The long path towards transparency

This February, I read an article from Science Magazine on the issues of open record laws. It was interesting that the attempt to integrate transparency into the scientific community has led to harassment of researchers. This happens in the form of incessant communication (via meetings, calls, requests, emails), legal battles and lawsuits [1]. Is this what transparency brings to EIA? Is that what scares proponents away from being transparent?

Transparency is a concept that can improve decision-making. In several of my graduate classes, we can have eternal discussions on the importance of transparency in environmental impact assessments (EIA). We have seen cases where transparency was needed, or how it could improve the EIA process. Transparency was lacking in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant project, which led to unquestioned and uninformed decisions, resulting in the infamous Fukushima disaster [2]. If transparency can improve the credibility and process of EIA, why is it met with so much resistance?

What we need to keep in mind is that peer-reviewed research studies and EIA conclusions are not the same. The audience of peer-reviewed scholarly articles includes other scholars and researchers. An EIA is meant for decision-makers and to inform stakeholders. This is an important distinction. Research papers go through peer-reviewing “as the system for evaluating the quality, validity, and relevance of scholarly research [3].” An EIA report is meant to analyze the impacts of a particular project.

During one class, we discussed a paper by O’Faircheallaigh [4] that looked at the different types and purposes of public participation. It would be interesting to allow these types of public participation to provide controlled opportunities for anyone interested instead of limiting the transparency of the project. We know that there has already been an increase in restraints on public participation with the current CEAA 2012 [5]. We should at least increase transparency.

On March 16, 2015, a story about a Six Nations incinerator project, in Ontario, emerged in the news involving a new “zero emissions” incinerator that was reportedly producing 200 times the acceptable provincial levels of toxins and carcinogens into the environment [6]. On March 19, 2015, the community held a meeting to discuss the issue [7]. Questions were left unanswered, and the inventor of the incinerator, John Kearns, did not even attend the meeting to provide any information [7]. This is an instance in which transparency is needed to decide what to do next, and yet it is lacking.

“So this is good. It’s not bad. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. And we need a lot of sunlight in this troubled world.”

– Don Tapscott on transparency

Questioning the level of transparency for peer-reviewed papers is intended to protect researchers from excessive harassment. What the EIA process has that the research process lacks are the planned opportunities for those with access to the information and data to express their concerns. There are also more members participating in the EIA process compared to the number of members in a research team. We are in an age where this resistance only creates conflict. Proponents are finding it harder to fight transparency, as transparency in everyday life is becoming the norm. We no longer see transparency as a courtesy. It is becoming expected.

The following TEDtalk video has well-known author, management thinker and futurist Don Tapscott discuss where we, as a global community, are headed in terms of transparency:

[1] Kollipara P. 2015. Open records laws becoming vehicle for harassing academic researchers, report warns. In: News: Policy. Science Magazine. Electronically accessed:

[2] Wang Q and Chen X. 2012. Regulatory transparency—How China can learn from Japan’s nuclear regulatory failures? Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 16:3574–3578.

[3] Taylor & Francis Group. 2014. What is peer review? [Website] Taylor & Francis.

[4] O’Faircheallaigh C. 2010. Public participation and environmental impact assessment: Purposes, implications, and lessons for public policy making. Environmental Impact Assessment Review. 30: 19–27.

[5] Gibson RB. 2012. In full retreat: the Canadian government’s new environmental assessment law undoes decades of progress. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal. 30(3):179-188.

[6] Green J. 2015. Six Nations incinerator polluting at up to 200 times Ontario limits. CBC News. March 16, 2015. Electronically accessed:

[7] Green J. 2015. Inventor skips Six Nations meeting about failed incinerator report. CBC News. March 20, 2015. Electronically accessed:


Sustainability: What’s that supposed to mean?

The Importance of Water

Humankind is entirely dependent on water, including for energy. “Water and energy are strongly interlinked: water is required to produce, transport and use all forms of energy to some degree” (UNESCO, 2014, p.12).

