FortisBC is planning to build a high-pressure 24-inch pipeline through Squamish and underneath the estuary to supply natural gas for the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant. Thanks to public outcry, they have recently updated their proposal to avoid major impacts to the Squamish estuary.
However, they have relocated the proposed compressor station to just behind Valleycliffe on Mt Mulligan, roughly 1.8 km from Ravens Plateau, Crumpit Woods, and Valleycliffe, in a direct line-of-sight approximately 400 metres above these neighbourhoods. Compressor stations pressurize the gas so it can move along the pipeline. This compressor station will have a significant impact on the quality of life for people living in these neighbourhoods, and potential impacts on drinking water for all of Squamish.
All possible threats from this compressor station need to be considered carefully, especially given that it is in close proximity to homes, places of employment, schools and playgrounds, and located near the Squamish's drinking water source. Learn more below...
Location of this high-pressure natural gas pipeline and compressor station threatens the safety of Valleycliffe residents, with two schools in or near the 3 km evacuation boundary.
At least one compressor station has exploded in North America every year for the last five years.
The basic evacuation radius is 1.6 km up to 3 km.
Large explosions and resulting damage can wipe out everything for 3+ km.
An explosion or fire at the compressor station or along the pipeline puts the surrounding forest and neighbourhood at risk from wildfire.
In a dry summer, a malfunction or spark will result in an immediate wildfire of about 16 hectares. In these same dry conditions, we expect this wildfire to reach Valleycliffe homes in less than 15 minutes. This time is reduced to less than 5 minutes with a southerly wind.
Noise from the Mount Mulligan compressor station will "sound like a whisper," 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
The proposed compressor station on Mount Mulligan will be powered by three natural gas turbines, which are considerably noisier than compressor stations powered by electric drive. FortisBC staff recently acknowledged at a council meeting that the noise from the compressor station will "sound like a whisper" that will be present 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
FortisBC says it has modeled the noise from the three-compressor combo at Mount Mulligan and predicts it will be "less than 40 decibels" under normal conditions at a point 1.5km away from the compressors. However, these gas-turbine compressors are very similar to jet engines (GE makes them both), and have similar high-pitched whines. With the mountains and rock walls surrounding the site, noise from the compressor station is likely to impact all nearby homeowners, particularly at night when other ambient noise levels are reduced. This has been well documented for the existing Eagle Mountain compressor station in Coquitlam. Unlike Woodfibre LNG, FortisBC are not connecting to the BCHydro 500KV line running close by the compressor station that would have allowed for much quieter (and much less polluting) electric drives to be used.
There will also be occasional "blow-downs" when a gas pipeline is taken offline for maintenance, in the event of emergencies, or to accommodate fluctuating demand. The noise from a "blow-down" is comparable to a commercial jet taking off.
Squamish's noise regulation bylaw states that "No owner or occupier of real property shall use or permit such property to be used so that noise, sound, or vibration emanating from the property disturbs or tends to disturb the quiet, peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort, or convenience of any person or persons in the neighbourhood or vicinity." The noise levels from the proposed compressor station do not comply with this bylaw.
Noise levels from the Mount Mulligan compressor station are unacceptable in such close proximity to residential neighbourhoods, businesses, and schools.
Location of this high-pressure natural gas pipeline and compressor station threatens the safety of Squamish residents
Accidents are fairly rare, but they do happen and when they do the results can be catastrophic causing loss of life, injuries, property damage, and environmental damage. An explosion or fire puts the surrounding forest and neighbourhood at risk from wildfire. Why is this compressor station being proposed in a populated area close to homes and schools? What happens if something goes wrong? What is the emergency response? What will the evacuation area be if there is an explosion or a fire? Previous compressor station accidents have required evacuation within a one-kilometer radius, sometimes for several days at a time. However, a recent accident at a compressor station in Saskatoon required evacuation of everyone within a three-kilometer radius. What is the worst case scenario? How far away will the shut-off valves be? What is the response-time to close the shut-off valves? Shouldn't this compressor station be located in a less-populated area? This risk to human life is unacceptable.
