LNG debate the spark at student enviro law conference

The Environmental Law Society at the University of Calgary was successful in “igniting a spark” when it hosted the 2015 Canadian Association of Environmental Law Societies Conference Feb. 13 and 14 in Calgary.

The main event was a debate on liquid natural gas development in Canada. Featuring Sander Duncanson of Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP and Matt Horne of the Pembina Institute, the debate raised many issues on how to develop the LNG resources in British Columbia while balancing the environmental impact and the competitiveness of the industry in the international LNG market.

The issue of public participation was raised by different panelists as the emerging concern of energy development.

While legislation such as the 2012 Canadian Environmental Assessment Act has streamlined the process of project approval, the reduced amount of public consultation has so far led to more uncertainty in the life cycle of the project. The public tends to use litigation as a tool to voice its concerns when formal avenues of consultation are diminished. In particular, when projects are approved based on their own merit, the cumulative effect of multiple projects in the same region is largely unaccounted for.

Some of the panelists called for the inclusion of human rights, climate change, and aboriginal involvement in project planning to increase the social licence of respective projects. Bee Calliou Schadeck, founder of the Calliou Group, and Phil Fontaine, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, reiterated the commitment of Canada’s First Nations to development, provided that the project is done in a sustainable fashion with the interest of the community in mind.

The panelists also drew attention to emerging risks and opportunities. Biodiversity offsets are one such invention that compensates for wetland lost during development in one location by recreating wetland in a different location. On the other hand, the impact of climate change is posing risks to municipalities regarding their liability towards aging infrastructure and its ability to handle more extreme weather.

Increased shareholder actions in respect to climate change disclosure in securities filing is foreseeable. Moreover, species at risk and the spread of chronic wasting disease caused by prions is leading to a suggestion for greater legislative intervention in Alberta and beyond.

The CAELS Conference has been a Canada-wide student initiative since 2013, with the first two editions hosted by the University of Ottawa. The aim of the conference is to facilitate discourse on environmental and energy law issues of public and academic interest. This year’s conference achieved this goal as students from environmental law societies across Canada gathered with students and? practitioners from many other professional and academic disciplines beyond law for an engaging two days.

While the 2015 conference shifted west, speakers and delegates came to Calgary from across the country including the law faculties of Lakehead University, Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia), McGill, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Victoria, and the host University of Calgary. Other students in attendance came from the University of British Columbia, Laurentian University, University of Waterloo, and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology from disciplines such as mining engineering, environmental technology, public policy, MBA, and sustainable energy development.

Students were not the only attendees; there were almost 25 practitioners who took in the two-day conference. Their backgrounds included practising lawyers, government officials, energy industry professionals, executive directors with non-profit organizations, and more.

The conference organizers would like to thank their event partners for making the 2015 CAELS conference a resounding success, including the Alberta Law Foundation, Shell Experiential Energy Learning Program, and the University of Calgary Faculty of Law.

Scott Allen and Caroline Law are law students at the University of Calgary and part of the CAELS conference organizing committee.

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