, the
land and it’s rights to the native communities there was deemed more significant the
possible positives in the development, whereas in the Oil sands the reverse is seen.
Uncertainty: Holy shit this is a landmark concept. The idea of uncertainty means that
you’ll never be sure of what will happen socially and biophysically to the landscape. This
means a) you avoid touching it or b) you do some sort of prep and have a plan to fix it
after. In Mac, Berger’s commission recommended that sanctuaries be built to protect
endangered species and what not, in prep for uncertainty. In Alberta, the companies say
they can set the environment back to natural after they’ve taken all the oil, but that’s b.s.
and uncertainty principle is playing like no part.
The benefits of EIA can be direct, such as the improved design or location of a
project, or indirect, such as better quality EIA work or raised environmental
awareness of the personnel involved in the project. In these cases, there will be
with flow-on effects in their future work. As mentioned above, these potential
gains from EIA increase the earlier the process is applied in the design process.
In general the benefits of EIA include:
•Better environmental planning and design of a proposal. Carrying out an EIA
entails an analysis of alternatives in the design and location of projects.
This can result in the selection of an improved technology, which lowers
waste outputs or an environmentally optimum location for a project. A
well-designed project can minimise risks and impacts on the environment
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and people, and thereby avoid associated costs of remedial treatment or
compensation for damage.
•Ensuring compliance with environmental standards. Compliance with
environmental standards reduces damage to the environment and disruption
to communities. It also avoids the likelihood of penalties, fines and loss of
trust and credibility.
•Savings in capital and operating costs. EIA can avoid the undue costs of
unanticipated impacts. These can escalate if environmental problems have
not been considered from the start of proposal design and require
rectification later. An ‘anticipate and avoid’ approach is much cheaper than
‘react and cure’. Generally, changes which must be made late in the project
cycle are the most expensive.
•Reduced time and costs of approvals of development applications. If all
environmental concerns have been taken into account properly before
submission for project approval, then it is unlikely that delays will occur as
a result of decision-makers asking for additional information or alterations
to mitigation measures. Increased project acceptance by the public.
This is achieved by an open and transparent EIA process, with provision of
opportunities for public involvement of people who are most directly affected by
and interested in the proposal, in an appropriate way that suits their needs.
Environmental impact assessment is the formal process used to predict the
environmental consequences (positive or negative) of a plan, policy, program, or project
prior to the decision to move forward with the proposed action. Formal impact
assessments may be governed by rules of administrative procedure regarding public
participation and documentation of decisionmaking, and may be subject to judicial
review. An impact assessment may propose measures to adjust impacts to acceptable
levels or to investigate new technological solutions.
The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that decision makers consider the
environmental impacts when deciding whether or not to proceed with a project. The
International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) defines an environmental impact
assessment as "the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the
biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major
decisions being taken and commitments made." EIAs are unique in that they do not
require adherence to a predetermined environmental outcome, but rather they require
decision makers to account for environmental values in their decisions and to justify
those decisions in light of detailed environmental studies and public comments on the
potential environmental impacts.
At the end of the project, an audit evaluates the accuracy of the EIA by comparing actual
to predicted impacts. The objective is to make future EIAs more valid and effective. Two
primary considerations are:
•Scientific - to examine the accuracy of predictions and explain errors
•Management - to assess the success of mitigation in reducing impacts
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