Surveying along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route this spring has turned up rare dinosaur tracks from the Late Cretaceous period, dating back between 93 and 95 million years.
The 670-kilometre proposed pipeline project would carry natural gas from frack wells and storage facilities in the Groundbirch area just west of Dawson Creek, to the proposed LNG Canada facility near Kitimat.
The hand and footprints found along the study area are from an Ankylosaurus, an armoured dinosaur.
Tracks like these, from the Turonian stage of the Late Cretaceous era, are not common around the world according to Dr. Rich McCrea of the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre.
“We have them here in the Peace Region, there are a couple of sites in New Mexico and two in Uzbekistan and that’s about it,” McCrea told the Dawson Creek Mirror.
While building a pipeline around rare dinosaur fossils might sound risky, McCrea said when hears about a find by industry, he sees opportunity.
Usually in the form of access to remote areas that the museum alone simply wouldn’t have the resources to get out to.
McCrea has heard horror stories from other areas, of fossils getting discovered and then backfilled or otherwise covered up, but he feels that companies are generally aware that dinosaur fossils are in the areas they are working in.
“Part of it is the research centre has had a presence in the region and it’s quite well known that these things are in the area,” McCrea said. “If our museum and the UNESCO Global GeoPark weren’t here, a lot of these things wouldn’t be reported and might not even be recognized.”
TransCanada crews flew McCrea and his Tumbler Ridge-based team to the site shortly after their discovery to evaluate what they had found. The company has also offered to help researchers bring the fossils to them museum.
“I am very impressed with that crew,” McCrea said. “They’re very excited to know what it is. It’s a genuine curiosity. They’re actually interested in what it is and what it represents.”
McCrea said he has had a similar experience with Pattern Development, working on the Meikle Wind Energy project about 33 kilometres north of Tumbler Ridge.
Although his experiences have been largely positive, McCrea noted some lingering concerns.
“When you hear (about discoveries) from industry, sometimes you have to think what else might there have been that was missed?” he said. “That’s my only real concern.”
Industry “rudderless” on fossil finds
B.C. is a Wild West when it comes to regulations to guide industries working in paleontological sensitive areas.
McCrea says the difference in regulations from Alberta to B.C. is like “night and day.”
Some companies that do work in both provinces, just continue to do what is required of them in Alberta, he said.
“In Alberta there is a set procedure, McCrea said. “Companies are a little bit rudderless when it comes to this in B.C. because they recognize that paleontological resources are important in this region and to the province. But there is no procedure.”
It’s not all about protection, McCrea said, it’s also about management of the resources through basic things like mapping and identifying areas of sensitivity.
“We have a province that has really no idea what it’s paleontological resources are. So far it’s been random and opportunistic. It’s not bad, but this is a grown up province and it’s time to have their stuff figured out.”