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Environmental Impact Assessment

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Serving both developed and developing countries, FAO acts as a neutral forum where all nations...

November 1, 2007  By Pulp & Paper Canada

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Serving both developed and developing countries, FAO acts as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy. FAO is also a source of knowledge and information. FAO helps developing countries and countries in transition modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices and ensure good nutrition for all. Since its founding in 1945, FAO has focused special attention on developing rural areas, home to 70% of the world’s poor and hungry people.

Pre-environmental Impact Assessment

This part constitutes the first step of the EIA. It leads from the pre-feasibility study to a well-defined project that can be shown to authorities and local representatives. This first step towards the project must be the result of a financial, technical and environmental analysis leading to the final project bringing together the best available technologies and the least sensitive sites. The environmental survey during this phase must analyze:


* potential sites,

* raw material production and exploitation,

* industrial processes,

* transportation.

Site selection

Due to the various negative repercussions of pulp and paper industries on people and the environment, it is not possible to set up such facilities anywhere. To be economically viable, the pre-selected sites must combine:

* abundant resources, available all year long and the possibility of sustainable production,

* existing water supply all year long in acceptable quantity and quality,

* existing transportation facilities or possibilities to create them at a reasonable cost,

* existing energy supply.

The pre-selection of the potential sites from an environmental point of view should be focused as shown in check-list 1. Both proposed sites for the plant and for raw material production must be studied.

Pre-environmental site selection (check-list 1)

* Is the water supply sufficient all year long ?

* Is the water supply of good quality?

* Are there sufficient raw material resources in this area?

* Is a sustainable management of these resources possible?

* Are there resources sensitive to the proposed exploitation scheme?

* Are there threatened species in this area?

* Are there sensitive biotopes like rain forest, mangrove, coastal zone, wetland?

* Is the transport infrastructure sufficiently developed?

* If no, is there negative impact linked with the transportation framework to be built?

* Is the energy supply assured?

* If no, will the energy supply have negative impact?

* Will the plant emissions have negative impact on the environment?

* Are there affected groups?

* Will the project destroy important man made patrimony?

* Does the project imply resettlements?

* If yes, are there sufficient land resources in the area to allow a correct resettlement?

* Are there particular risks attached with this area?

* Is there positive impact of the project in the area?

* Other

Raw material production and exploitation

If the raw material is a by-product of agricultural production, like cereal straw, or of industrial process, such as sawmill residues, it is not necessary to emphasize in the EIA the impact of raw material production because it is linked to agricultural or industrial production.

On the other hand, crops cultivated to supply material to the pulp and paper industry and forestry exploitation are operations that may involve severe negative impact on people and the environment. Thus analysis of these operations must be included in the EIA document.

This analysis has to address all the potential repercussions of the project very precisely, like the destruction of rain forests, the pollution of rivers and subsurface water, the depletion of biodiversity, the cultural and social risks in affected communities.

It is very relevant for integrated forestry and pulp mill projects, where extensive reforestation plans are set up, to study the consequences of both deforestation and reforestation. Risks like biodiversity depletion, fires, and erosion are likely to occur and must be addressed.

Deforestation and reforestation usually necessitate an assessment of the impact on:

Remaining stands:

* falling trees and skidders. The number of non target destroyed trees can be higher than that of target trees.

* selected removal of certain species can lead to biodiversity depletion,

* systematic removal of the best trees leads to genetic erosion,

* the absence of seed trees endangers the regeneration of the forest,

* large gaps in the canopy expose the remaining stands to wind-throw risks,

* endemic species can be threatened, by deforestation or reforestation,

* fire risks have to be considered both in the case of deforestation and reforestation particularly when using sensitive species like pines.

Exotic species to be introduced:

* the introduction of exotic species does not always work as well as expected. They can either be eliminated by local species or become weeds, spreading all around without any chance of further control.

Water resources:

* deforestation generally increases surface run-off which can involve erosion and floods,

* soil preparation for reforestation exposes it to both wind and water erosion. This erosion usually produces turbidity in water and sedimentation in the river beds.

