VANCOUVER — After a week of overwhelming public opposition to pipelines, a group of B.C. residents have been barred from participating in regulatory hearings about a proposed pipeline expansion project that will run through their backyards.
The National Energy Board (NEB) ruled late yesterday that it will not allow Ecojustice, representing a group of Burnaby residents, to participate in upcoming toll application hearings on Kinder Morgan Canada’s plans to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline.
“Public concern about pipelines is at an all-time high and we need more not less scrutiny,” said Karen Campbell, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “This ruling is a step in the wrong direction. It puts the interests of a major energy company ahead of the public interest.”
Kinder Morgan has consistently argued that the NEB should disallow non-commercial parties from participating in the toll application process. Local residents are disappointed that the NEB has agreed.
“Instead of treating this as an opportunity for public engagement, Kinder Morgan’s lawyers pushed for a narrow process that will only allow commercial parties and governments to participate,” Campbell said. “Now, residents who will be directly affected by the pipeline expansion have been shut out of the process and denied the chance to speak their concerns or more directly learn about how some critical decisions are made.”
While the toll application process is technical — intended to establish tolls and operating terms over a 20-year period — it also the first step in making Kinder Morgan’s $4.1-billion expansion a reality. Kinder Morgan is expected to apply for an environmental assessment in late 2013.
Kinder Morgan has applied for an exemption from certain regulatory requirements, but without the opportunity to ask questions on the issue, local residents won’t know whether public interest and safety are affected in the event the NEB grants those exemptions.
“The public, and certainly directed affected residents, need more information. Kinder Morgan’s approach combined with the NEB’s decision leave us in the dark,” said Glen Porter, one of the Burnaby residents represented by Ecojustice. “We’re disappointed at this lack of transparency. This project travels through our backyards and what happens there will affect us.”
The Trans Mountain pipeline ships oil from Alberta’s oilsands to waiting tankers in Vancouver Harbour. The pipeline’s current capacity is 300,000 barrels a day, but Kinder Morgan wants to increase capacity to 750,000 barrels a day. If approved the Trans Canada pipeline would be able to move heavy crude each day than even Enbridge’s troubled Northern Gateway pipeline, which is currently under environmental review.
“Kinder Morgan’s approach to this expansion has done little to instill confidence that this company should be trusted to take care of the public interest,” Campbell said. “This project needs a social licence to proceed, and so far, they don’t have it.”