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Energy Pipeline Gets Paused For Belugas

The TransCanada Corporation has been forced to put the brakes on an $11 billion pipeline project in an effort to protect beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River.

Last month, environmentalists in Quebec were successful in seeking an injunction from the Quebec Superior Court to halt construction of the natural gas pipeline. Activists argued that fair consideration had not been given to the devastating effects the work could have on the rapidy-declining beluga population, sitting at roughly 1,000 as of last year. The whales are typically known to gather in Cacouna, an area just off the south shore of the river, to give birth and nurse their young calves.

Michel Bélanger, President of Nature Quebec, said the scheduled work is "in the heart of the belugas' vital habitat," and resuming construction activities on the pipeline "could be fatal for them."

TransCanada, based in Calgary, is on the clock to complete major portions of the exploration and drilling operations before ice forms over the river. The Energy East project includes conversion of an existing natural-gas pipeline to an oil transportation pipeline, as well as building a new line from Western Canada through to Quebec and New Brunswick. The pipeline will transfer 1.1 million barrels a day of crude oil to facilities located in the east coast provinces.

Last week, the company submitted a revised plan to the environment ministry of Quebec, outlining strategies for noise reduction, among other considerations, in order to minimize any harmful effects on the whales. Meanwhile, environmentalists are petitioning hard to end construction of the pipeline permanently, having collected approximately 38,000 signatures so far.

The beluga whale population in Canada has suffered a massive decrease over the past century. According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, prior to 1885, there were as many as 10,000 belugas in the St. Lawrence Estuary and Gulf. A commercial whaling ban was instituted in 1979, but reduced food resources, pollution, and habitat degradation caused by humans have prevented any noticeable recovery in the population.