National Energy Board kick-starts new Trans Mountain hearing process

A hearing panel has been struck and there's a deadline of Oct. 3 for those who want to file comments or apply or register to appear at the expedited hearing.

Panel has been struck and now the national regulator is looking for public comments until Oct. 3

Pipes destined for the Trans Mountain expansion sit on a train in central B.C. in this file photo. The NEB has initiated the next round of hearings on the contentious project. (Dennis Owen/Reuters)

The National Energy Board is kicking off a new hearing process for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, just over a month after its initial approval of the project was rejected by the Federal Court of Appeal. 

A hearing panel has been struck and there's a deadline of Oct. 3 for those who want to file comments or apply or register to appear at the hearing.

"The NEB will carry out its reconsideration related to the Trans Mountain Expansion Project as directed by the Order in Council, and in a fair, efficient, and accessible manner," said Peter Watson, the CEO of the NEB, in a news release. 

"I am confident in the NEB's ability to complete a thorough examination of the matters directed by the government within the required timeline."

That timeline, set by the government on Sept. 21, is short and the focus of the review is limited.

The federal government directed the NEB to have its final recommendation under the new terms finalized by Feb. 22, 2019. 

Timeline is 'reasonable and fair'

The timeline unveiled by the federal pipeline regulator on Wednesday is "reasonable and fair," said Ian Anderson, the former CEO of Kinder Morgan Canada, who became head of the resulting Crown corporation when Ottawa closed its $4.5-billion purchase of the pipeline and its expansion project in late August.

He told reporters in Calgary it's possible expansion project construction that was halted when the Federal Court of Appeal overturned NEB approval last month could be restarted in 2019.

"Sure, it's possible," he said. "If things go according to the timeline that's been now started with the NEB and they have a recommendation by the middle of February and the government takes a few months for additional consultation, an order-in-council could be as early as next summer."

He added construction is expected to take about 30 months, depending upon seasonal adjustments, which would mean the pipeline could be operational in 2022, about two years later than the most recent predicted in-service date.

Indigenous consultation to come

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi has said new consultations with Indigenous people would come at a later date. 

As part of this initial step, the NEB is looking for feedback on the the draft amended factors to be considered, the draft list of issues to be considered at the hearing — including marine shipping impacts — and the design of the hearing itself. 

In an application letter laying out the draft hearing process, the NEB said it considers some issues, including that of marine shipping, were "thoroughly canvassed" in earlier hearings "and may not require additional evidence."

However, it also said it was particularly interested in hearing comments on "requirements of any follow-up program in respect of project-related marine shipping."

Greenpeace critical of process

Mike Hudema, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace, says it feels like the process is stacked in favour of the project. 

"The federal government really finds itself in quite the conflict of interest because I don't think anybody can have faith in a process when the government is asking for permission and is the body granting that permission," he said, in reference to the government's ownership of the project. 

Hudema also takes issue with the fact the federal government has said repeatedly that the project is going to move forward. 

"It really feels like the deck is being stacked in favour of the oil industry and that the result has already been predetermined, so we definitely have a lot of concerns," he said.

The expansion will include a new pipeline running roughly parallel to the existing, 1,150-kilometre line that carries refined and unrefined oil products from the Edmonton area to Burnaby, B.C.

It will nearly triple the capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.

The NEB named Lyne Mercier, Alison Scott and Murray Lytle to the panel that will conduct its reconsideration of the project.

​​With files from The Canadian Press.


Drew Anderson

Former CBC digital journalist

Drew Anderson was a digital journalist with CBC Calgary from 2015 to 2021 and is a third-generation Calgarian.