Created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Water Development Report (WWDR) ranked Canada among the richest countries in the world for water (UNESCO, 2014). However, this allows for an energy policy that further permits the production of Canadian oil-sands in Alberta, resulting in large amounts of carbon emissions and water use, a policy of which is unsustainable. See the video below for a short explanation of the Alberta oil sands production process.


According to Environment Canada (2014), sustainability is “about improving the standard of living by protecting human health, conserving the environment, using resources efficiently…It requires the integration of environmental, economic and social priorities into policies and programs and requires action at all levels – citizens, industry, and governments.” It follows that “using resources efficiently” and “action” from citizens are important parts of energy policy development. If this is what is meant by sustainability, though, I have problems understanding the relevance of its emphasis throughout Government documents.

The democratic process ceases to exist at the policy level, for example, in Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) sees SEA as a method to evaluate Canadian Energy Policies (CEAA, 2014). According to the CEAA (2014), there are no SEAs that exist at this time nor have there ever been any, regarding Canada’s energy policy. This is not sustainable, since incorporating citizen action at the policy level, according to Environment Canada’s own definition of sustainable, is virtually non-existent.

Oil-sands development has some of the most adverse effects. According to David Harvey of the University of Toronto: “Tar sands oil entails 5-60% more greenhouse gas emissions on a life-cycle basis than conventional oil” (ForestEthics, 2013, p.6).

According to the Canadian Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP), in 2012, the Alberta oil-sands operations alone produced 50,285,958.95 tons/CO2eq. Comparatively, the entire province of Quebec produced 17,765,573 tons/CO2eq for the same year. Furthermore, in Canada, it takes about 7-10 M3 of water to produce 1 M3 of Bitumen, the raw oil-sand from Alberta that still requires further processing into crude oil, which itself requires more energy (NRCAN, 2014). This is not sustainable, since it takes about 7-10 times the amount of water to produce 1 unit (barrel, gallon, litre, etc.) of oil. This is not using resources efficiently.

Even a Life-Cycle Assessment shows treatment disparity between conventional energy (fossil fuels), nuclear and renewables (Ecolateral, 2014).

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.44.44 PM

Sustainability is more like “sustainability”. It is clear that Canadian energy policies do not live up to Canada’s own definition of sustainability, not only by erosion of the democratic process but also by way of one of the most inefficient uses of one of the most precious resources in the world: water, on which all of humankind depends. This is compounded by the exponentially increasing amount of carbon entering the atmosphere every day, the air you and I breath. In any sense of the definition, how does this sound sustainable and in light of these facts, how can we truly believe that our Government is handling our resources in the most sustainable fashion?

For more information on the current politics of fossil-fuel development, please visit:!ep2-carbon/clzn


Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. 2014. The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. Accessed on January 8th, 2014. Available from:

Environment Canada, 2014. Facility GHG emissions by province/territory.

Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

Environment Canada, 2014. Sustainable Development. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

ForestEthics Advocacy, 2013. Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Natural Resources Canada, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

Oil Sands Information Portal, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2014. The United Nations World Water Development Report: Water and Energy. (1).

What is TransCanada’s public participation strategy in Quebec?

[…] to conflate the opening of a browser window with helping to put up yard signs under the single rubric “participation” […] is not only to denigrate actual participation but to promote notions of participation that could easily undermine the very idea. (Unless, the cynic in me wonders, that’s the intention.)” D. Wood [1]

Public participation is required as part of any EIA performed in Canada. However the extent to which it is practiced in a meaningful manner is another story; as described by Arnstein, it can range from manipulation to citizen control. For effective participation, Arnstein argues that we should completely avoid tokenism (and the No power, of course).[2]” alt=”Arnstein Ladder of public participation” />

One of the most important pipeline projects -the Energy East Pipeline project by TransCanada – is currently undergoing an EIA process. Because the project would cross many provincial borders, it has triggered a Federal EIA, but provinces can require the company to comply with their own sets of requirements before allowing the project to go ahead on their lands. The consultation process has already started in Ontario [3], but it hasn’t yet started in Quebec. TransCanada has not provided the necessary information to the BAPE (Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement) andas of February 5, 2015 the BAPE has not been mandated by the Quebec government to perform public consultations [4].

