Environmental blockades in Canada against pipeline projects are being dismantled by a new regulatory regime, clearing a path to approval for TransCanada Corp.’s proposed oil conversion of its natural gas Mainline (see Daily GPI, April 3).

The barricades are coming down in a test case before the National Energy Board (NEB) on a small but hotly contested project by Enbridge Inc. that is the first outing for reforms enacted in 2012 by the Conservative government in Ottawa.

The pro-development intention of the reforms was advertised by the official title of the legislation: the Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act. Its practical meaning has surfaced in new NEB requirements for participation in its review of Enbridge’s C$129 million Line 9 Project, a reversal of currently westbound flows of oil imports and modest capacity increase to 300,000 b/d from 240,000 b/d to carry Alberta and U.S. production 639 kilometers (396 miles) east across Ontario and Quebec to Montreal refineries and export tanker docks on the St. Lawrence Seaway (see Daily GPI, April 8).

The new regime bared its teeth when environmentalists formed a long lineup to repeat resistance that delayed the Mackenzie Gas Project, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal for a new route from Alberta to a tanker terminal on the Pacific Coast of British Columbia, and TransCanada’s Keystone XL plan for oilsands shipments to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Canadian protests mimic the American fight against Keystone, and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved are often alliances between groups active on both sides of the border. The pipeline schemes are being fought in the name of stopping or reversing growth of fossil fuel use in general and the northern Alberta oilsands in particular.

The 2012 regulatory reform legislation directed the NEB — and other regulatory authorities, especially the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency — to ensure that they focus tightly on only the projects immediately before them, and solely on evidence as opposed to personal or political opinions.

The new regime takes special aim at stopping tactics known as “mob the mike,” where tens of thousands of comment letters and thousands of personal appearances to generate bulky files, eat time, and fill shelves of oral transcripts with objections that bog down regulatory proceedings and final deliberations by decision panels.

In general, the legislation limits participation to industry sponsors and citizens, groups or companies that are directly affected and potentially harmed by projects. The only exceptions are interveners with evidence and expertise deemed to be directly applicable to the cases before the regulatory agencies.

In the Enbridge Line 9 case, the NEB responded to the environmentalist groups by revealing details of the new process on application forms that must be completed before permission is granted to participate in cases.

The forms demand names, addresses and contact co-ordinates, detailed descriptions of how would-be participants are directly affected by the project in question, a written rundown on “relevant information or expertise,” and supporting documentation such as a resume and references.

The first exposure to the law court-like rules for regulatory cases has outraged veteran protesters such as Greenpeace Canada and Environmental Defense. From their Toronto offices, the two environmental non-governmental organizations fired off a press release across Canada that described the new rules of regulatory engagement as “undemocratic” and a violation of “basic rights and freedoms.”

As a tangle over procedures, rather than protest against a readily identifiable project or industry accident, the statement generated little publicity. At the same time, a ruling on issues that will be considered in the Enbridge case showed how tightly focused the NEB intends to become under the new regulatory regime.

“Many submissions suggested that, as part of the cumulative effects assessment, the board include the issues of upstream and downstream effects,” the NEB said in its hearing order for the Enbridge case.

The procedural ruling said, “The board will not consider the environmental effects of oilsands projects beyond our specific and limited assessment of the potential for cumulative effects. To the extent that the source of the crude oil to be transported could come from Alberta’s oilsands or other oil production projects, these projects have already been subjected to or will be subject to regulatory assessment.”

The same goes for Quebec and Ontario outlets for the proposed eastbound flows of shale or tight oil from the western United States and Alberta, and bitumen from the oilsands.

“With respect to submissions concerning downstream cumulative effects, a reversal of flow, if authorized, would facilitate delivery from different sources, but would not necessarily result in changes to the location or capacity of the refining destinations. The effects associated with refining activities are also under the jurisdiction of other regulatory authorities. Consequently the Board will not consider the environmental effects associated with downstream consumption of oil beyond our specific and limited assessment of the potential for cumulative effects.”

And further repetition of continuing debates over global climate change policy has no place before a Canadian agency with a toughened mandate to zero in on the particulars of projects immediately before it, regulators said. “Some submissions requested that the board consider federal and provincial GHG [greenhouse gas] policy and legislation, and international commitments,” the NEB said. “Any detailed consideration of such policies, legislation, and commitments, beyond their direct impact on the project and its environmental effects, is outside the appropriate scope of the present review.”

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