Backgrounder: Environmental Assessment
1. What is an environmental assessment?
An environmental assessment (EA) is a review of the effects likely to be associated with a project, their impacts on the environment, and the possible mitigations available to reduce the impacts of those effects. In addition, an EA includes an assessment of how those remaining impacts may act cumulatively with other residual effects in the area. An EA also includes an assessment of the significance of any remaining effects, after mitigation. This assessment is completed before the Board makes a decision or recommendation to approve or deny a project application.
2. What does the NEB consider during an environmental assessment?
The NEB assesses and considers environmental and socio-economic effects and their impacts for all facility projects regardless of the legislation under which the NEB is conducting the EA (e.g., the National Energy Board Act (NEB Act), the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act or the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012)).
For example, an application to construct and operate a major NEB-regulated pipeline requires a CEAA 2012 EA. The Board’s EA process fully complies with the CEAA 2012. Though a smaller project may not fall under the CEAA 2012, the NEB will still conduct a comprehensive and detailed EA as a part of its public interest mandate under the NEB Act.
In an EA, the NEB considers all related impacts, including impacts on:
- physical and meteorological environment, including impacts on air quality and the level of GHG emissions of the project,
- soil, soil productivity and vegetation,
- wetlands, water quality and quantity,
- fish, wildlife, and their habitat,
- species at risk or species of special status and related habitat,
- heritage resources,
- traditional land and resource use, and
- human health, aesthetics and noise.
3. How is an EA conducted?
Companies are required to carry out an environmental and socio-economic impact assessment and file it with the Board as part of a complete application. A complete list of what the NEB requires from its regulated companies regarding environmental and socio-economic impact assessments for proposed projects can be found in chapter 4 of the NEB Filing Manual.
In the environmental and socio-economic impact assessment, a company is required to file information explaining how the proposed project will affect the environment and people and what measures it will take to avoid causing harm to the environment and people. The Board encourages companies to work with Indigenous groups in the project area and use traditional knowledge to inform the companies’ environmental and socio-economic impact assessments. Likewise, companies are expected to engage with organizations or communities in the area to gather local knowledge of the environment.
Once the environmental and socio-economic impact assessment is filed, it will be thoroughly assessed by NEB environmental and socio-economic specialists. This includes ensuring that it covers the appropriate issues in sufficient detail, testing the analysis and conclusions within the assessment and seeking additional information [see “Testing of evidence at the NEB” for further information]. At the end of the project assessment, the Board issues its own EA of the project, which contains the Board’s assessment of the environmental effects of the proposed project and its conclusions, as well as the conditions it will impose and the required follow-up programs, should the project be approved.
The NEB has decades of experience in considering potential environmental effects when making its regulatory decisions. Environmental aspects have been considered in Board decisions under the NEB Act since the early 1970’s. In addition, the Board has been conducting EAs under the CEAA 2012 and its predecessor legislation since it first came into force in 1995.
The NEB employs many environment, socio-economic, lands and engagement specialists. These specialists carry out environmental and socio-economic assessments, environmental inspections, audits of environmental management systems, lands administration, and work to resolve landowner complaints.
4. How is the Public Involved in the EA?
The NEB expects companies to consult with all those who are potentially directly impacted by a project. Depending on the project, that could mean carrying out an extensive consultation program or simply notifying landowners. When a company submits its application and its environmental and socio-economic impact assessment, it must include information on who was consulted, what their concerns were, how they were addressed and if they were not addressed, why. Companies must justify the extent of consultation carried out for each project. If the extent of consultation is not adequate, the Board can require companies to take additional steps.
In addition, anyone with relevant information or concerns about the environmental and socio-economic impacts of a project may apply to participate in the assessment process so this information can be considered by the Board. For example, the Board encourages Indigenous participants to include traditional knowledge in their evidence and, if a hearing is held, often includes an opportunity for Indigenous groups to provide oral traditional evidence.
Other federal departments may have valuable information to contribute to the Board’s EA and they are able to share this information through the Board’s assessment process.
After considering all of the information filed as part of the application, as well as the information from its own EA and the evidence submitted during the project assessment from other participants, the Board will impose conditions on any project that is approved. These conditions ensure environmental protection measures will be implemented and will be sufficient.
All project-related documents, including environmental reports submitted by applicants, are available for public viewing on our website or in the NEB library.
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