Politicians spar over Energy East as NEB suspends pipeline review

Alberta’s energy minister is vowing to stand with TransCanada in the fight to get Energy East even as the Calgary-based company moves to suspend its application in view of the national regulator’s new, more wide-ranging review process.

'This is infuriatingly frustrating,' says MP Michelle Rempel as TransCanada asks NEB to halt review

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, Alberta Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant all reacted to the suspension of the review process for the Energy East pipeline on Friday. (CBC)

Alberta's energy minister is vowing to stand with TransCanada in the fight to get Energy East, even as the Calgary-based company moves to suspend its application in view of the national regulator's new, more wide-ranging review process.

TransCanada issued a statement Thursday announcing it will suspend its application for the pipeline for 30 days while it conducts a "careful review" of the National Energy Board's (NEB) new assessment process. 

The company said its review could lead to the project being scrapped and on Friday the NEB announced a suspension of its review of Energy East and Eastern Mainline projects for 30 days.

The NEB said it will issue no decisions "or take further process steps relating to the review of the projects" during the suspension, which includes the board's expanded Indigenous and public engagement activities.

In August, the NEB expanded the review of Energy East, saying it will consider the project's indirect downstream greenhouse gas contributions and provide "more visibility" to the evaluation of risks associated with accidents, such as oil spills.

The Energy East pipeline is a $15.7-billion development proposed by TransCanada. The pipeline project would carry 1.1 million barrels a day from Alberta through Quebec to an export terminal in Saint John, N.B. (Canadian Press)

The NEB said its decision was based in part on 820 public submissions it received since last spring.

The board also ordered the Energy East review to start from the beginning, and voided all decisions from the project's previous panel.

The Energy East pipeline would take 1.1 million barrels of crude per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan and send it to refineries in Eastern Canada and a marine terminal in Saint John, N.B.

"We strongly support construction of the Energy East pipeline and continue to stand with TransCanada in its pursuit of this important project," Alberta Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd told CBC News in an email.

"It's not only important for Alberta, but it will benefit all of Canada through new jobs, investment and opportunities.

McCuaig-Boyd says the NEB's decision to widen the scope of its examination of the Energy East project is a historic overreach.

'Not an appropriate issue'

"Deciding the merits of a pipeline on downstream emissions is like judging transmission lines based on how its electricity will be used," she said.

"This is not an appropriate issue to include in the review."

Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd says her government is still committed to working with TransCanada to get Energy East built. (CBC )

The premier of New Brunswick, where the planned pipeline would terminate, said TransCanada's decision to halt the process is bad news for his province.

"We will do everything we can to have TransCanada continue the process, but there's no doubt that it is possible they won't," Premier Brian Gallant told CBC News in an email.

The premier said he also spoke with TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling after the suspension was announced. 

"Proceeding with the NEB process is still an option being considered by TransCanada. But they are indeed considering other options as well," Gallant said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government's first priority is to grow the economy while also protecting the environment.

"So it's up to companies and proponents to figure out the best path forward," he said. "But I think taking time to reflect, and make sure it's done right, ends up saving time and energy in the long run."

McCuaig-Boyd says Alberta's Climate Leadership Plan should satisfy concerns about upstream emissions.

"Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directly cited this climate plan in his approval of two new pipelines last fall," she said, referring to the Enbridge Line 3 project and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline proposal.

Alberta Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said the Liberals have put the regulatory system "into quicksand," which has resulted in a dampening of investment in the energy sector.

'Infuriatingly frustrating'

"It's not just disappointing. This is infuriatingly frustrating," she said.

"And people across the country whose jobs depend on this will look at this as an example of extreme incompetence by an ideological Liberal government that is opposed to development of the energy sector, writ large."

In early 2016, the Liberal government introduced new environmental assessment protocols for resource projects, mandating that they include upstream greenhouse gas emissions, while also trying to meaningfully engage with affected communities and First Nations.

But the NEB's rebooted review process for Energy East goes further by considering the impact of upstream and downstream emissions from the potential increased consumption of oil associated with the new pipeline.

Alberta Conservative MP Garnett Genuis says there needs to be an effective consultation process, but ultimately Ottawa needs to take responsibility for creating conditions where pipeline projects can succeed.

"It's vital for our national interest. We've got regions of the country that are using imported, foreign oil, when we are getting lower prices for our oil in Western Canada," said Genuis.

"Really, it's just common sense that Canadians should be able to buy Canadian oil."

He said the Liberals are dragging the puck on energy infrastructure projects. 

Rob Moore, opposition critic for Atlantic Issues, says he is concerned about the possible impact on the entire Atlantic community.

"The Liberals continue to throw roadblocks in front of this important project," he said in a release.

"The Energy East Pipeline would mean adding value to Canadian resources here in Atlantic Canada. It means jobs and opportunity. When will Atlantic Liberal MPs stand up for their region and fight for this project?" said Mr. Moore.