HALIFAX - A proposed liquefied natural gas plant project on Nova Scotia's east coast cleared a significant hurdle Friday after conditional approval was granted by an environmental panel.
The three-member panel says the plant planned for Goldboro by Calgary-based Pieridae Energy Canada can proceed after it assessed a number of environmental and socio-economic factors including the effects on groundwater and air quality, local marine and terrestrial habitat, the fishery, property values and employment.
"The impacts ... would be minimal to moderate, and should be largely curtailed by the mitigation and management plans proposed by Pieridae, or through those recommended by the panel and interveners," the report states.
But it says the project, which is estimated to cost at least $5 billion, would also result in a number of "residual effects," such as an increase in the province's greenhouse gas emissions by about 18 per cent above 2010 levels by 2020. It says a number of fisheries in the general area would be compromised as well.
In addition to the LNG facility, the project also includes a 180 megawatt gas-fired power plant, a water supply intake and pipeline for a potable water supply from a nearby lake, and a marine wharf and jetty. The jetty would extend into Isaac's Harbour, which includes habitat for lobster, fish and sea urchins.
The panel says it believes the economic benefits tip the scale in favour of the project's development.
"The panel believes that the risk that the project poses to the environment is largely manageable and that the projectâ€™s ability to contribute to economic prosperity for Guysborough County and Nova Scotia as a whole is extremely significant."
When it was announced in October 2012, Pieridae said the project would employ about 1,500 during its construction phase and about 100 workers once the plant is operational.
Warden Vernon Pitts of Guysborough district said the panel's decision was great news and would result in an economic boost for the area.
"For the economy it means substantial tax revenue, but more so it's the jobs it would entail. We are looking at some high paying jobs and a large number of jobs."
Pitts downplayed any environmental concerns, saying "everything comes at a price."
"Are we willing to pay the price? I think greenhouse gas emissions and the impact on the environment is going to be very minimal at the most," he said.
The report says the Goldboro project is projected to contribute 0.5 per cent of the annual national greenhouse gas emissions for Canada and that provincial emissions and targets must be carefully considered. It says Pieridae argues the increase will be offset in large part by foreign customerâ€™s replacement of coal by the company's natural gas.
In its submission to the panel, the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre says the project proposal should be "dismissed outright" by the Environment Department because its 2020 emissions would make it nearly impossible for Nova Scotia to reduce its overall emissions 10 per cent below 1990 levels by that same year.
Catherine Abreu, the group's energy co-ordinator, said the province needs to look more towards energy-efficiency projects and the renewable energy sector.
"There are alternatives, it isn't a jobs versus the environment situation anymore," said Abreu.
Mark Brown, Pieridae's director of project development, said the company is reserving comment until a final decision is made by the province's environment minister later this month.
That decision is expected by March 24.