An article by Alexandre Shields (Le Devoir, January 9, 2015) outlined the non-existence of a French version of the documents submitted to the National Energy Board (NEB) relative to the Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed pipeline. The author reported that the NEB (the responsible authority for the project) would not require the proponent to translate the document and would not translate it itself either [5]. This situation is appalling considering the fact that a portion of the pipeline would go through the province of Quebec and that only 36.1% of Quebec’s population (whose first language is French) is bilingual [6]. How can the public properly participate in such a situation? The NEB argues that the information provided on TransCanada’s website is sufficient for the francophones to understand the extent of the project, but as Alexander Shields mentions, the information on the proponent’s website is not verified by the NEB and therefore its exactness cannot be guaranteed [5]. In addition, as is argued by Wood (2010), a critical geographer, displaying information on the web is only suitable for passive public and should never be labeled public participation [7].

Source: EcoWatch - Southern portion of Keystone XL pipeline

The question I ask then is: Considering the heated debate over oil production in Quebec, does TransCanada want to shut down Quebecer’s voices?

The Energy East public relations’ strategy to convince Quebecers to adopt the pipeline despite strong initial opposition was initially based on promotion of the merits of the pipeline. The public relations company, Edelman, stated in their Strategic Plan for Quebec that:

“At first, Québécois are unfamiliar with oil as an energy resource. Myth and misgivings are even more present when it comes to oil from Alberta’s oils sands, which are also closely associated with Stephen Harper’s government and policies. Education on the subject is thus highly required.” [8](p.17)

As a result, it would seem to be in the company’s interest to display information as transparently as possible and to disseminate information as widely as possible so that the public is aware of their efforts to understand the impact of the pipeline on the environment, as well as their effort to mitigate the impacts where possible. It looks like instead, TransCanada intends to simply display information, and not necessarily in a transparent way. Not more. This can hardly be called public participation.


[1] Wood, D. (2010). Rethinking the Power of Maps. The Guilford Press, New York, London: 161.

[2] Noble, B.F. (2010). Chapter 11: Public Participation in EIA, in Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment – A Guide to Principles and Practice, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, Canada: 184.

[3] Ontario Energy Board, Energy East Consultation and Review.

[4] Shields, Alexandre (January 20, 2015). Retard majeur au Québec, Le Devoir.

[5] Shields, Alexandre (January 9, 2015). Pas de documents en français pour Énergie Est, Le Devoir.

[6] Secrétariat à la Politique Linguistique, Québec. Tableau: Population bilingue (français et anglais), Québec. La dynamique des langues en quelques chiffres. Gouvernement du Québec, 2009. Retrieved at:

[7] Wood, D. (2010). Rethinking the Power of Maps. The Guilford Press, New York, London: 156-171.

[8] Edelman. (May 20, 2014). Strategic Plan: Quebec – Energy East Pipeline, Calgary, p.17. Retrieved on January 15, 2015 from

Sacrificing the Environment: Effects of the Canadian Environment Assessment Act 2012 on The Enbridge Pipeline 9B Reversal

By Wills Tobin,

Formerly, Enbridge pipeline 9B sent oil from Montreal, Quebec to Sarnia, Ontario. An approval on March 6, 2014 has allowed Enbridge Pipelines to reverse oil direction and capacity towards Montreal, QC. The National Energy Board’s approval is a fundamental example of the extent to which EIA processes in Canada have eroded because of the Bill C-38 adoption in June 2012. More insight on this:

In bill C-38, The Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA 2012) changed drastically. The Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC) facilitated changes in the act through lobbying representatives and members of Government (Forest Ethics, 2013). The EPIC mandate is to “…provide the foundations…for energy and environmental policy”(Forest Ethics, 2013, p. 1). As the conservative Government argued that the CEAA 2012 amendment was simply to streamline and reduce duplication, the effects of legislation have been negatively influential on the line 9B project (EPIC, 2012).

