Groups get ready for critical Energy East hearings

4 02 2015
National Energy Board’s application process launches today
JOHN CHILIBECK LEGISLATURE BUREAU

FREDERICTON • Supporters and opponents of the big Energy East pipeline proposal have 30 days to get their applications into the federal regulator as to why their testimony should be considered, with a pot of $2.5 million available for interveners in the lengthy hearing process.   To win over more people to its side, a New Brunswick environmental group quickly launched a video Tuesday encouraging opponents to make their voices heard at upcoming hearings.   The Conservation Council of New Brunswick, a fierce opponent of TransCanada’s project, has also set up links on its website to the National Energy Board’s application process, which was launched Tuesday in Calgary, the federal regulator’s home base.   “We’re trying to encourage as many people as possible to apply,” said Tracy Glynn, a spokeswoman with the council. “The project carries an enormous risk to our land and waters and the Bay of Fundy and the right whales. We also want to get the information to people who live along the route so they can have their say on a possible spill, which is very likely with these pipelines.”   Premier Brian Gallant and most New Brunswick politicians have put their support behind Energy East, saying it will create and sustain jobs, secure Canada’s energy future and sprinkle wealth to every province. They also expressed confidence TransCanada will create enough safeguards to avoid spills.   According to an independent report prepared by the Conference Board of Canada, the $12-billion project is expected to support more than 2,300 direct and indirect jobs in New Brunswick over the seven-year development and construction phase, and $760 million in tax revenues in the province during construction and the first 20 years of operation.   New Brunswick’s Department of Environment and Local Government plans on applying as an intervener at the hearings, as will the City of Saint John. Both governments want the pipeline built.   “TransCanada looks forward to the National Energy Board’s adjudication process to evaluate the Energy East Pipeline project,” said company spokesman Tim Duboyce on Tuesday. “We have complete trust that the NEB will carry out an impartial review of the project, as it hears from various participants who present their views during the process.”   Irving Oil Ltd., which has forged a deal with TransCanada to accept crude oil in Saint John for its refinery and a planned new export terminal, said Tuesday it hadn’t decided if it would apply to the regulator.   “Irving Oil is currently reviewing the NEB’s application process for intervener status and we are assessing our options,” said spokeswoman Samantha Robinson in an email.   The board has opened the application process for any groups or individuals interested in providing testimony in writing or at hearings that haven’t been scheduled yet. The regulator will only consider people who are directly affected by the pipeline, such as landowners, farmers or fishermen, or experts such as doctors or engineers.   The Conservation Council is offering to help people with the applications, which it describes as overly complicated following the introduction of new rules in 2012. It also plans on holding application parties to encourage people to get involved in Fredericton, Saint John and locations in northwestern New Brunswick along the pipeline route.   A number of opponents have been critical of the application process, including Environmental Defence, which accused the board in a press release of rushing ahead without having enough solid information from Calgary-based TransCanada.   “TransCanada has acknowledged that it intends to make major changes to its Energy East application in the coming weeks, with plans to file changes and new details,” stated the release.“So what’s the rush? The NEB should wait until there is a complete application on the table rather than rushing to start hearings. Last year, the NEB delayed its hearings into the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline for seven months after the company made changes to that project.”   But a spokeswoman for the board said Tuesday it looks at each project individually and likes to show flexibility when it comes to its hearings.   “First, we are still considering the completeness of TransCanada’s application,” said Katherine Murphy. “Second, we’ve taken a preliminary look at the company’s application and we’ve updated the list of issues to reflect what we’ve seen thus far. So the board feels there’s enough there, with that list of issues, that individuals would be able to go in and make the decision as to whether they’d like to apply to participate in the hearings.”   Murphy said there will still be plenty of time for applicants to have their voices heard. Once the board issues a hearing order, it has 15 months to hold the public hearings and issue a report with recommendations to the federal cabinet. Ottawa then has three months to make its final decision on whether the pipeline should go ahead. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has already declared support for the project; however, a federal election will be held before the issue goes to cabinet.   It’s anticipated the hearings will be held at multiple venues across the country.   TransCanada hopes to have the 4,600-kilometre pipeline up and running by 2018. It would carry 1.1 million barrels of crude oil a day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries and possible export terminals in Eastern Canada, with its end point in Saint John. The western provinces have had problems finding enough capacity for exporting all their oil, with pipeline proposals to British Columbia and the United States blocked over environmental, First Nations and landowner concerns.   Concerns have been raised by Quebec and Ontario, where natural gas consumers, including some big businesses, worry about losing part of their supply. Part of the project involves converting an existing natural gas pipeline to oil.   Environmentalists, meanwhile, say further oilsands development will contribute to more greenhouse gas emissions and the warming of the planet, a threat to human flourishing.   They also worry about spills along the route and a sensitive habitat for beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River where TransCanada wanted to build an oil export terminal. That plan is now under review and could be scrapped.   The application process launched Tuesday is open until March 3. Participants can apply to be commentators who forward written submissions or they can ask for intervener status. This would allow them to call evidence and allow other groups in the hearing to question them before the board. Interveners also have a pool of $2.5 million available to them, although each individual is limited to a maximum of $12,000 and each group $80,000.

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Energy East pipeline president Francois Poirier speaks at the Canadian Club of Canada during a luncheon in Ottawa on Monday.   Photo: AdriAn Wyld/thE CAnAdiAn PrESS

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