* pollution can be generated by fuel leakage and the use of pesticides.

Air and climate:

* the major emissions into the air are smoke and dust which can hurt affected groups,

* climate changes can affect both micro-climate (generally increasing temperature and wind speed, and diminishing evaporation) and global climate with, for instance, the greenhouse effect caused by deforestation.


* deforestation and reforestation operations can lead to erosion, depletion of soil fertility and risks of landslides,

* in some cases, fast growing plantations (i.e.: eucalyptus) can gradually both deplete soil fertility and acidify it.


* destruction of large tracts of forest, without maintaining ecologically rich zones, is a major concern in forest exploitation,

* wildlife often suffers from noise pollution and increased pressure from poaching.

Workers safety:

* logging operations are dangerous, principally because of chain-saw utilization and the sheer mass of felled trees,

* during timber extraction and transportation, accidents can occur affecting workers or population.

Cultural impact:

* local populations may have cultural links with the forest which is expected to be exploited,

* historical or archaeological heritage can be destroyed,

* cultural practices like burning can have severe repercussions in some forest areas made accessible by new roads.

Economic impact:

* pulp and paper projects are supposed to result in an improvement of the local economic situation. This positive impact has to balance out all negative aspects, in all potential sites.

At this stage it is most important to cross reference the possible impact of the proje
ct with the sensitivity of the site (see check-list 1). Meanwhile it is important to complete a special check-list for forestry management.

Raw material production (check-list 2)

* Does the project include a forestry management plan?

* If yes, is there negative impact on the remaining stands?

* Are there threatened endemic species in this area?

* Are exotic species supposed to be introduced?

* If yes, are there references on comparable introductions?

* Do these references indicate that such introductions have produced negative impact?

* Are those species sensitive to fire?

* Is the soil of this area sensible to erosion?

* Is this area a water catchment?

* Are there areas of cultural or religious interest for the local population?

* Are there medicinal plants in this area?

* Are those species threatened by the proposed exploitation/reforestation?

* Does this forest produce significant food supply to the local population?

* Is the project supposed to be profitable to local communities?

* Have these communities been involved in the project conception?

* Other

Industrial processes

It is important to note here that the EIA is implemented before project construction. This implies that data will not be available on site. The EIA team must at this stage include a process specialist to predict the various emissions and performances of the proposed processes and procedures.

Generally, the choice between the main types of industrial processes tends to be made according to the paper quality to be produced rather than on environmental or financial considerations. Nevertheless once a main type of process is chosen (i.e., mechanical or chemical), many technologies are available to improve the performance of the process or to limit environmental issues. The role of the expert in charge of EIA, with the help of the process specialist(s), is more to input environmental considerations in the project definition than to propose technologies which are generally very sophisticated and hard to master for an environmental generalist.

Raw material storage and preparation

Large quantities of raw material are necessary to ensure the supply of the facility. These stocks can either be stored in the plant yard or close to the production site until entering the process.

In-plant stocks can be hazardous due to odours, polluted water leakage, fire or breakdown, depending on the type of raw material used. Outside the plant, stocks can have similar effects and also be the focus of infestation, principally by parasites like insects.

All these potential issues have to be addressed by EIA authors and mitigating measures have to be proposed if necessary.

While some pulp mills are supplied with pre-treated material like chips or sawdust, raw material most commonly needs to be transformed before entering the pulping process. This preparation, for instance in the case of wood, begins with debarking (bark is removed mechanically or in debarking drums) followed by chipping. Later chips are screened to obtain a product of uniform suitable size and to remove contraries such as stones and metal.

These operations can be different for other raw materials, nevertheless they often generate noise and dust, and they sometimes need a substantial water supply and thus produce big quantities of wastewater. For non-wood raw materials, problems are quite different. A screening process is first necessary to eliminate undesired materials like seeds, leaves and dirt, which can represent up to 3% of the incoming material. Dry cleaning is usually effected in straw mills, where dust emissions have to be controlled. Wastewater discharge from wet cleaning involves solving far more complex problems than for wood preparation.

