A small natural gas pipeline project in British Columbia (BC) that flared into a regulatory fight for a year has provoked the National Energy Board (NEB) into appealing to provincial and corporate leaders to map out orderly resource and land-use plans.

Disorganized development is inflaming public resistance against a feared environmental “death by a thousand cuts,” warned the NEB’s approval of Westcoast Energy Inc.’s Wyndwood Pipeline Expansion Project.

Annoyed northern BC residents prolonged regulatory review of the modest 27-kilometer (16-mile) twinning of an established gasline. The project was too small to rate attention by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. But deciding the case took a 166-page NEB ruling that imposes 32 approval conditions on issues from caribou habitat to household water wells.

The Wyndwood addition is among multiple drilling, production, processing and pipeline projects to tap the liquids-rich Montney and Duvernay gas formations that straddle northern BC and Alberta.

In addition to filling the 3 Bcf/d Westcoast network, the region produces about 80% of the flows in TransCanada Corp.’s 11 Bcf/d supply collection grid, Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. (NGTL).

In the Wyndwood ruling, the NEB said it “heard, with some eloquence, that ongoing development of all kinds -- forestry, mining hydroelectric dams, community expansion, oil and gas lease development and pipeline construction -- is occurring in the absence of an integrated and forward looking plan to provide necessary context for understanding the aggregate effects of those developments.”

Concerns over disorganized industrialization repeatedly surface in gas facilities cases despite planning efforts by provincial agencies such as the BC Oil and Gas Commission, noted the NEB.

“The frustration felt by residents of this region is not new nor, in the minds of the residents, has it been addressed. The board agrees with this assessment.” The region needs “an updateable, integrated and forward looking, publicly available plan which provides a necessary context for understanding and mitigating the cumulative impacts of all development leading to a comprehensible strategy for required landform rehabilitation and flora/fauna recovery.”

To avoid coming down with a worsening case of chronic regulatory delay, the NEB urged industry not to wait for government authorities to complete planning cures.

“The board appeals to the sense of corporate social responsibility shared by all industrial and commercial developers in this region,” said the Wyndwood ruling. “These corporations are encouraged to take the initiative to jointly develop a plan either within or without BC government programs.

“The board hopes the timeframe to develop this plan would be measured in months and not years or decades.”

The next BC gas pipeline case is scheduled to last up to 15 months, even though it only involves a requested variance for an already approved project. The NEB set a target of December 2018 for a ruling on converting the proposed North Montney Mainline into an extension of the NGTL grid from its original purpose as a supply collector for a cancelled Pacific coast liquefied natural gas export terminal.

BC’s five-month-old New Democratic Party government has not responded to the Wyndwood ruling nor acted on any other aspects of shale gas development. The new regime’s energy agenda is topped to date by participation in popular lawsuits protesting federal approval of expanding Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to a tanker dock in Vancouver Harbor, amid BC’s biggest voting population.