Scoping Line 9B

Due to the CEAA 2012, in the Line 9B reversal, The NEB (National Energy Board) stated that it would not consider environmental or socio-economic effects not directly associated with the reversal of the pipeline (Forest Ethics, 2013; David Suzuki Foundation, 2012; Gage, 2012). This has had a negative effect on the scope of the project. Scoping is critical because its purpose is to identify scientific and public core values so indirect and cumulative impacts are not over-looked, especially when it comes to major oil and gas infrastructure, which should always require comprehensive studies (Noble, 2010).

Monitoring Line 9B

According to Forest Ethics (2013), “once a decision is made for a given project, the NEB will not revoke permits, even if subsequent analyses show adverse environmental effects (p. 7).” The NEB also stated that monitoring should only have to be done at the beginning of the EIA process and not require continued follow-ups (NEB, 2013). The pipeline is 38 years old and it is worrisome that it may rupture if its carrying capacity is increased. There is a fear about pre- and post-, consistent monitoring, as knowledge of bitumen effects on the environment is limited and therefore less capable of being mitigated (CTV News, 2014). See video for more details:

Public Participation Line 9B

Most importantly, public participation now only includes people “directly effected”. (David Suzuki Foundation 2012; Gage 2012; Forest Ethics, 2013) As a result, compared to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project (11,111 public participants), Enbridge line 9B only had 172 participants (Forest Ethics, 2013). This legislation has meant the loss of democracy in Canadian EIA. This is most important because participant input as to what is important in EIA has formerly always been taken into consideration. Keep in mind that what constitutes an impact or effect is frequently defined by social value. This diminution of public participation also defeats the purpose of important cornerstones in the development of EIA in Canada, like the signing of the Rio Declaration in 1992, the UN global environmental assessment agreement (UNEP, 1992). The effects of the CEAA 2012 have had repercussions that need to be noticed and hopefully acted upon very soon.


Canadian Environmental Law Association. (2014). Retrieved from:’s-greenhouse-gas-reduction-program-–-carbon-tax.

CBC News. (2014). Enbridge Line 9 pipeline reversal approved by energy board. Retrieved from:

CTV News. (2014). Leonardo DiCaprio visits Alberta oilsands to research documentary. Retrieved from://

David Suzuki Foundation. (2012). Bill C-38: What you need to know. Retrieved from:

Energy Policy Institute of Canada. (2012). A Canadian Energy Strategy Framework: A guide to building Canada’s future as a global energy leader. Retrieved from:

Environment Canada. (2014). Retrieved from:

ForestEthics Advocacy. (2013). Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Gage, A. (2012). Who is silenced under Canada’s new environmental assessment law? West Coast Environmental Law. Retrieved from:’s-new-environmental-assessment-act

Green World Rising. (2014). Retrieved from:!ep2-carbon/clzn

Line 9: It’s coming for you. Retrieved from:

National Energy Board. (2013). Hearing Order OH-002-2013. 2000/90464/90552/92263/790736/890819/918701/918444/A3%2D1_%2D_Hearing_Order_OH%2D002%2D2013_%2D_A3F4W7.pdf?


Natural Resources Canada. (2014). Retrieved from:

Oil Sands Information Portal, (2014). Retrieved from:

Opposing Enbridge’s Line 9. (2014). Retrieved from:

Stewart, K. (2014). Approval of Enbridge Line 9 good for oil companies, not communities: Greenpeace. Toronto. Retrieved from:

UNEP. (1992). Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Retrieved From:

In praise of Indigenous wisdom

By Emmanuelle Galeotti

"El regalo de la Pachamama",Unknown artist, from UCLA Latin America Institute collection

“El regalo de la Pachamama”,Unknown artist, from UCLA Latin America Institute collection

“But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”
Rachel Carson

Protecting Pachamama…and us
The most progressive and meaningful action to protect our environment, the most vulnerable populations and the rights of future generations altogether went almost unreported back in April 2011, when Bolivia passed a law that gives Nature equal rights to humans in its constitution [1]. Called the “Law of the rights of Mother Earth” (Law 071), it comprises eleven specific rights summarized as follows:
(i) the right to exist and to have natural cycles operating without human modification,
(ii)the right to clean air and water,
(iii) the right to balance and to not be polluted,
(iv)the right to integrity as in not genetically modified,
(iiv)the right to not be disturbed by large development project for both nature and communities[2].

