People passionate about nature

Nature Manitoba protests proposed peat mining development in Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park

Sun Gro Horticulture Canada Ltd. is proposing to develop the Hay Point Bog to mine peat for the production horticultural peat products. The bog is located in Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park and covers an area of approximately 531 ha.  Before granting this proposal an environmental license, Manitoba Conservation is soliciting public input with a deadline of February 3, 2012.

What follows is the text of Nature Manitoba’s submission to Manitoba Conservation. This project is an environmental catastrophe in the making and every effort must be made to stop it. Please take some time to make your own views known to the government using, if you wish, some of the arguments presented in our brief. The contact person at Manitoba Conservation is Darrell Ouimet at Darrell.ouimet@gov.mb.ca, (945-7067)

"A park is a park is a park"
Gary Doer, Premier of Manitoba, Nov 2008

Environmental Assessment and Licensing Branch (Att: Darrell Ouimet)

Hay Point Peat Mine Development     #5548.00

There are two major considerations to weigh when assessing the proposal of Sun Gro to mine peat in Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park. The first is whether peat mining should be permitted at all in Manitoba, much less encouraged, and the second is whether this kind of activity has any place in a provincial park.

We would submit that peat mining has no place in an economy that seeks sustainability with a minimum production of greenhouse gases. Peat mining is one of the worst imaginable economic activities for the production of such gases. Peat is one of the most important carbon stores on the planet. In Manitoba, our peatlands represent a 10,000-year accumulation of carbon. Mining a peat bog will, over the course of a few decades, release all this carbon back into the atmosphere.

Peat mining incompatible with climate change targets

All over the world responsible governments who are serious about climate change are working towards the reduction or elimination of this harmful industry. A case in point is the United Kingdom, a country which has a centuries-old tradition of peat mining, and well-established companies involved in this activity.  This year, the UK is closing down this industry entirely, in spite of the fact that the country is in dire economic straits and desperately needs the jobs and income that peat mining provides.

Why are they doing this? Because they have come to realize that the release of greenhouse gases through peat mining nullifies the expensive reductions in greenhouse gases being made in other areas of the British economy. Yet Manitoba, with its stated objective of respecting its Kyoto commitments, does the exact reverse. Something is very wrong with this picture.

Is a park no longer a park?

It boggles the mind that the Manitoba government would even consider allowing such a destructive activity to take place within the boundaries of a provincial park. In 2008, when Premier Gary Doer announced the phase-out of forest activity in all of Manitoba's parks save one, he summarized his government's position with the bold declaration: "a park is a park is a park." Yet peat mining is infinitely more destructive than forestry.

A forestry operation covering a similar area of the one proposed here would be over in a matter of weeks and, with replanting, the regrowth would begin almost immediately to once again sequester the carbon lost through clearcutting. On the other hand, peat mining would take place over 45 years. During this time, the ecological services provided by the peat bog, including providing habitat for one of the widest diversities of plant and animal life in Manitoba as well as water filtration services for our lakes, would come to a complete halt.

Not a sustainable industry 

Even using the best so-called "restoration" activities post-mining, it takes approximately 30 years for the bog to start storing carbon again. It will take thousands of years for it to recapture all the greenhouse gases released as a result of the mining operation. Peat mining is NOT a sustainable or a renewable industry.

A modern economy, as presently constituted, requires oil and gas, mineral resources such as copper and nickel, and trees. A modern economy has no need for peat moss. There are readily available, equally effective, and no more expensive substitutes for horticultural peat moss.

Environmental Assessment biased and unreliable

KGS Group has prepared a so-called "environmental assessment report" for submission to Manitoba Conservation as required by the Manitoba Environment Act. We have reviewed this report. One does not need to read very far to discover that it has been bought and paid for by the proponent. There is not even a pretense of objectivity when, on page 10, one can read the following: "The purpose of the proposed development is to continue to provide quality peat-based growing media products to meet the demand of our distribution network in over 40 countries worldwide." Our?

The entire report is replete with industry spin and propaganda, including repeated references to "harvesting" peat. This is industry-speak in order to suggest a renewable resource, which peat most certainly is not. One can no more "harvest" peat than one can "harvest" copper or nickel. 

The KMG Report barely deals with the most harmful effect of the proposal which is the release of greenhouse gases (GHG). It provides no context for its affirmations and makes no reference to ongoing discussions in the United Nations and in the European Union on the subject. The report states that post-mining decomposition accounts for 71% of the production of greenhouse gases, but then makes the following affirmation on page 25: "However, GHG emissions from decomposition are associated with the end use and should not be attributed to the producer."  That's akin to an accused who states that, while he did fire the gun, he cannot be held responsible for what happened to the bullet after it left the barrel.

The report then makes its GHG calculations based on only 29% of gas releases and expresses that as a percentage of total greenhouse gases emitted throughout Canada to come up with a ludicrously small number, thereby concluding that the proposal would have no harmful effects. Using this methodology, no industrial activity on earth could ever be considered to have a harmful effect on the environment. The KMG report is completely biased and unprofessional and should not form the basis for any decision on this proposal.

If the Manitoba government allows this project to proceed, it will constitute a de facto abandonment of its own stated objectives with respect to the reduction of greenhouse gases. If it were to allow such landscape and habitat destruction to proceed inside a provincial park, one would have to reword former Premier Doer's statement to read: "a park is a park is a park, unless it is an industrial park."