VANCOUVER - British Columbia's environment minister disputes environmentalists' claims that a new law threatens the future of provincial parks by allowing oil and gas and logging companies to conduct industrial development.
The groups delivered a petition Wednesday to the B.C. government calling for the repeal of the legislation, which was introduced in March.
Angus Wong of Vancouver-based Sum of Us hosted the petition. He said it was signed by 166,000 people, suggesting there is a level of anger against the province, which is being accused of selling parks to big companies.
The legislation permits the removal of park land for exploratory research and allows for commercial filming in parks.
Nine environmental groups behind the petition say the government rammed through the legislation with little debate and no public consultation.
Peter Wood, of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said more than 30 parks have already been earmarked for boundary adjustments for industrial purposes, according to information obtained by a law firm through a freedom-of-information request late last year.
He said 10 of the parks are related to oil-and-gas giant Kinder Morgan, which is proposing a twin pipeline from Alberta to B.C., in order to nearly triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline.
Environment Minister Mary Polak said the environmentalists' claims about industrial development are incorrect.
"There is no change to the park-boundary adjustment policy, absolutely zero," she said. "There's nothing that has made it easier to change boundaries, nothing."
Polak said that while industrial development is allowed in parks, "no drilling, no mining, no forestry, no transmission lines, no gas wells, none of that is allowed in B.C.'s provincial classic parks, none of it."
However, Wood called Polak's comments "standard spin," saying the government pushed the legislation through because it had already issued five permits to Kinder Morgan in late 2013.
Polak acknowledged the lack of public consultation in the legislature in March.
"The reason we brought forward the amendment, and I would say one of the reasons that the consultation has not been aggressive or thorough on this, is that we are seeking to ensure that we have the statutory authority for things that up until now we took for granted that we did," she said, according to Hansard legislature records.
"We've been advised that the granting of the permits as we have done likely would not stand the test of a (court) review, and therefore, we need to amend the Park Act to ensure that we can continue on with what we have been doing but with the statutory authority so that we would not be in a case where either the granting of or the denial of the application for a permit could be successfully challenged and overturned based on our lack of authority."
Wood said his group and other environmentalists are concerned that the permits were issued without any legal authority.
"There were 10 parks that have boundary-adjustments proposed and there were five parks that have permits issued to conduct industrial research," he said.
"The case is clear that the changes are being felt right now and there are boundary adjustments being proposed to accommodate the Kinder Morgan line today," he said.
"For example, if they wanted to go through a provincial park to access an LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminal, previously they would have had to pass a test whereby they wouldn't even be allowed into the park to conduct research. With this new policy industrial research can take place that can be used to inform boundary changes and that's a very specific exemption that is within the law."
The permits apply to parks from the Alberta border — where Kinder Morgan's proposed twin pipeline enters — through to Chilliwack, B.C., and nearby Bridal Falls, Wood said.
Kinder Morgan's pipeline currently moves about 300,000 barrels of Alberta bitumen and other petroleum products daily, but the company has applied to twin its pipeline and move as much as 890,000 barrels daily.
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