The head of the National Energy Board says the agency is legally obligated to review Enbridge's decision to reverse part of its "Line 9" pipeline from Sarnia to Westover, Ont.

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Gaétan Caron, chair and CEO of the National Energy Board, says the agency is compelled by law to review a proposal by Enbridge to reverse part of its Line 9 pipeline in Ontario. (CBC)

The NEB's involvement in a private company's seemingly inocuous business decision was a source of conternation for some members of the federal Natural Resources committee, which is holding hearings into Canadian pipelines and refineries.

"Does CN come to some regulatory authority to turn a train around on its own track? Do trucking companies come to some regulatory authority to turn their trucks around on the highway? It doesn't make any sense to me at all what business it is for a regulatory agency," said Conservative MP Blaine Calkins.

But the Line 9 reversal is about more than a change in the direction of crude flow.

"There is some amount of facilities being proposed and it is the wish of Parliament that any facilities applied for be approved or denied by the National Energy Board. So we don't have discretion in that respect," answered Gaétan Caron, the chair and CEO of the NEB.

Valves and fittings

Caron explained that the facility changes involved valves and fittings. He also went on to add that there was a great deal of concern expressed by farmers through whose fields the pipeline passses.

Much of the frustration over the NEB hearings rises out of the length of time they take. Enbridge applied for approval to reverse its pipeline last August. The NEB won't hear public comments until this fall.

Line 9 has come up many times in the course of the committee's four days of hearings into this subject. The pipeline was originally built in 1975, at the request of the government, to take Western Canadian crude to Montreal refineries. It was reversed 13 years ago to bring imported oil into Ontario.

There has been speculation that this reversal may eventually expand all the way to Montreal.

From the oil industry's perspective, that would get them a better price for Alberta crude. For those concerned about energy security, this would provide Quebec and Atlantic Canada with a reliable source of oil. Those two regions currently get 80 per cent of their crude from Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Today was the last of four days of hearings by the Natural Resources committee to look into the issues of Canadian refining capacity and pipelines. The committee also decided to compile a report based on the testimony it heard. It did not set a deadline for the report's release.