Sunday, August 19, 2007

Eco-Hero or Eco-Ego vol. 6 - Lt-Col Malcom Bruce

"Militant" environmentalist or consumate professional?

It's been known for quite a while that Canada's natural gas reserves are diminishing.

That being said, every commodity is limited in its value. Natural gas is no different.

At the same time, there are some things that are unlimited in value. Rare plants and endangered species can be counted among this.

It's on this note that one has to consider the absurdity of the conflict between Calgary-based EnCana energy and the Canadian Military over the protection of the Suffield National Wildlife Area, a stretch of grassland that is home to endangered species such as the burrowing owl and kangaroo rat.

Yet one has to also consider the absurdity of the position that Lieutenant Colonel Malcom Bruce has found himself in. As the commanding officer of CFB Suffield, a Canadian Forces training base in the area, Malcom has been charged with the protection of the Suffield National Wildlife Area. This despite the fact that it shouldn't be his job.

"I am mandated, if you will, to look after the environment down here," Bruce said. "It's part of our departmental responsibility as assigned by Environment Canada, and therefore I set it as one of the highest priorities in the base."

Apparently Environment Canada has the authority to assign the military to do something that is Environment Canada's job. Only in Canada.

This being said, one has to admire Bruce for a quality that one so seldom finds outside the military. Perhaps protecting the Suffield National Wildlife Area shouldn't be his job. But he does it anyway.

Bruce's commitment stems from the commitment shared by his predecessor, "my predecessor Dan Drew has quite frankly re-established the need for us to get more involved and more proactive. He was very vocal about it and he put us back on the right road."

As it stands, CFB Suffield is noted to have done a fantastic job of training in the area while avoiding any negative environmental impact. "Military activity on the range has minimal impact because we do stringent environmental assessments so we know when is the best time to train on different areas at different climates."

Naturally, as a user of the area, CFB Suffield is responsible for the environmental impact of its own activities, and the onus in on them to ensure they minimize environmental impact.

But Environment Canada should be responsible for the protection of the area the rest of the time, even if that entails coordinating their activities with the military on the live-fire training base.

As for EnCana, they, like any other respectable energy company, are known for the lengths they go to to minimize their environmental impact. However, if the operation of 1,300 new gas wells could be planned around the seasons and the behaviourial habits of the area's wildlife, it could be justified. Because these operations -- the monitoring and servicing of the wells, in particular, can't be planned as such, it simply isn't worth the risk.

There are other -- albeit more expensive -- options available to EnCana, such as directional drilling from outside the protected area. While this would necessitate the drilling of fewer wells, it would at least offer EnCana the opportunity to tap these reserves.

As for Lt-Col Malcom Bruce, his dedication to something that shouldn't be fully his responsibility is admirable, perhaps even -- dare one say it -- heroic.

As such, Lt-Col Bruce should be allowed to take his rightful place among the ranks of the eco-heroes.

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