These data are typical for full scale installations, assuming that barker is suitable for the local wood supply.

Energy consumption

Paper manufacturing is energy intensive. Three quarter ton of oil equivalent (TOE) are necessary to produce one ton of paper in developed countries and from one to two TOE (sometimes more) in developing countries, and only 50% of this energy can be self-generated by incineration of in-plant organic wastes. Energy is a major cost factor for this type of production. In some cases energy cost can exceed that of raw material. Vast improvements, brought about by increasing energy costs, have been achieved in the past decades.

It is generally agreed that small plants have a higher energy consumption than large ones, and that a plant working under capacity results in an over-consumption of energy.

Industrial process (check-list 3)

* Are the standards proposed by the investor in compliance with new mills performances?

* Is the estimated water consumption in compliance with new mills performances?

* Is the water from raw material preparation recycled?

* Are the wastes from raw material preparation valorized?

* Does the future plant include in plant processes to lower noxious emissions?

* Does the future plant include out plant processes to lower noxious emissions?

* Will the wastewater emissions be in compliance with national standards?

* Will the wastewater emissions be in compliance with international standards?

* Will the gaseous emissions be in compliance with national standards?

* Will the gaseous emissions be in compliance with international standards?

* Is the composition of solid wastes characterized?

* Are the treatments of those wastes studied in the project?

* Does the future plant include chemical recovery?

* If yes, are the performances of this process in compliance with standard data?

* Does the bleaching phase include non chlorine processes?

* Does the bleaching phase produce dioxins or furans?

* Are the energy performances in compliance with new mills performances?

* Is there a training programme for plant personnel in the project?

* Is a monitoring programme included in the project conception?

* Are there particular risks attached with the proposed technologies?

* If yes, is there a detailed study of those risks?

* Is it proposed to establish the base of an Emergency Response Plan in the EIA?

* Are the risks involved by the plant cross referenced with site sensitivity?

* Others


* Does the project involve important changes in transport network?

* Does the project involve important changes in traffic conditions?

* Have the alternatives: road/rail/shipping been studied in the project?

* Have the alternative routes been studied precisely in the project?

* Is there public financing involved in infrastructure construction?

* Is there investor financing involved in infrastructure maintenance?

* Is there a training plan for drivers included in the project?

* Is there a precise study on fuel storage, risks, transports, etc.?

* Are there significant communities affected by transportation issues?

* Are there special facilities proposed to protect communities from transports issues?

* Are there special facilities proposed to protect the environment from transports issues?

* Others

Project justifications

Once the different sites are pre-selected and a comparative analysis effected, and once the best technologies available have been selected to remedy possible environmental problems, the project is well defined and can be presented to the authorities and the affected populations.

The definition of the project represents extensive studies and work. This aspect must be valorized at this stage of the EIA to explain as precisely as possible the reasons which have led to advocate the project as it stands. Matrix explanation of why each site, resource, process, infrastructure, have been chosen over others can help
to justify the project.

Depending on the authorities’ requirements, the owners’ choice or other considerations, the EIA plan can vary from case to case. Some EIAs study the different alternatives right to the end of the assessment and leave the final decision to the authorities, some others, as presented before, define the best project in the best site and then propose to study more precisely its environmental and social impacts. There are no standard best solutions, each case must be treated as a particular case where the best solution has to be defined by the steering committee.

This Chapter showed that great advances in raw material, energy and water supply have been accomplished during the past decades. New technologies and processes have also led to a decrease in pollutant emissions and thus to an improvement in environmental protection. The role of the EIA author is to assist the investor’s team in order to define together what is possible while setting up a viable project which does not have uncontrolled negative impact on the environment and communities.

The preceding is an excerpt from the FAO Forestry Paper 129. For a complete statement, please see www.fao.org

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