Pachamama (Mother Earth) is considered a living entity by the indigenous population of the Andes. The Bolivian population is 60% indigenous, comprising 2.5 millions Quechuas [3], it is the highest percentage of indigenous population in all Latin America.

The “Law of the rights of Mother Earth” opens the door to new avenues for conservation, social well-being and legal protection. Because this law is the product of grass roots groups, politicians and communities, I see in it the achievement of traditional ecological knowledge coming into the sphere of decision making. The first indigenous Bolivian president, Evo Morales, said in 2008 in his pamphlet “Ten commandments to save the planet, humanity and life”:

“We indigenous peoples will continue to talk until we achieve real change. Our voice comes from way back . Our voice is the voice of the snow-capped mountains which are losing their white ponchos.”

In the last decade the country went through one natural disaster after another, including severe droughts that put the already poor subsistence farmers at an even greater risk. Bolivia has also suffered from environmental issues related to the exploitation of its numerous natural resources by foreign companies. Since his election in 2006, Evo Morales is working on a comprehensive change for Bolivians, and this included refusing the drastic neoliberal Washington Consensus. He initiated the nationalization of the natural resources sector and services deemed as human rights (e.g., water supply, telecommunications). Bolivia is now free of debt and boasting a 6.5% economic growth in 2014[4].

Empowering EIA
Can the overall EIA process really achieve its goals without a legal framework that gives rights to nature and the future generations? In improving the state of the environment, NEPA and CEAA have been instrumental, but aren’t they limited to only some projects?
Any negative impact on the environment will ultimately impact human beings soon or later and near or far. We must remember this when conducting an EIA, as we are measuring and predicting impacts on the environment to inform a rational decision that should be made in the best interest of society as a whole. To me, the goal of an EIA is to prevent undue damage to the environment and to ourselves. If we do not reaffirm the human-nature connection as professionals, how can we expect those who do not have our education to take steps to reduce their own impacts?
In Bolivia Mother Earth and its ecosystems, including human communities, have constitutional rights equal to that of a person. However, in the USA (and in most developed countries) it is corporations who have that right. I believe taking inspiration from Bolivia’s approach to environmental protection would bring the fundamental change required for our societies to place sustainability at the top of our development agenda.

[1] (accessed on March 15.2014)

[2]  (accessed on March 18.2014)

[3] on April 2014)

[4] (accessed on march 16.2014)

Public participation under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012: as good as it sounds?

Effective public participation is one of the key elements in the Environmental Assessment (EA) process. Historically, public participation has been proven to be very effective in the careful review of projects with significant public concern. One may assume that with the expansion and broader understanding of the EA process with time, public participation will become more and more meaningful.

Public participation may be defined as “the involvement of individuals and groups that are positively or negatively affected by a proposed intervention (e.g., a project, a program, a plan, a policy) subject to a decision-making process or are interested in it”[1].

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 (CEAA 2012) has brought many changes to its predecessor act of 1992, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). One particular change is the definition of “interested party”. According to the CEAA, an interested party is “any person or body having an interest in the outcome of the environmental assessment for a purpose that is neither frivolous nor vexatious”[2]. This definition was more open and inclusive.

In CEAA 2012, the responsible authority or review panel will determine “…with respect to a designated project, that a person is an interested party if, in its opinion, the person is directly affected by the carrying out of the designated project or if, in its opinion, the person has relevant information or expertise…” [3].

The second part that “the person has relevant information or expertise” keeps the chance of inclusiveness, but the fact that it is still under the discretion of the panel can restrict the participation. Some scholars suggest that this restriction can cause representative biasness in the process as business interests are generally “direct” and environmental values (e.g. air quality) are more diffuse in nature. Cases like New Prosperity Gold–Copper mine project, Enbridge Line 9B showed that the respective panels have not restricted participation. Yet, the fact remains that the panel can adopt more restrictive interpretation in future or might be aligned to do so if the government issues regulatory guidance to interpret the new definitions [4].