Greenhouse gases and air pollution from the three gas-powered turbines will have cumulative human health impacts
The three 4,700hp gas-turbine compressors proposed for Mt Mulligan would together emit some 27,000 tonnes of GHG's (equivalent to the exhausts of about 6,000 automobiles) per annum, along with significant amounts of carbon monoxide and nitrogen and sulphur oxides (NOx and SO2). Compression stations can release significant amounts of natural gas (methane) via valves and gaskets that weaken and leak from corrosion and thermal stress. Natural gas also contains toxins, including mercaptan, mercury, and hydrogen sulfide. These pollutants are known to cause severe human health impacts, and more in-depth studies need to be completed to determine wind flow patterns and how these pollutants will impact nearby residential areas and schools.
Emissions of NOx and SO2 interact with other compounds to form fine particles, which can affect both the lungs and the heart. Exposure to these particles is linked to increased risk of respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing; decreased lung function; aggravated asthma; onset of chronic bronchitis; irregular heartbeat; nonfatal heart attacks; and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.
A new study published in the scientific journal, Climatic Change, estimates the true social costs of air pollution that aren't accounted for in the cost of fossil fuels and other pollutants. Social costs include the health impacts of air pollution as well as impacts from climate change. The study found that sulfur dioxide costs $42,000 per tonne, and nitrous oxides cost $67,000 per tonne.
"This research shows that we need to transition away from fossil fuels not just to mitigate the risks associated with climate change, but to reduce the economic and health impacts of air pollution in general."
Mt Mulligan compressor station site is in close proximity to Squamish's drinking water sources
The primary source of our community's drinking water comes from the Mamquam watershed's Ring Creek Aquifer, which supplies the Powerhouse Springs wells that are tucked in behind the Stawamus Chief and Valleycliffe. The secondary source intake is the Stawamus River.
The District of Squamish Well Protection Plan oversees our primary water source. The area, designated a Community Water Supply Area, is still relatively protected. Access and area use are fairly limited. Guidelines and regulations call for chemical herbicides to be avoided in transmission corridors and right-of-ways and the use of chemicals to fight fires to be prevented.
A 2014 hydrogeological assessment of the aquifer indicates we currently have a good quantity of water, however our future water security will be affected as follows:
- Climate change may decrease aquifer recharge, for example, as rainfall patterns change, and we have less snowpack to recharge the aquifer. This means we could have less water.
- Resource depletion such as the diversion of water for the Skookum Run-of-River Power Project is expected to reduce aquifer recharge, which again means we will have less water.
- Increased demand to supply our community's growing water needs will require more wells at Powerhouse Springs.
With a future of uncertainty, increase in demand, and possible decrease in aquifer recharge, we're going to need good water governance.
Water governance is largely provincial. Under the Crown, water is to be managed in the public trust for current and future generations. The area is zoned under Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) Official Community Plan bylaws. As a Community Crown Land Interface area, the SLRD/District of Squamish has an opportunity (and a responsibility) to advocate in the stewardship of public assets and the environment. We need to ask the following questions:
- How could any adverse impacts to our water supply be mitigated once the area can be permanently accessed and is opened to a gas compressor station?
- Will FortisBC';s mitigation and best management practices ensure protected water supplies? B.C. community watersheds are experiencing problems, including costly litigation, despite mitigation and best management practices.
- What impacts on our local fire department or provincial wildfire services would there be in the event of a fire or disaster in our Squamish watershed area?
We need a cumulative risk assessment to determine long-term vulnerability to our community water supply.
Property values along pipeline and tanker routes can decrease by 10-40%
Resource development projects, such as pipelines or transiting tankers, have the potential to impact property values. Both direct impacts (following an accident with tankers or pipelines) or the perception of impacts (the possibility that an accident may happen) were clearly linked to reduced property values. Directly impacted properties can devalue by 10-40%, while properties nearby can also see a 5-8% reduction in value. The Environmental Assessment for this project ignored this economic impact, which would adversely affect homeowners and business owners in Valleycliffe, along Finch Drive, and in the Industrial Park, which ultimately impacts DoS finances. No socio-economic impact study has been done that includes the potential devaluation of property as a cost to Squamish homeowners and business owners. What reduction in property values/ compensation for the loss of property value along the pipeline’s path will be offered to affected owners? How will this compensation be determined?
This new location means less taxes for Squamish
The Mount Mulligan compressor station would be sited on crown land outside the District of Squamish (see detailed map), which will need rezoning by SLRD to an industrial designation. FortisBC’s Squamish property taxes are estimated at $107,000 (versus $322,050 in the original proposal).