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Enbridge pipeline repair won't go to environmental review, despite First Nations' concerns

The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board has determined that Enbridge's proposed repairs near Fort Simpson are 'maintenance activities.'

Fort Simpson area First Nations oppose repairs which involve laying pipe under the Mackenzie River

A map showing the area of the proposed pipeline replacement project near Fort Simpson, N.W.T. (NEB)

Repairs to Enbridge Pipelines Inc.'s Line 21 pipeline running from Norman Wells, N.W.T., to Zama, Alta., are one step closer to getting underway, but are still months away from a final decision.

The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board has determined that Enbridge's proposed repairs near Fort Simpson are "maintenance activities." In doing so, the board rejected arguments made by the Dehcho First Nation, Liidlii Kue First Nation, and Sambaa Ke First Nation calling for a full environmental review of the repairs. 

The three First Nations had each argued that the repairs — which amount to decommissioning a 2.5 kilometre section of the pipeline near Fort Simpson, and installing a new section under the Mackenzie River via horizontal directional drilling — were significant enough to warrant a full environmental review.

Instead, the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board sided with Enbridge's arguments that the repairs, which concern 0.3 per cent of the 869 kilometre pipeline, do not amount to a "significant alteration to the project," or any other qualification that would trigger a new environmental screening.

Arguments rejected

The First Nations argued that Enbridge's plan to replace the segment under the Mackenzie River by means of horizontal directional drilling was not something that could have been anticipated in maintenance clauses in the pipeline's initial environmental review in 1980, and so the method should trigger a review.

They also argued that Enbridge's plan to decommission the existing section should have triggered a new environmental review under a clause stating that decommissioning the pipeline would mean an environmental screening.

The board rejected both arguments.

Against the first, the board stated that Enbridge's plan to drill under the Mackenzie River would have less of an environmental impact than the original methods, which involved dredging the river bottom. Against the second argument, the board agreed with Enbridge that decommissioning such a relatively small section of the total pipeline did not meet the threshold for triggering an environmental screening.   

Enbridge aims for summer 2018

The project is now clear to move on to the next stage in the regulatory process, which will involve the National Energy Board, which must also make a decision on the project.

A draft work plan has been written up and is before the Mackenzie Valley Review Board. Public hearings are expected to be announced late in August, with hearings scheduled for late October.  The board would meet anytime after those hearings to make a decision on licensing the project and issuing, or not issuing, permits.

Initially, Enbridge had anticipated being able to proceed with the project this summer. While that is now clearly impossible, a company spokesperson told CBC in an email that Enbridge still intends to do the work.

"Pending regulatory approval, we plan to execute the project in the summer of 2018 with completion targeted for the fall," the spokesperson stated.

Fort Simpson Liidlii Kue First Nation Chief Gerald Antoine was not immediately available for comment.

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