Crews have begun their field work related to the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

From examining vegetation, soils and wetlands to observing and documenting fish and wildlife habitat, the field programs include a wide range of activities. More than 30 environmental and socio-economic studies will be carried out in 2012 and 2013 along the Trans Mountain Pipeline system from Edmonton to the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby.

The goal of each field program is to collect environmental information that will be included in the Trans Mountain Expansion Project’s application to the National Energy Board.

Jason Smith is a senior environmental planner working on the field programs. He explains what’s involved when crews conduct their field work.

Q: What is the scope of the field program?

This year, the environmental field programs will span the length of the pipeline. Studies include rare plant surveys, wetland identification and classification, terrain ecosystem mapping, wildlife surveys, fish and fish habitat survey, heritage resource studies. Air and noise monitoring systems will also be set up. In 2013, the studies will include all those completed this year as well as soils, water quality, view shed modelling, palaeontology, species at risk and vegetation.

Q: How and when do crews conduct their work?

Most environmental field programs take place from April to September. But some work may be done in the winter. For example, fish studies involve a survey of overwintering fish and fish habitat. Winter track surveys are best completed after a fresh snowfall. Other studies such as rare plant surveys are done in spring or late summer when the plants are flowering and most noticeable. Soils surveys are typically conducted after harvest.

Q: What in particular are the crews looking for?

The goal of each field program is to achieve the National Energy Board filing requirements as well as all provincial, regional and municipal standards for survey and data collection. Some examples of wildlife surveys include breeding bird surveys, amphibian surveys, nocturnal bat surveys and winter track surveys.  Wetlands will be mapped and classified and we’ll be looking for the nature and type of plants within the proposed expansion project area. Marine environmental studies at the Westridge Marine Terminal will help assess the marine sediments, invertebrates, vegetation, mammals, birds, and fish species. The project is also hoping to work closely with Aboriginal groups to gather traditional knowledge information.

Q: Do you actually count the number and types of wildlife that live along the pipeline?

Yes, for select areas within the proposed expansion project area we will conduct species counts. We use Geographic Information Systems and available information combined with helicopter over flights, aerial and satellite photography and comprehensive data models to help us identify sensitive and representative areas we need to visit to complete detailed species counts of wildlife, fish and plants.

Q: What will be done with the information that’s collected through the field programs?

Numerous technical reports will be compiled. These reports will be included in the Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment that is filed with the National Energy Board as part of the Trans Mountain comprehensive Facilities Application for the proposed expansion project. Mitigation strategies and management plans will be developed in discussions with regulators, Aboriginal groups and stakeholders to help minimize the potential effects of the project on the environment. All of these reports will be posted on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project and National Energy Board websites once the final application is submitted in late 2013

As a senior environmental planner and director at TERA, Jason Smith has successfully managed several high profile, federally-regulated projects including the Alaska Pipeline Project, the award-winning Kinder Morgan TMX – Anchor Loop and Pump Station Expansion projects and the Georgia Strait Crossing (GSX) Pipeline Project. Smith has been responsible for several environmental assessments completed under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and British Columbia (BC) Park Act.