An environmental lawyer says the National Energy Board's new process for resolving permitting issues gives Kinder Morgan the ability to circumvent local rules for its Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. 

The NEB said Thursday it has established a process to resolve future permitting issues between the builders of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and provincial and municipal authorities.

Lawyer Eugene Kung with West Coast Environmental Law described the announcement as disappointing, but said it fits into a pattern of the NEB accommodating Kinder Morgan's demands.

Kung said the request for an expedited process shows the company is expecting difficulties in the future.

May bypass bylaws

"Now they've circumvented what would otherwise be the normal process, which I think is concerning, regardless on your views on the pipeline," Kung said.

The NEB says that under the new process, it will take about three to five weeks to reach a decision on future disputes for permits the project is required to get under conditions imposed on the project.

Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. had asked for a way to resolve future disputes after encountering what it called significant delays securing permits from Burnaby, B.C., that led to it launching a legal challenge.

The NEB ruled in favour of Kinder Morgan Canada on that challenge in early December, allowing the company to bypass some bylaws in the city that were found to be obstructing the project.

The company said Wednesday that it estimated that the Trans Mountain expansion project was a year behind schedule after encountering regulatory and permitting delays.

The project, which would nearly triple oil shipping capacity from Alberta to the West Coast, faces significant opposition from numerous Indigenous groups, environmentalists and municipalities in British Columbia.

Company pleased

Kinder Morgan issued a statement Thursday afternoon praising the NEB decision.

"Provision of a process that is open, fair and provides certainty for all parties is good news and is an important component of the assurances we need for the successful execution of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project," Kinder Morgan president Ian Anderson said in the statement.

Kinder Morgan said the company would work with communities along the pipeline route in good faith.

The company reiterated the pipeline's benefits, which it said included getting Alberta oil to international markets and economic benefits to Canada.

Critics not surprised

Tsleil-Waututh First Nation has long opposed the Trans Mountain project but Councillor Charlene Aleck says she's not surprised the NEB granted Kinder Morgan's request.

"The way they've been going about the permitting has been like a bull in a china shop," Aleck said. "We've felt all along that the NEB process itself was so flawed, and that's why we brought them to court."

The First Nation is one of over 10 litigants trying to get the Federal Court of Appeal to overturn approval of the project over claims of inadequate consultation and the project's possible impacts on waterways.

"My understanding is Kinder Morgan would need to bat 1,000 to get movement on their project," she said.

Eugene Kung

Lawyer Eugene Kung says the NEB's new permitting process is "concerning." (CBC)

Also on Thursday, Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, an opponent of the pipeline, released a video promising to continue the fight against Trans Mountain.

With files from The Canadian Press and Meera Bains