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Report says Kitimat, B.C., airshed can accommodate oil, gas, smelter industries

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VANCOUVER - Kitimat's air, water, land and residents can handle prospective oil, gas and aluminum industry expansions in the area, says a British Columbia Environment Ministry report released Friday.

Environment Minister Mary Polak said the government-funded, independent report concludes that with the proper management, Kitimat's airshed can safely accommodate industrial growth.

Polak said as long as companies use world-leading emission standards, sulphur and nitrogen oxide levels will be significantly reduced and industrial expansion can be managed.

The airshed assessment looked at Rio Tinto Alcan's existing smelter and its upgrade project, a proposed oil refinery, four proposed liquefied-natural-gas facilities, the BC Hydro gas turbine facility, and the predicted increase in marine shipping.

"The study tells us that with proper management there is significant capacity in the Kitimat airshed to safely accommodate industrial growth, while still protecting human health and the environment," said Polak at a news conference. "This report is helping shape management strategies to protect air quality, human health and our overall environment."

Scientists and environmentalists have expressed concerns about emissions from the proposed LNG plants in Kitimat, which is located in a tunnel-like valley, near Douglas Channel, and off the north coast.

Last fall, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, an environmental organization concerned about wild salmon, released a report that estimated three proposed Kitimat LNG plants will burn 2.5 times more natural gas than is consumed in Metro Vancouver annually.

The Liberal government provided $650,000 last October to study industrial development in the area and the potential impacts of air pollution.

That prompted Prof. Douw Steyn of the University of B.C.'s earth, oceans and atmospheric sciences department, to state that business, government and the community must have a better idea of the area's environmental capabilities before massive development occurs.

Clean Energy Canada spokeswoman Merran Smith said burning natural gas to make LNG elevates levels of air pollutants that create acid rain and worsens asthma and respiratory illnesses.

Smith said Kitimat's pollution problems would be greatly reduced if the government required the proposed LNG plants to use electric power instead of natural gas.

"If the industry moves forward with proposals to build gas-fired LNG plants in Kitimat, more people are at greater risk of getting sick more often," said Smith in a statement.

"Proponents can largely eliminate this threat — reducing air emissions by 70 per cent — by powering their plants with electric drives running on locally generated, renewable energy. Industry needs to step up to the plate. Kitimat already has a smog problem. There is simply no need to make it worse."

Polak said the study focused on nitrogen and sulphur oxide emissions and did not examine potential greenhouse gas emissions associated with the proposed LNG plants. She said plans to measure and control GHG emissions associated with global warming will be in other government reports and initiatives, but she did not elaborate.

The airshed report examined potential health and environmental impacts in the area surrounding Kitimat, Kitamaat Village, Gitg'at, Hartley Bay and Terrace.

Polak said the report found low environmental impacts associated with nitrogen dioxide levels, but some increased levels of sulphur dioxide soil contamination and the potential danger of acidification in seven of the area's more than 300 lakes.

B.C.'s lone Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver said the study indicates that increases in sulphur and nitrogen oxides will create human-health hazards.

He said the government is trying to protect its LNG goals by downplaying the report's findings.

"They are trying to paint what is actually a dire conclusion in good light to avoid undermining their LNG dreams," Weaver said in a statement.

"The study undeniably concludes that if you put four LNG plants into Kitimat you will have critical impacts on human health."

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