An abrupt lesson in a no-nonsense spirit guiding Canadian regulatory reform has been dealt out to environmental protesters and their political supporters. The National Energy Board (NEB) made an example of an attempt to inject green resistance into a pipeline toll case. The protest was rejected without NEB even seeking replies to an initial protest letter to the agency.
The aborted intervention sought to widen and prolong review of an application by Kinder Morgan Canada for tolls to cover costs of a planned 150% capacity addition to its Trans Mountain Pipeline delivering oil from Alberta across British Columbia (BC) to Pacific tanker berths in Vancouver harbor. The toll filing is the first in a series of anticipated applications intended to advance the mammoth project in orderly steps.
The protesters -- the Vancouver branch of Ecojustice, supported by Kennedy Stewart, a New Democratic Party member of Parliament for nearby Burnaby -- called on the NEB to put environmental issues into the issues list for forthcoming toll hearings. The agency promptly replied to all concerned with a letter reciting "specific examples of what the board does not consider relevant to this proceeding."
The examples cited as out of bounds were the list drawn up by Ecojustice and Stewart -- "the level of costs associated with full externalities of the pipeline including, but not limited to: insurance costs and indemnification, clean-up costs in the event of a spill, costs of measures to prevent spills, and pipeline integrity costs." Also ruled off limits for the toll hearings is "corporate structure as it relates to compensation in the event of a spill."
The NEB acknowledged that the environmental issues could be raised again when Kinder Morgan files a construction application. The board promised "an assessment as appropriate" but added it "does not take a position on whether these issues may be found to be relevant to any future proceeding."
The instant rejection of the green resistance initiative highlighted the brisk, businesslike flavor of revised regulatory procedures that Canada's year-old Conservative majority government enacted in Ottawa as of June. The regime was tightened up by setting time limits on project reviews, reducing the number of federal environmental permitting authorities to three from dozens, and new rules on "standing" or public participation rights. Regulatory days in court will only be available to interveners that show they are directly affected by cases or have expert knowledge and evidence to present.
The regulatory overhaul grew out of calls for reform of a notoriously loose, complicated and slow federal approval process by Canadian provincial governments. An 80-month ordeal of reviews that left the Mackenzie Gas Project dormant and possibly dead lit a fire under the government in Ottawa (see related story). Political determination to tighten up the regime was further strengthened when green factions joined together to slow a review of Enbridge Inc.'s rival to the Kinder Morgan-Trans Mountain plan, the Northern Gateway proposal for an oil route from Alberta across BC to a north Pacific tanker port at Kitimat.
Using a tactic that pipeline supporters have dubbed "mob the mike," environmental groups enlisted more than 3,000 members to reserve Gateway hearings time by taking advantage of a procedure under the old regime for airing informal opinion and commentary known as requests to make oral statements. The lineup prompted the Gateway joint review panel, which includes the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency as well as the NEB, to add a year to its schedule. About 800 environmental and aboriginal protesters have spoken since hearings started earlier this year, generating thousands of pages of transcripts of dim views of tankers, Alberta oilsands projects and the petroleum and pipeline industries in general.
Unlike the Gateway plan for an entirely new right-of-way, pipeline and dock, the Kinder Morgan-Trans Mountain package is additions to oil transportation services that have been operating for half a century. Capacity has already been added to the most environmentally sensitive segments of the system that traverse national and provincial parks in the Rocky Mountains. Also unlike Gateway, Kinder Morgan-Trans Mountain has obtained firm 20-year transportation service contracts, chiefly with mainstays of the Alberta-based Canadian oil and gas industry. The plan calls for $4.2 billion in facilities additions to raise capacity on Trans Mountain to 755,000 b/d from 300,000, with most and potentially all of the new volumes expected to come from Alberta oilsands projects.
No particular bitumen developments are being tied into either of the pipeline proposal, however, an approach that, in Canadian regulatory practice, prevents protesters from injecting the "dirty oil" resistance campaign formally into the evidence to be considered by the project reviews.
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