Bigger battles await even if Northern Gateway panel endorses pipeline – by Claudia Cattaneo (National Post – December 19, 2013)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

When a joint review panel of the National Energy Board hands down its recommendation Thursday on whether the Northern Gateway oil pipeline is in the public interest, it will bring to a close a four-year, $500-million-plus regulatory process, paid for by proponent Enbridge Inc. and 10 oil companies supporting it.

The panel is expected to approve the project to move oil from Alberta to the British Columbia coast — with conditions — after 18 months of public hearings in Northern communities along the pipeline route and reviewing evidence from 221 interveners, 13 government participants and 1,100 oral statements. The three-member panel also grilled 63 Northern Gateway technical experts for 69 days.

As Enbridge president and CEO Al Monaco put it last month: “We are confident that we have done a very thorough job, based on our application and the process we have gone through, and yes we think we will get regulatory approval.”

Anyone who complains the review wasn’t good enough can only be motivated by a desire to obstruct new pipelines. Only the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline Project review rivalled Northern Gateway in scope and intensity, and that one took so long that, by the end of it, the Mackenzie pipeline was no longer needed.

Indeed, industry observers will be closely watching how the Northern Gateway panel deals with mountains of repetitive and poor-quality evidence from the community hearings, how it captures aboriginal grievances, whether there are any recommendations to deal with the increasing role of activists, or any thoughts about the lengthy and expensive process itself.

The panel’s report will go to the federal cabinet, which will issue its final say on the project within 180 days. If the government approves, the NEB will issue a permit to Enbridge within seven days.

Joe Oliver, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister, is eagerly anticipating the report.

“This is an important milestone,” he said in an interview. “There has been a very comprehensive review done. We said repeatedly that no project would go ahead unless it’s safe for Canadians and safe for the environment, and the public interest is obviously the overarching consideration.”

An endorsement of the project by the quasi-judicial, independent panel, headed by Sheila Leggett, with members Hans Matthews and Ken Bateman, will assure many that the proposed pipeline will be safe.

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