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The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review Panel (JRP) has released dates and locations for the first portion of their community hearings scheduled for early 2012.
The controversial project had a record number of oral registrants for such a panel with more than 4,000 applications to contribute to hearings. The panel will hear from registered intervenors at over 20 different locations throughout Alberta and B.C.
Hearings will begin in Kitimat January 10 before moving to Terrace, Smithers, Burns Lake, Prince George and finishing off the month with six hearings in Edmonton.
February and March will see hearings in Fort St. James, Bella Bella, Prince Rupert, Masset, Queen Charlotte City, Grand Prairie and Courtenay.
Other locations including Bella Coola, Hartley, Kitkatla and Klemtu have dates and logistics still to be set.
From November 2012 to March 2013 the panel will hear oral statements from registered participants who do not live near the proposed project area including Kelowna, Victoria, Vancouver and Calgary.
The panel anticipates releasing the Environmental Assessment Report in the Fall of 2013 and having a final decision by the end of that year.
“The schedule was revised to be able to accommodate everyone. Each project is different and each panel has a different process, the participation rate is high and the panel wants to hear from everyone, it’s valuable information,” said Annie Roy, Manager of Communications with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
“This is a Joint Review Process meaning that it meets the requirement of the National Energy Board Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act so there’s actually four steps in the approval process. The panel will submit a report regarding the significance of the environmental effects to government, government will respond to it and the panel will make a decision under the National Energy Board Act to see whether or not the project is in the public interest.”
The JRP was created due to the environmental, economic, health and safety concerns surrounding the project and will receive and consider all information from Enbridge and the public on the record.
Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act this process is the most rigorous environmental review, however some are concerned with the JRP process itself and the panel members who will be conducting the process with their previous professional involvement in the resource industry.
“I am concerned that there are no British Columbians on the panel for a project of this scope and this magnitude and with the risks for B.C. I would expect there to be some regional representation. However I trust that these people are professionals and they take their independent role very seriously. What I do want to question is the legitimacy of the process itself in making a decision. There should have been a discussion in B.C. about whether we are willing to accept this category of risk in the first place. If we are open to that risk then that’s the appropriate time to have a technical review process where the best form of the project is determined. Most British Columbians want no form of this project and therefore the JRP is something of a illegitimate body to make the decision,” said Eric Swanson, the Dogwood Initiative’s No Tankers campaign Co-ordinator.
“To be clear the JRP makes recommendations to the federal minister and that minister Joe Oliver has already made a decision in favour (of the project). As far as we’re concerned this is our coast and these are our rivers so it should be up to us to make the decision, to be inclusive of aboriginal title and right in B.C., the decisions made by coastal and interior First Nations and the authority exercised by those decisions.
I’m worried that British Columbians are becoming a pawn in an international oil game and my overriding concern is that British Columbians get a say and get the say in this decision because they bare the burden of risk.”
Swanson sees hope in having the government of B.C. stand up for the concerns of their citizens instead of waiting on a federal decision that appears to have already been made.
“I see a lot of room for the provincial government of B.C. to intervene should they choose. So for British Columbians what we’re recommending is to become engaged in the provincial political sphere and to start putting pressure on provincial politicians to stand up with the roughly 80 per cent of British Columbians on side and to stand up with all the First Nations who have passed laws already banning (the project).”
Concerns with the NEB and other members of the panel go deep with environmental and First Nations groups as the board has a reputation of being ‘captured’ by industry and approving a high percentage of projects with little environmental regulation. The board receives about 90 per cent of its funding from industry and in 2009 operated on a $60 million dollar budget. Calls for reform of the board have been made with what could be considered a rubber stamp approval process showcased with many projects including the approval of the divisive Keystone XL pipeline in 2009.
All panel members are currently or have been involved in the resource extraction industry with boardroom experience.
Sheila Leggett is the vice-chair of the National Energy Board and was previously a member with the Natural Resources Conservation Board, which conducts hearings into natural resource development projects in Alberta. With Alberta’s resource development history and environmental regulation, those against the pipeline are concerned with her ability to make an unbiased decision.
Kenneth Bateman is a Canadian Energy lawyer and former senior executive with Enmax, one of Alberta’s highly controversial public energy providers known for lavish executive salaries and mismanagement of public funds.
Hans Matthews is a geologist who has served as president of the Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association, an advisor of Natural Resources with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and is the manager of mineral exploration with Mohawk Garnet Inc. He has also been involved with the Xstrata Nickel Mine in Ontario and was the Vice-President of Exploration with Arizona Explorations.
Others are concerned with the environmental record of Alberta based pipeline giant Enbridge Inc. with numerous spills, pipeline ruptures and safety issues. Between 1999 and 2008 Enbridge reported over 600 spills that released approximately 21 million litres of hydrocarbons in the surrounding environment. In 2009 Enbridge agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle a lawsuit with the State of Wisconsin related to 545 environmental violations. Enbridge is still struggling to clean up and settle numerous lawsuits related to the 3.7 million litre crude oil spill into Talmadge Creek in Southwest Michigan.
The proposed pipeline would cross an estimated 1,000 rivers and streams that include sensitive salmon spawning habitat in the upper Fraser, Skeena and Kitimat watersheds, as well as more than 50 First Nations territories with many adamantly opposed.
First Nations in B.C. have been rallying together to oppose the project and all exports of tar sands bitumen. Over 130 First Nations have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration showcasing their project opposition to the public, the Canadian government and Enbridge.
“We live in Canada and have laws in the Canadian constitution that protect the inherent rights of aboriginal rights and title under Section 35. Every inch of the pipeline is opposed by First Nations that have never signed a treaty and never relinquished any of our rights and title, so they are creating a legal, social and environmental risk. They really have to take into consideration the laws that they will be breaking. With this project we will not give free, prior and informed consent because it’s a huge risk,” said Geraldine Thomas-Flurer from the Yinka Dene Alliance.
“If you look at what’s happening today, Canada is mobilized, communities are getting mobilized, British Columbians are getting mobilized. You look at the communities in the north, south and B.C. coast, indigenous and non-indigenous communities are active, motivated and doing something about this project.”
She believes that it’s undemocratic for Canadian government representatives to declare the project a go ahead against the will of First Nations and the general population before the JPR has even begun.
“I think British Columbians have spoken loud and clear and I really don’t think the Harper government is getting the message that the risk is too great and this project would devastate us. Many of the statements coming from the Harper government are really premature, really irresponsible and they’re breaking their own laws.
“This is not a First Nations issue, I want to make that clear, this is a human issue. The opposition to Enbridge is growing by the hour and the more Enbridge comes out and makes statements that they have support and that the project is going to happen is not helping. Enbridge needs to get the message that British Columbians are not going to stand for it.”
Thomas-Flurer also mentioned the more recent oil spill this summer in the Lubicon Cree First Nation in Alberta, the lack of response from provincial and federal governments and the media manipulation from Alberta Environment that kept the issue out of the public discourse.
The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline would consist of twin petroleum product lines 1,170 km in length between northern Alberta to Kitimat. One 36-inch pipeline would carry 525,000 barrels per day of Alberta oil sands bitumen west to an expanded oil tanker port in northern B.C. The other 20-inch pipeline would carry about 193,000 barrels of bitumen diluting chemical condensate east to Bruderheim, Alberta. The Kitimat Marine Terminal would have two ship berths created and storage for three condensate tanks and 11 petroleum tanks.
If completed the pipeline will open up massive exports of oil sands bitumen to Asian markets and allow for leaps of increased development in the highly controversial Alberta Oil Sands operations.
See more information on the JRP at: www.gatewaypanel.review-examen.gc.ca