The CEAA 2012 narrows public participation by reducing the number of projects assessed and narrowing assessment scope. The tight time-frame for assessment steps further narrows down the effective public participation. Moreover, the provision for substitution of federal process by provincial process could create limited participation opportunities due to the diverse provincial processes and the lack of participant funding program for substituted processes [5].

Section 5.1(c) of CEAA 2012 states that activities that can affect the health, socio-economic, physical and cultural heritage, traditional use of land and resource, or any other object or place of historical, archeological, architectural interest have to be taken into consideration. Yet, the relatively short timeline for participation can make it difficult for people of these communities to participate effectively [6].

Here is a short video from a project called “Line in the sand” where community organizer Nadia Nowak expresses concern about the participation prospect:

In 2012, federal government announced a 10% cut on core funding for aboriginal national organizations while regional organizations will have either a 10% core funding cut or highest funding limit of $500,000. This shows that although the CEAA 2012 promises better aboriginal participation, but other government initiatives can weaken the effective participation of aboriginal groups in the environmental assessment process [7].

Downgrading the effectiveness of environmental assessment process on the hands of politicians is not new. The “environment” of environmental assessment has always been a challenging one to live in. When the environmental decision-making fails to address public concern, it puts a big question mark on the success of the process. The CEAA 2012 is relatively new, so we might have to wait a while to see how effective the public participation process would be under this act.

…. Your thoughts are welcome.


[1]  André, P., B. Enserink, D. Connor and P. Croal. 2006. Public Participation International Best Practice Principles. Special Publication Series No. 4. Fargo, USA: International Association for Impact Assessment.

[2]  Government of Canada. 1992. Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, S.C. 1992, c. 37.(current to June 10, 2012). Available from:

[3]  Government of Canada. 2012. Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012, S.C. 2012, c. 19, s. 52. Available from:

[4]  Salomons G. H. and Hoberg G.2013. Setting boundaries of participation in environmental impact assessment (In presss). Environmental Impact Assessment Review. Available from:

[5]  Gibson R. B. 2012. In full retreat: the Canadian government’s new environmental assessment law undoes decades of progress. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal 30(3): 179–188.

[6]  Bond A.,  Pope J., Morrison-Saunders A., Retief F., Gunn J. A. E. 2014. Impact assessment: Eroding benefits through streamlining? Environmental Impact Assessment Review 45: 46-53. Available from:

[7]  Kirchhoff D. , Gardner H. L., Tsuji L. J. 2013. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 and Associated Policy: Implications for Aboriginal Peoples. The International Indigenous Policy Journal 4(3). Available from:

From historic village to ghost town: A case study for uncertainty and conflict in human environment

By Emmanuelle Galeotti                       

Doel is to disappear from the map by 2020 [1]. This historic village is located north of the international seaport of Antwerp in Belgium, on the banks of the Scheldt River that gives access to the North Sea. Doel first appears in records in 1267 [2] and is the unique polder village left in Belgium. Doel has lots of historical buildings, some landscapes made famous by baroque painter Rubens, a 17th century stone wind mill, and a nuclear plant.

What happened? Rise in containers’ traffic demanded expansion of Antwerp’s harbor. Plans to expand the harbor had been in the air since 1963, but were subject to economic fluctuations and politics; subsequently construction of the new containers’ terminal in Doel only began in 2000 with additional plans for industrial development [3].


Sources/Credit: Wikipedia, Romany WG (

David versus Goliath

Located just south of Doel the first terminal called “Deurganckdock” has been operational since 2005. Since 2012 Deurganckdock has been undergoing expansion: it is to become the largest lock in the world with a length of 500m, a width of 68m and a depth of 17m [4].

Construction of the second terminal, Saeftinghe, will erase Doel and should be operational by 2016 [5].

The Saetinghedok would drawn more than Doel

The Saetinghedok would drown more than Doel

Ever expanding Port of Antwerp

Ever expanding Port of Antwerp

Sources:, and

The port of Antwerp is the largest port and petrochemical cluster in the world; it now spans the equivalent of 20,000 football stadiums [6].

