New Brunswick

Montreal protest unlikely to kill Energy East pipeline, expert says

While a protest in Montreal has postponed the National Energy Board hearings into the proposed Energy East pipeline, Warren Mabee, an energy policy expert, expects little delay for the project.

Queen's University's Warren Mabee says he expects the National Energy Board hearings to resume within a month

The NEB postponed hearings on the proposed Energy East pipeline in Montreal after a protest on Monday. (Charles Contant/Radio-Canada)

The delay in the National Energy Board's hearings in Montreal on the proposed Energy East pipeline is unlikely to put a halt to the project, according to one energy policy expert.

Warren Mabee, director of the Queen's Institute of Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., made the comments on the heels of the NEB's announcement it won't be holding any hearings this week following Monday's protest in Montreal.

"Certainly they need to figure these meetings out," Mabee told CBC's Information Morning Fredericton on Wednesday.

But he said, "I don't think that it's the end of the pipeline."

The protest was sparked, at least in part, by revelations that the NEB chairman and two commissioners met with former Quebec premier Jean Charest in January, when Charest was acting as a consultant for TransCanada Corporation, the company behind the proposed pipeline.

"That just looks bad," said Mabee. 

"The optics are bad."

But Mabee doesn't think the protests are only about the alleged conflict of interest.

He said that these meetings often start as a discussion on specifics, then swerve into generalities.

Warren Mabee, director of the Queen's Institute of Energy and Environmental Policy, said the "optics" of NEB members meeting with Jean Charest while he was consulting for TansCanada look "bad." (Cement 2020)
"What ends up happening in these meetings is we stop talking about Energy East, the pipeline, and we start talking about the future of energy in Canada and those are two very different things," said Mabee.

"If we start talking about, 'Well, why are we taking oil out of the ground?' and 'What are we going to use that oil for in the future?' — the best place to do that is probably not in a hearing around one specific project."

Mabee contends TransCanada can help its case by putting more effort into discussing contingency and safety plans, as well as focusing on what oil could be used for outside of energy.

He isn't expecting the delay for the hearings to be much longer than a month. Nevertheless, Mabee stressed the importance of getting the hearings back in progress.

"No matter where your views are on the spectrum, it's important to have the discussion," he said.

Christine McLean talks to the Director of the Queens Institute of Energy & Environmental Policy at Queens University about the prospects for Energy East now that tempers are flaring along the proposed route. 8:14

The NEB has said the ​hearings will not resume until it has made a decision regarding two motions to recuse two of its panel members from the hearings. 

The motions were filed by environmental groups over the controversial meeting with Charest.

Marc-Andre Plouffe, a director at the NEB's Montreal office, has said the meeting was part of efforts to learn how to engage with the province.

The Montreal hearings were slated to run until Friday.

Hearings are also scheduled to be held in several other cities, including Quebec City, before concluding in Kingston, Ont., in December.

The proposed 4,500-kilometre Energy East pipeline would transport crude oil from Alberta to Eastern Canada.

The NEB must submit its report by March 2018 after which the federal cabinet will have the final say on the project.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton