Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) said this week it won’t hear final arguments for the long-delayed Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP) proposal until at least next April, extending by another four months any decision on the C$16 billion natural gas pipeline.

“The Mackenzie Gas Project is one of the largest infrastructure projects to ever be proposed in this country,” said NEB Panel Chair Ken Vollman. “It has been a long road to get to this point and we are very pleased to be approaching the final stages of our journey.”

However, the “journey” has been a series of baby steps, and the walk appears to be a long and ever-winding road. NEB warned Wednesday that the April arguments would depend on the recommendations of the Joint Review Panel (JRP), which is scheduled to issue its environmental findings on the MGP in December.

The JRP was tasked with examining the potential environmental, socio-economic and cultural effects of the 1,220-kilometer gasline, which would carry gas supplies from the Northwest Territories to points south. The panel originally was scheduled to issue its findings in mid-2008, but the end-date was moved to this December (see Daily GPI, Dec. 8, 2008).

The JRP’s findings are to be completed and forwarded to the NEB in December, a spokesperson told NGI Thursday.

The NEB separately is looking at the MGP’s engineering, safety and economic matters, but it can’t move forward without JRP’s recommendations and any possible remedial recommendations. If JRP’s final report proposes measures to alleviate potentially adverse effects of the new development, some of these measures could be incorporated as conditions into any approvals granted for the MGP, the board said.

Once final arguments are completed, the NEB said it would prepare a Reasons for Decision document, which would not only detail its decision but also provide the JRP’s recommendations. No timeline is be set on issuing a final decision by the NEB until the JRP report is completed.

Imperial Oil Resources Ventures Ltd. and its partners, the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, Imperial Oil Resources Ltd., ConocoPhillips (North) Ltd., Shell Canada Ltd. and ExxonMobil Canada Properties, filed five applications to advance the MGP in 2004. The NEB launched the evidentiary hearings in 2006.

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