Needless to say other communities and polders disappeared in silence to make place for the ever-growing international seaport. Officially the Port of Antwerp will develop the Saeftinghe terminal to guarantee the sustainable growth of the port, the European Investment Bank foots half of the bill [7].

But for those who want to keep calling Doel  ‘home’ the fight is not yet over; they formed  an activist group in 2007 called Doel 2020 to defend their community rights. As the population dwindles some artists and squatters have taken residence in Doel and they keep it alive. Now street art and ghost-town chills attract tourists and photographers, despite the disappearance of Doel’s cafes and hotels.

Demolition started in August 2008, 100 riot-squad officers were sent to oppose locals’ resistance.

demolition doelcaterpillar

Credits: Paul Maes

Social Impact Assessment (SIA), uncertainty and conflict

The Flemish government approved the construction of the new dock in Doel in 1998. The village was to be demolished. Those willing to leave were offered a sum by the government depending on the size of their dwelling and the number of years of residence in Doel. Owners also received compensation for the loss of their property while assistance to find a new home was proposed to the tenants [3]. The official  population declined from approximately 1300 in 1972 [2] to 188 in 2013 [10].

An SIA was conducted in 1999 (after the green party was locally elected) to evaluate the impacts of the port extension on Doel’s sociological profile. The population survey uncovered the fact that people wanted to stay only for their emotional bond to their village; never did they mention any positive outcomes – like jobs from the new development [3]. As for environmental justice, people living now in Doel are the most vulnerable: elders, jobless, single member dwellings, all tenants and deprived of services [3]. The SIA conclusions acknowledged the possible remediation of impacts on the environment, but stressed that social impacts were to “be very significant” on the village’s social fabric.  According to Marx (2002), the culprit is the uncertainty the community was left in for over 40 years, which had a deleterious effect upon household’s decision-making.

The Aarhus Convention was enforced late in 2001; therefore public consultation was not yet main stream in Europe at the time of the SIA.

Unfortunately, the SIA came too late and the opportunity to prevent or diminish conflict between authorities and community was lost. Acting pro-actively through an SIA to identify potential causes and consequences in conflict-sensitive situations is often emphasized in the literature[8,9], because impacts on human environment start at the announcement of a change not when impacts materialize as is the case with physical and biological impacts. “Conflict-aware SIA” would have been a worthy approach since further delay or change in the expansion plans would be enormously costly to Antwerp Port Authority.

Essential elements for  a successful SIA include [9]:

–          Proper communication at all stages of the process

–          Stake-holders identification and network analysis

–          Considering each conflict as context-dependent and having a case-by-case approach

In SIA “subjective feelings and perceptions are valid impacts and indicators of impacts (…) they lead to negative experiences and may trigger conflicts.” ([8] p33)

According to these authors caution is necessary when identifying potential reasons for conflict as it is difficult to understand how all the variables interact in a conflict setting. Therefore, monitoring is critical to keep communication flowing and to avoid potential conflicts.

In October 2013, the group Doel2020  achieved the challenge to “put Antwerp’s plans for extension in the balance” after reaching to the Auditor of the Council of State[10]. As of 2014, Doel is still on the map and the Saeftinghe tidal container dock is still in the plans. The uncertain future of Doel continues.


[1] Telefunker , accessed 01/18/2014

[2] Wikipedia, accessed on 01/21/2014

[3] Axel Marx, Uncertainty and social impacts: A case study of a Belgian village, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Volume 22, Issue 1, January 2002, Pages 79-96, ISSN 0195-9255,

[4], accessed 01/19/2014

[5], accessed 01/18/2014

[6],  accessed 01/19/2014


[8] P. V. Prenzel & F. Vanclay. (2014) How social impact assessment can contribute to conflict management. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 45: 1, 30-37.

[9] C.J. Barrow.(2010 )How is environmental conflict addressed by SIA?. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 30: 5, 293-301.

ISSN 0195-9255,


[10], accessed 01/19/2014