Even though the government requested an assessment of the psychological and social consequences associated with the completion of the LNG Quebec project, the proponents did not take these issues into account as part of their impact study, noted The duty. However, the study was deemed admissible by the Ministry of the Environment. An error, according to the specialists consulted, who warn against the effects of such a polarizing project on the Saguenay region.
As part of the first part of the work of the Office of Public Hearings on the Environment (BAPE), two citizens of the Saguenay region tried to obtain answers on the social and psychological repercussions that the construction of this plant could have. gas. They recalled that the Énergie Saguenay project is far from unanimous, but also that it arouses fears among many citizens, in particular because of the consequences on the fjord and on the climate.
A resident of the region, Isabelle Nadeau was one of them. “I would have liked to have had a current state of knowledge about the psychosocial impacts of this project, to learn more about the possible risks,” she explains, worried about the project.
The chairman of the BAPE commission, Denis Bergeron, however, told him that no expert could answer his questions at this time. “We’re a little busy, because there is no person from Public Health” present at the hearings, he said. “Public Health has not been invited as a resource person so far. However, the commission will question him following the concerns expressed, ”the organization subsequently confirmed.
In the absence of independent experts, Mr. Bergeron gave the floor to GNL Quebec, which admitted that these issues were not included in the impact study. “We did not directly assess the psychosocial impacts. However, as a responsible company and a regional team, we see that the project is polarizing and can generate this type of impact, ”explained Stéphanie Fortin, Senior Director, Public Affairs and Community Relations.
“As a respectful promoter rooted in his region, we have made a commitment to continue to ensure close follow-up with the community, at all stages to come as part of the project. The evaluation process is ongoing and will allow us to continue to define the actions to be taken in this direction, which will be announced in due course, ”she added, by email.
However, the assessment of these repercussions should have been part of the study submitted by the proponent. It must be said that it is based on a “directive” issued by the Ministry of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change (MELCC). This specifies “the requirements and objectives”, but also the information that must be provided.
In the case of Saguenay Energy, this directive, released in December 2015, included requirements related to psychosocial impacts, presented as “consequences (reactions, actions), whether positive or negative, resulting from the perception that have the people and social groups of a project (eg: satisfaction, well-being, relief, stress, anxiety, anger, avoidance or avoidance behaviors, fatigue, insomnia, depression, etc.) ”.
The document asked GNL Quebec to assess “the impacts on social cohesion (tensions and social conflicts caused by the project or, conversely, strengthening of social links through community mobilization) and the psychosocial consequences associated with this type of repercussions (feeling of anger, pride, helplessness, insecurity, isolation, etc.) ”. It also specified the need to examine the effects on “daily life” and “quality of life” of the population of the region.
This was not done, but the study was still deemed complete by the MELCC in February 2020. According to references provided to Duty by the ministry, the psychosocial consequences were assessed, but for “light and visual pollution” generated by the site of the gas plant for residents who live near the premises. “Information and consultation” procedures are also planned by the promoter, in particular for “cohabitation” with the tourist industry.
This absence of several elements included in the MELCC directive does not surprise Geneviève Brisson, a specialist in environmental and social assessments who worked for 10 years at the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ) as coordinator of the team associated with environmental assessments. ” It does not surprise me. The study can be judged more broadly admissible, ”she said, drawing on what has been done in other industrial projects.
This omission of psychosocial consequences is, however, a mistake, she says. “Just as there are impact studies on fauna, flora and air quality, there must also be a very detailed section on the psychological and social impacts. Its very important. Humans are not just about their physical health. But for now, that’s a bit left to the discretion of the promoters. And when they don’t, we end up with problems afterwards ”, explains Mme Brisson, who is now a professor in the Societies, Territories and Development Department at the University of Quebec at Rimouski.
In light of the division that the LNG Quebec project is already creating, Geneviève Brisson believes that it risks having very concrete consequences. “On an individual level, you can expect to see people in distress at the presence of a project they did not want. Their opposition can lead them to exhaustion. Some may also lose confidence in the authorities, because they think that everything is decided in advance. But it is at the social level that the elements are most deleterious. There is a lot of polarization. It will result in divisions in clans which no longer communicate on several subjects. “
A specialist in assessing the social consequences and the social acceptability of major projects, Marie-Ève Maillé also warns against evacuating certain issues. “Such a project, with well-paid jobs, can put a lot of pressure on the environment and the already existing social inequalities. It can have impacts that must be evaluated, because big projects make winners and losers. And whatever the outcome, it risks creating divisions among citizens, and therefore affecting the social fabric and the health of all, ”explains the one who is also an associate professor at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Well-being, health, society and the environment of UQAM.
Scientific advisor to the INSPQ, Emmanuelle Bouchard-Bastien considers that the assessment of the psychosocial consequences of Saguenay Energy is difficult, because the overall project to export Alberta natural gas has been “fragmented” by the promoter, the Société en GNL Quebec sponsorship. There is indeed the factory and shipping, which are assessed by the BAPE. But there is also the gas pipeline project. This will be evaluated subsequently, possibly once Quebec has approved the plant.
“Public health is a little caught in this straitjacket”, according to Mme Bouchard-Bastien. The promoter must therefore assess “very local” benefits. “The whole part of the pipeline is not assessed. This is a problem to fully understand the psychosocial impacts of the project, “she emphasizes.
With or without the gas pipeline, Isabelle Nadeau is worried. “The project divides the community. Personally, I find it difficult to live. When I go for a walk along the fjord, you see a unique setting that you cannot find elsewhere. So, it makes me angry to think that the scenery will be disrupted by the passage of LNG carriers, in addition to the impacts for belugas and for the climate. “