Canada's National Energy Board (NEB) announced today that it is stopping the clock on the review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion due to the company’s new proposed corridor through Burnaby, B.C. — which will push a decision on the project back to after the 2015 federal election.
The board will take a seven-month timeout from its 15-month timeline between July 11, 2014, and Februrary 3, 2015, to allow Kinder Morgan time to file studies for its new corridor through Burnaby Mountain, according to a letter to intervenors  sent today.
That pushes the board’s deadline to file its report on the project with cabinet back seven months from July 2, 2015, to Jan. 25, 2016.
“The significant thing is that this decision now won’t be made until after the next federal election. It’ll be up to the next Prime Minister to make that call,” says Karen Campbell, staff lawyer with Ecojustice.
“From a campaign perspective, it certainly gives some wind in the sails of those who want to make sure this isn’t a fait accompli before the next election,” she says.
But Campbell also cautioned that there are still a lot of shortcomings in the process that the energy board has not addressed.
That’s a concern echoed by Gregory McDade, legal counsel for the City of Burnaby.
“There are so many other incomplete items that need work,” McDade says. “We’ve been pushing all along for a proper public hearing with cross-examination and evidence and the NEB said they couldn’t do that because of the tight timeline. Now that we have the time, why aren’t we doing a proper public hearing?”
McDade says that without cross-examination, the energy board’s review is not legitimate. He noted how Kinder Morgan failed to answer many of the questions  put to them through the “information request” process, which he described as a “colossal joke.”
“Stalling it seven months doesn’t help at all if you’re not going to properly examine the evidence,” he said. “It just puts the decision off.”
Chris Tollefson, executive director of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria, says this ruling is just a small step toward fixing the problem and that the entire process needs to be put on hold until Kinder Morgan’s application is complete.
As of right now, the rest of the hearings are scheduled to move forward more or less as per the previous schedule.
“The board has now recognized that this process was not working and that the timelines were unrealistic,” Tollefson says. “What we would call upon the board now to do is to revisit its decision to eliminate cross-examination from this process.”
Any which way, the Conservatives will be in the limelight over their support for heavy oil projects on B.C.'s coast in the 2015 election, according to Kai Nagata, energy and democracy director at Dogwood Initiative, a B.C. democracy group.
“It'll be a live issue for sure,” Nagata says. “The way Kinder Morgan is going, the more time the NEB gives them to alienate landowners and First Nations, the more likely they are to remind people of Enbridge.”
Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion would ship 590,000 barrels of oilsands bitumen to Burnaby each day, where it would be loaded onto 400 oil tankers each year.
— With files from Carol Linnitt
Photo: Rod Raglin via Flickr