The federal government has announced the first of its promised additional environmental reviews of two pipeline projects that are already before the National Energy Board.

The new, three-member panel will look into the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipelines. 

The company wants to add a second pipeline alongside the original that was built in 1953 to carry oil from Edmonton to Burnaby. If approved, the twin lines would carry nearly 900,000 barrels of crude a day starting in 2018.

The members announced by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr Tuesday are:

  • Annette Trimbee, the president of the University of Winnipeg and a former deputy finance minister in Alberta. She served on Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's royalty review panel last year.
  • Tony Penikett, the former premier of Yukon and the author of Reconciliation: First Nations Treaty Making in British Columbia.

  • Kim Baird, former elected chief of B.C.'s Tsawwassen First Nation, who now runs her own consulting firm specializing in indigenous policy, governance and development issues.

All three have extensive experience in issues the panel is supposed to address: to consider the views of communities along the route; to "meaningfully consult" indigenous peoples and, where appropriate, to accommodate their rights and interests; and to assess not just the direct emissions from the pipeline, but the so-called upstream pollution from the oil fields.

But there may also be some concerns.

Relationships under scrutiny

According to the federal lobbyist registry, Trimbee's university has registered meetings with Carr on two occasions this year under the subject headings of "education" and "environment." The university also lobbied other federal ministers, with the summaries listing support for graduate students and various building projects on the campus as the subjects discussed.

Baird took part in an exchange program with Ian Anderson — the president of Kinder Morgan Canada — in 2010. According to the company's website, the two spent six days over several months in their respective environments.

"Through the exchange, Ian gained a better appreciation of the differences that exist between industry and Aboriginal approaches to commercial discussions," the website says. "In return, Chief Baird learned about the pipeline industry and KMC's operations."

Trans Mountain 20150820

A pipeline at the Trans Mountain expansion project in Burnaby, B.C. Owner Kinder Morgan has proposed twinning its pipeline along the existing route. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The website also says the relationship between the two evolved to include a closer working relationship between the company and band, and ongoing access to each other's employee experience and expertise in relevant areas.

Baird was elected six times as chief of Tsawwassen and served until 2012.

The collapse in oil prices has shaken the economies of both Alberta and Saskatchewan, with both provinces insisting construction of new pipelines to ports and markets overseas is crucial to any economic recovery.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he supports getting resources to international markets, but not without support of First Nations and environmentalists. That remains an elusive goal.

The National Energy Board has been reviewing the Trans Mountain expansion for nearly three years. Its final report and recommendation will also be released this week.

A second proposed pipeline, Energy East, is still being reviewed by the NEB.

Project faces opposition

The Trans Mountain project faces significant opposition in British Columbia, by some First Nations bands located directly along the route and by non-natives in B.C.'s Lower Mainland.

Kinder Morgan protesters chanting

Protesters opposed to the proposed twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline chanted, "leave it in the ground, leave it in the ground," at a weekend rally in Burnaby, B.C. (CBC)

The B.C. government also formally opposes the expansion, citing the company's failure to prove that it could meet oil spill safety standards.

This additional federal environmental assessment was announced by the Liberal government back in January. It will follow a different mandate than the NEB review and is intended, the Liberals say, to restore public trust and confidence in Canada's environmental assessment processes.

"If we're going to attract the investments we need to sustainably develop our energy resources, then we have to better engage Canadians, conduct deeper consultations with Indigenous peoples and base decisions on science, facts and evidence," Carr said at the time.

The panel's findings are to be reported to Carr in November, a month before the federal cabinet must make a final decision on whether to approve the proposed twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that no new pipelines were built under the previous Harper government. In fact, the Keystone and Alberta Clipper pipelines were completed during that time.
    May 17, 2016 10:58 AM ET