Northern Gateway Pipeline Decision Will Be Delayed until Late 2013: Panel

REBECCA PENTY, DAN HEALING and PETER O'NEIL
Calgary Herald
December 7, 2011


Hearings to begin Jan. 10 in Kitimat

CALGARY — The joint review panel hearing submissions on the controversial Northern Gateway oil pipeline to the B.C. coast will take a year longer than expected to deliver its final report.

In a projected schedule released late Tuesday, the three-member panel said it “would anticipate releasing the environmental assessment report in the fall of 2013 and its final decision on the project around the end of 2013.”

That’s a year later than expected, confirmed Annie Roy, panel spokeswoman.

“The final hearings were scheduled to start in June of 2012, meaning the panel would have probably released its report in the fall of 2012,” she said.

“So the schedule now is almost pushed a year.”

Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. is pursuing the $5.5-billion, 1,200-kilometre pipeline that would transport up to 525,000 barrels per day of crude from Alberta’s oilsands and oilfields to ocean-going tankers. The line would help alleviate Canada’s reliance on the United States as its only major market for oil.

Paul Stanway, communications manager for Enbridge Northern Gateway, said Tuesday the company supports the regulatory process.

“We understand that there is significant public interest in the Northern Gateway project,” he said in an e-mail.

Stanway didn’t address a question on whether the year-long regulatory delay would push back the pipeline’s in-service target previously forecast for 2017.

“The JRP seems to be ensuring that there is a thorough inclusive process, and we are supportive of that. We see value in a well-defined process and remain committed to the regulatory review.”

The panel is to begin community hearings in Kitimat, B.C., on Jan. 10, listening to all oral evidence from registered interveners first, followed by oral statements from registered participants.

There are 4,300 interveners, Roy said.

“The panel wants to hear from everyone,” she said.

Earlier Tuesday, federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said in an interview that the “nation-building” attempt to link Canada’s vast oilsands resources to Asian markets can’t be stopped by protesters using civil disobedience.

He said he will respect the regulatory process that Enbridge must go through to get approval but said the project, if approved by the joint panel of Environment Canada and the National Energy Board, shouldn’t be held hostage by aboriginal and environmental groups threatening to create a human “wall” to prevent construction.

“Look, this is a country that lives by the rule of law, and I would hope that that would be the standard going forward,” Oliver told The Herald.

A coalition of aboriginal groups said last week it will create a human wall to prevent the pipeline from north of Edmonton to the B.C. coast from going ahead, and environmental groups have hinted at civil disobedience.

Project opponent Eric Swanson, the “no tankers director” of the Victoria-based Dogwood Initiative, said Tuesday he is happy extra time is being given so interveners can be heard, though he questioned the legitimacy of the process.

“We continue to feel that B.C. bears the burden of risk. It’s our coast, it’s our rivers, so it should be our decision, not the JRP’s decision or Minister Oliver’s decision,” Swanson said.

Investors are not counting Northern Gateway in their valuation of Enbridge, given the regulatory risk and heightened attention facing the pipeline, said research analyst Steven Paget with Calgary investment bank FirstEnergy Capital Corp.

“We have a $39 (share price) target on Enbridge and it has nothing for Gateway in it,” Paget said.

Oliver, asked Tuesday if Northern Gateway “has to happen,” said he can’t comment specifically on the project since it’s now before the review panel.

He noted that another company, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP, is considering a major expansion of its pipeline system from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C.

Oliver stressed that a diversification of Canada’s markets to Asia, in the wake of TransCanada Corp.’s failure to get quick U.S. approval for the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast, is “fundamental” to Canada’s national interest.

“We believe that we have to have access to Asian markets for our energy products, for our oil and gas,” he said. “That is clearly in our national interest. We’ll survive without it, but not nearly in the same way.”

He said “tens of millions” of dollars in tax revenues generated by finding new markets for the expanding oilsands sector would fund key social programs like health care and education.

“It’s nation-building, without exaggeration.”

Some critics have said Northern Gateway’s greatest challenge is the imbalance between those standing to benefit and those facing the greatest environmental risk.

Enbridge shareholders, the Alberta government and some First Nations that strike deals along the pipeline route are among the top potential beneficiaries.

People in B.C. who would get minimal or no benefit are among those facing a huge risk if there were a disastrous pipeline leak or tanker spill, critics say.

The Haida First Nation in northern B.C., who are too far away from the pipeline to be considered by Enbridge as a potential equity partner in the project, are vehement opponents.

Like many First Nations, they’ve expressed fear of the potential danger of a tanker spill on key sectors like fisheries and ecotourism.

“There have to be ways to make it in their interest,” Oliver said. “And there has to also be a convincing and factually correct story about safety. The pipelines themselves are the safest form of transportation, technology is improving the safety of tankers, double hulls and all this sort of thing, and the regulators of course are going to be looking at that, to make sure we’re dealing with the highest available forms of technology, to make sure this is as safe as possible.”

Oliver said he’s concerned about the environmentalist movement’s opposition, but in particular the significant role played by U.S. charitable foundations in funding the anti-oilsands campaign.

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