The federal government now has seven months to make a decision on the controversial Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, after the national regulator gave its support to the proposed project.

The National Energy Board is recommending the multi-billion dollar pipeline be constructed if 157 conditions are met, including 49 environmental requirements. The NEB described the requirements as achievable for the company.

Kinder Morgan must meet the conditions in order for the company to construct and operate the pipeline.

Trans Mountain 20160519

A map of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline is seen in the foreground as Dr. Robert Steedman, chief environment officer of the National Energy Board, releases their report on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project in Calgary. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The NEB concluded the Trans Mountain expansion will provide several economic advantages for Canada such as access to more export markets, thousands of construction jobs and increased government revenue.

At this point, the exact route of the pipeline is still not determined.

The federal government will take the NEB's decision into account in addition to considerations about upstream greenhouse gases and views of First Nations and other communities along the route.

Alberta's oilpatch welcomed the decision, although the excitement was measured.

"It's beneficial in 2019 when there is actual oil flowing," said Robert Cooper, with the institutional sales and trading team at Acumen Capital Partners in Calgary.  "Right now the immediate concern in the energy business is keeping the business alive." 

Oil and gas analyst Robert Cooper gives his thoughts on the NEB's approval of Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline0:58

Spill risk

Coastal communities in B.C. have raised serious concerns about spill risk and the potential damage it could cause to the environment.

"The board found the likelihood of a major oil spill was very low. However the potential significance was very high," said Robert Steedman, the NEB's chief environment officer.

NEB's Robert Steedman outlines the main environmental concerns involved3:11

The impact of a possible earthquake was a major consideration, according to the NEB, although the risk is considered low. 

Indigenous concerns

Conditions also include consulting with a number of Indigenous groups about environmental protection and emergency response plans.

"The board considered the concerns expressed by Indigenous groups, how the project and related tanker traffic could impact Indigenous interests, and the appropriate means of mitigating such impacts," Steedman said.

Steedman added the NEB tried to provide as much access and advanced information as possible for Indigenous groups.

Some of the groups who oppose the project have warned they will take court action to try to stop the pipeline from being built. 

GHG emissions

Environmental regulations include developing grasslands and wetlands mitigation plans, marine protection plans and reports about how the company will construct the Burnaby Mountain tunnel.

The NEB is requiring Kinder Morgan to file an updated greenhouse gas assessment two months after the pipeline is built. The analysis would include the total direct emissions generated from construction. For the first time, the NEB is requiring the company to offset those emissions. 

Tanker near Kinder Morgan Westridge terminal 20140219

A tanker is seen near Kinder Morgan's Westridge Marine Terminal. The National Energy Board recommended the the approval of the Trans Mountain expansion from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Marine shipping

The NEB went outside of its usual jurisdiction to make recommendations about how the oil will be transported on tankers. Officials considered possible environmental effects of marine shipping because of public interest.

Trans Mountain must enhance its marine oil spill response to be capable of delivering 20,000 tonnes of capacity in the event of a spill within 36 hours of notification.

McCuaig-Boyd reacts to NEB decision

'I'm happy we are going to the next step,' said Marg McCuaig-Boyd, Alberta's Energy Minister. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC)

Other marine conditions include developing a mammal protection program.

"The board found that marine traffic in the Salish Sea is high and is increasing and, in fact, will increase regardless whether or not the project proceeds. And it found in the case of the southern resident killer whales, they are already impacted by the levels of traffic and any additional traffic that might be introduced by the Trans Mountain expansion project would likely be significant," said Steedman.

While the NEB's announcement is significant, some say the regulator's role is diminishing over time.

"It's not as if anyone is saying we don't need board approval, it's just that a board report, in and of itself, no longer seems to be enough," said Nigel Bankes, chair of natural resources law at the University of Calgary.   

"It used to be the 'be all and end all' and, quite clearly, now there are other important inputs, which make it a much more complicated world with many more moving parts," he said. 

If approved, the twin lines could carry nearly 900,000 barrels of crude a day, starting in 2018. 

Conditional approval for pipeline upgrade6:44

Here is how some people reacted to the NEB decision:

"The NEB has completely disregarded the urgency that climate science demands. We can't build more pipelines and meet the international climate commitments that Canada agreed to in Paris" — Mike Hudema, Greenpeace.

"This decision is a milestone for the future of Canada. The NEB is sending a clear message to Canada: building the infrastructure to get our resources to market is in the best interest of our country" — Tim McMillan, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

"I'm happy we are going to the next step and there still are some steps to go" — Marg McCuaig-Boyd, Alberta's Energy Minister.

"We need the federal Liberal government, along with other provincial and municipal politicians, to stop delaying and undermining the confidence in this independent process and back these critical projects that will grow our economy" — Brian Jean, Wildrose leader

 "The Liberals promised to fix the environmental review process, but have so far only put in a temporary fix, a three-member panel to review the NEB's Trans Mountain report. We must return to an independent, robust environmental assessment process for all industry projects. Anything less sets a dangerous precedent" — Elizabeth May, Green Party leader