A lawyer representing environmental groups wants to know what guarantees the public has that the promises Northern Gateway is making on its pipeline plan will endure for the 50-year lifespan of the project.

The latest set of hearings in Prince Rupert wrapped up Friday.

Karen Campbell, who represents ForestEthics, Raincoast Conservation and Living Oceans, asked a panel of company experts at federal review hearings Friday if promises of a marine spill response and wildlife recovery studies will survive the 50-year life of the project.

'When they say their science is robust ... we'd like to make sure that it's robust, and so far we've seen some gaps.' —Environmentalists' lawyer Karen Campbell 

"Can you ensure that the commitments that you've made over and above the regulatory requirements would be adhered to by any future owner of this pipeline?" Campbell asked.

"We anticipate that the project would be subject to conditions from the joint review panel, and that any owner would have to respect those conditions that are imposed upon the project," replied John Carruthers, president of Northern Gateway Pipelines and one of a dozen company experts answering questions under oath this week.

Asked if the company would take steps to make those commitments legal, Northern Gateway lawyer Dennis Langen objected.

"I don't think it's fair to get into legal issues well into the future with these witnesses," he said.

Killer whale survival

Campbell questioned the science Northern Gateway has presented to the panel, including their own study that found diluted bitumen — the type of heavy oil that will flow through the pipeline — will not sink in the event of a tanker spill.

She also questioned their assessments of the effects of oil on killer whales and the ability to clean-up a spill in the wind and wave conditions found in Hecate Strait in winter.

"We are trying to understand their science, and we're trying to really hold them to task," Campbell said. "When they say their science is robust ... we'd like to make sure that it's robust, and so far we've seen some gaps."

Panel members were adamant that preventing an oil spill is the main aspect of their plan, a goal shared by shipping companies.

"None of these shippers want to lose their cargo," said Ed Owens, a consultant from Polaris Applied Science, an oil spill response company based in Washington state. "It costs them a lot of money."

The review panel hearings will resume in Prince Rupert later this month, when they will continue hearing testimony on Northern Gateway's marine response plan.

What became clear in the past week is that, while Northern Gateway has committed to having in place an emergency response regime in the event of a marine spill, they do not yet have that plan.

The federal review panel has until the end of the year to produce a report and recommendations for the federal government.