The Joint Review Panel begins its final round of hearings into the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project this morning at the Best Western. The panel is National Energy Board members Kenneth Bateman

The Joint Review Panel begins its final round of hearings into the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project this morning at the Best Western. The panel is National Energy Board members Kenneth Bateman

Northern Gateway final hearings begin

With about 35 groups set to speak, the hearings will likely continue into next week at least.

  • Jun. 17, 2013 9:00 a.m.

THE FINAL round of Joint Review Panel hearings into Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline project began this morning in a packed conference room at the Best Western.

Several Terrace RCMP officers were on hand too, two walking outside and two inside the hotel to keep the peace, plus a security guard near the conference room door, but no protestors were present.

Board chair Sheila Leggett of the National Energy Board went over the rules before the speakers began, saying no new evidence could be introduced and speakers were to reply to what had already been said.

And they did not need to re-iterate their written arguments already handed in as the board had read them.

Speaking for Enbridge Richard Neufeld began his two-hour talk by countering arguments against the project put forth by opponents in past hearings, saying Enbridge had taken additional measures to ensure that the public, opponents, and those living along the pipeline right-of-way could have confidence in the project.

That includes specialized measures to ensure tankers will not have adverse effects on marine or terrestrial life, including a plan to monitor the marine environment three years prior to the project and three years afterward to ensure no negative effects on marine birds and shoreline communities, he said.

From the outset of the project, it’s been believed that “emergency preparedness begins with accident prevention,” said Neufeld.

Having escort tug boats is a measure above and beyond what others do – there are thousands and thousands of worldwide tanker ports and only a few use mitigation measures such as escort tugs, he said.

Some opponents have said that the project must look at catastrophic events that can’t be predicted and should be prepared for.

We say the project has done exactly that,” said Neufeld, adding it has looked at the ways and alternatives to keep the risk of spills as close to zero as is practical.

Enbridge has committed to costly spill prevention measures such as a fleet of purpose built tankers, thicker walled pipes, increased number of valves on the pipeline among other things, which have increased the capital costs since the time of the filing of the pipeline application to the tune of close to $1 billion.

That’s “in order to provide, you, (the board) the Canadian Public and people along the right-of-way” with assurances that enhanced measures have been taken to avoid catastrophic ground or marine accidents, said Neufeld.

After Enbridge, the intervenors and government participants began speaking; about 35 were listed to take part, enough to take the hearings into at least next week.

Art Sterritt for the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative started.

How can it be in the public interest to approve a project when all First Nations are against it?” asked Sterritt, adding that the risks and costs exceed the benefits.

I’d like to ask you to remember this: despite the hundreds of millions of dollars, BC First Nations and all the public in B.C. have rejected this project.

In all my decades of experience, I have never ever witnessed a project that garnered such opposition, never in the history of B.C.

I don’t envy the position you’re in but I think you should think, if you think it’s in the public interest, you may very well find it creates nothing but conflict in B.C”

Others listed to present oral arguments include the Province of BC, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Council of the Haida Nation, Skeena NDP MP Nathan Cullen, Douglas Channel Watch, the federal government, the Haisla Nation, Kitimat Valley Naturalists and many others.

Those arguing in favour of the project are looking to prove that Enbridge’s environmental checks and fiscal plan make the proposed 1,170 km twin bitumen and condensate pipeline safe and worthwhile for stakeholders along the route.

The proposed pipeline would extend from the Alberta oil sands to a terminal near Kitimat on the B.C. coast with the bitumen then transported by tanker to processing facilities abroad.

The proposal has been met with heavy opposition along the way, with protests and anti-Enbridge campaigns staged throughout the review process, which has seen 1,200 oral statements made since it began in 2011 and the participation of 215 intervenors – people or groups who submit written material and engage in formal debate.

The Joint Review Panel has until Dec. 31 to present its decision to the federal government, at which point the cabinet will make the final call on whether to approve the project.

The June 17 presentations are open to the public and will also be available through a webcast on the National Energy Board website.

This is the third time the hearings have been in Terrace, the first time in January 2012 at the beginning of the process.