The National Energy Board (NEB) recommended a conditional approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion today after a years-long review process many participants criticized as inadequate, rushed and lacking in transparency.
In a filing posted Thursday the NEB recommended cabinet approve the project, subject to 157 conditions.
“Taking into account all the evidence, considering all relevant factors, and given that there are considerable benefits nationally, regionally and to some degree locally, the Board found that the benefits of the Project would outweigh the residual burdens,” the filing states.
Yet many individuals and organizations involved in the process say today’s recommendation comes on the heels of a beleaguered review process that did not consider many of the risks of the project.
“Today’s recommendation is exactly as we expected given the way this panel approached the review,” Robyn Allan, former CEO of ICBC and economic risk expert, told DeSmog Canada. “It was simply set up as a way to get to yes.”
Allan publicly withdrew from the Kinder Morgan review process, saying she could no longer “endorse a process that is not working.”
“The NEB we all know is not credible, but somehow today we’re behaving as if it means something,” Allan said, adding the 157 conditions the board placed on the project are “predicated on a false scope of the issue.”
“The scope that the board reviewed is so limited it doesn’t look at risk or cost for our society from this pipeline system,” she said. “From that view it’s very easy to say the benefits outweigh the costs.”
The expansion project involves twinning the existing pipeline that runs from near Edmonton to the Burrard Inlet in Burnaby B.C. The project will nearly triple the pipeline capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels of oilsands crude and other fuels per day.
The NEB recommendation will be taken under review by the federal government and cabinet is expected to make a final decision on the project by December.
Recommendation Made Under Broken Process
The NEB-led review process was plagued with credibility issues from the outset.
Restrictive participation guidelines meant hundreds of applicants were denied the opportunity to give oral or written testimony in the hearings. In total, 468 citizens had their intervenor applications rejected, including a group of 27 climate experts.
The board also deemed climate impacts of the project irrelevant to the hearings and on that basis excluded information on upstream environmental impacts of oilsands extraction. The panel eventually excluded oral testimony and cross-examination from the process altogether.
Chris Tollefson, law professor and counsel for B.C. Nature and Nature Canada in the hearings, said today’s recommendation reflects the inadequacy of the review process.
“What this process and report today underscores is how urgent the need is for restructuring the review of these projects,” Tollefson said.
“This panel never secured a credible, scientific record upon which to make a decision for a variety of reasons.”
“At the end of the day what a process like this needs to be asking is, will this project make a net contribution to a sustainable economy, will this projects put us on a path to meeting our international climate commitments?”
“Neither of those questions are asked or answered in this report,” he said.
Canada's currently regulatory structure has "outlived it's usefulness," Tollefson said.
"We need to have a process that is multi-governmental, that brings together all levels of government, including First Nations government in the review. We need to have a process that is informed by independent science and allows for a true ability to challenge science put forward by the proponent.
"We need a process that integrates as opposed to fractures the spheres of responsibility."
Trudeau’s Broken Promise
On the campaign trail prior to the last federal election, the Liberal party and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to overhaul Canada’s pipeline review process in order to restore public faith in the process.
During a campaign stop on the west coast in August 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau told Kai Nagata, communications director with the Dogwood Initiative, the NEB overhaul would apply to the Kinder Morgan review process.
“That process needs to be redone,” Trudeau said, but later backed down from that promise and allowed the review process to continue on as it had begun.
“I think it’s disappointing the Liberal government did not follow through with its campaign promise to overhaul the NEB,” Nagata told DeSmog Canada
“What they have is a shell that has lost all democratic accountability, that is 90 per funded by industry and has said yes to every pipeline that has come their way. That’s a 100 per cent track record, so good for them.”
This week the Liberals established a three-person panel to conduct consultations with First Nations and communities along the pipeline route, something Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said will help restore credibility to the pipeline approval process.
The creation of the panel, however, has been roundly criticized as a smokescreen meant to placate a public frustrated with an inadequate review process.
In the House of Commons Burnaby South NDP MP Kennedy Stewart said the Prime Minister promised to fix the broken review system, “and the people of B.C. believed him.”
“But this week the National Energy Board will report on Kinder Morgan using the exact same broken process as the Conservatives,” he said.
“The Liberals’ new ad-on process,” Kennedy added, “little more than a smokescreen, actually does nothing to fix the NEB review process.”
Nagata said Minister Carr’s defense of the consultation panel was troubling.
“Minister Carr came very close to promising an approval by this December, making fun of the previous government for not successfully approving a pipeline and ensuring industry the advisory panel he appointed will not get in the way.”
“Ultimately we think these decisions are too important to leave up to politicians. These people are in office for four years, their timelines are short, whereas the First Nations and citizens who live here have to live with the costs for decades.”
Nagata said Dogwood is campaigning for a provincial vote on tankers off the B.C. coast. “Luckily we have this mechanism in B.C. to put the decision to citizens directly.”
Rueben George, chief of the Tsliel-Waututh First Nation, which lies directly across the Burrard Inlet from Kinder Morgan’s facilities, said he is not at all surprised by today’s NEB recommendation.
“My reaction….I barely had a reaction,” George told DeSmog Canada. “I had no faith in the process. The process historically approves pipelines. I’m not surprised in the least.”
George said the news comes as he is attending a Burrard Inlet Science Symposium at Stanley Park.
“We’re going to clean up the Burrard Inlet and eat shellfish from here for the first time in 30 years,” George said. His nation is currently leading a legal challenge against the Kinder Morgan review, saying the process failed to adequately involve First Nations.
“We’ve been implementing our plan for how we’re going to stop Kinder Morgan and we’re going to continue on with that, being stewards of the land. What we’re really doing here when we stand up against Kinder Morgan we’re looking out for the best interest of the land and waters but it’s truly for the best interests of Canadians.”