Regulator outlines next steps for Trans Mountain environmental review

The National Energy Board has laid out next steps to review the impact of the Trans Mountain pipeline on the marine environment, and has given 99 stakeholders tight deadlines to have their say on the proposed expansion.

Interveners have tight deadlines to present evidence of project's impact on marine environment

An oil tanker anchors at the terminus of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby, B.C. (Chris Corday/CBC)

The National Energy Board has laid out next steps for a review of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project's effects on the marine environment, and has given 99 stakeholders tight deadlines to make their submissions.

The federal pipeline regulator is giving the company and key federal government departments until the end of the month to present evidence, while other Indigenous, industry and environmental stakeholders will have until Nov. 20 to file their submissions.

Last month, the Liberal government gave the NEB 22 weeks to review the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project to consider the project's impact on the marine environment.

Dr. Rob Steedman, the NEB's chief environmental officer, said he is prepared for a "very busy" period as the regulator works to meet the Feb. 22 deadline.

"I'm not going to say it's not a challenge," he told CBC News. "The process is designed, as we always do, to make sure there's fairness and transparency on the information that's filed, that people can listen to the oral sessions, they can see all the transcripts and documents in public."

Steedman said that because the subject areas for review are narrow — limited to the impact of the expansion and increased tanker traffic on the marine environment, and specifically on the resident killer whale population — the NEB is confident is can meet the deadline.

He said he wouldn't "speculate" about whether those impacts could be considered too great to be overcome with mitigation measures.

"We'll get the evidence from everyone that has it to offer, and who offered to participate, and the board will have to consider those facts," he said. "They'll have to weigh the facts and consider the conflicting evidence which inevitably comes up."

The NEB also revealed its review will assess the impact of increased oil tanker traffic out to about 12 nautical miles from the B.C. coastline.

Steedman says the distance was based on comments received from interested parties.

The Raincoast Conservation Foundation in British Columbia​, one of the environment groups that sued Ottawa over its original environmental review of the project, said the distance doesn't go far enough. 

"From the get-go it looks like a political exercise, not an environmental one," Misty MacDuffee, a conservation biologist at the foundation, told the Canadian Press.

MacDuffee said the 12-mile distance could leave out a number of endangered or at-risk whales. Raincoast had wanted the new review to extend 200 nautical miles from shore.

Criticism from appeal court

On Aug. 30, the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the approval of the $7.4-billion pipeline project, which would nearly triple the flow of oil from Alberta's oilsands to the West Coast.

The court criticized the lack of attention given to how increased tanker traffic off British Columbia's coastline would affect the environment, and said Canada's efforts to meaningfully consult with Indigenous people, as required by law, fell short.

Earlier this month, the federal government announced that retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci will lead the new consultation process with Indigenous people on the project.

Iacobucci will act as the federal representative, designing and overseeing the consultation with affected Indigenous communities.

The government has said it does not plan to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal ruling that halted the project.

With files from the Canadian Press.