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Can the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline be saved?
After more than seven months of hearings along the 1,172-kilometre pipeline route that provided a soapbox for opponents, proponent Enbridge Inc. hopes the momentum shifts in its favour as the regulatory review moves to a new phase on Sept. 4 when the company will get to present its case.
The review, conducted by a Joint Review Panel of the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, wrapped up community hearings in Comox, B.C., on Friday. The round started in January in Kitimat and continued in northern British Columbia and Alberta in communities affected by the pipeline, which would take Alberta oil through to Kitimat and then on to foreign markets.
The next round is expected to last three months. Hearings in Edmonton, Prince George and Prince Rupert will involve a more formal phase at which Enbridge and intervenors will be cross-examined. “This is an opportunity for us to answer our critics and we are fully prepared to do that,” Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway said from Comox.
“It’s been a long process. We heard a lot of criticism of the project and quite honestly, it’s been a little frustrating. We put 10 years of effort into this pipeline and we look forward to hopefully easing a lot of the concerns that have been expressed.”
The courtroom-like setting will be a more comfortable one for the Calgary-based pipeline company. Dozens of expert witnesses will be on hand to present and explain why the pipeline is needed and why it will be operated safely.
Final arguments will be held in March and April. The panel is expected to issue its report and findings by December 2013, in alignment with new federal regulations that put time limits on regulatory reviews.
The company got a rough ride during the community hearings but not as rough as anticipated.
More than 800 people made oral statements before the panel — a large number, but a far cry from the 4,300 that had originally signed up to have a say. Hearings in Calgary, Edmonton, Bella Coola and Port Hardy were cancelled because of insufficient participation.
The public will be offered additional chances to participate when community hearings resume in Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna in January and February.
Mr. Stanway said the large number of no-shows so far shows it’s difficult to translate an online campaign into actual participation in front of regulators.
For the rest of this column, please go to the National Post website: http://business.financialpost.com/2012/08/10/enbridge-readies-defence-of-northern-gateway-pipeline/