B.C. premier continues tough talk on Northern Gateway, but still no position

VICTORIA – British Columbia’s premier is promising to use the province’s status as an intervener at National Energy Board hearings to press Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB) for answers about its proposed $5.5 billion Northern Gateway pipeline, though she continues to insist she’s not ready to answer the thorny question of the province’s position on the project.

Clark has been increasing the rhetoric about the Northern Gateway proposal since a U.S. report last week that was highly critical of Enbridge’s response to a pipeline spill in Michigan.

She continued that tough talk on Monday, promising to outline areas the province has concerns about later this week but again dodging questions about whether her government will ultimately support the project.

“What I said was, ‘Wait a few days and you’ll find out more about what we’re going to be doing with respect to intervening in the process,'” she said.

“I would urge patience.”

Clark said B.C. government officials will pose questions about the project at the ongoing federal joint environmental approval review panel hearings, where the province has intervener status.

“We want to understand the impacts of this,” she said. “We want to know the potential benefits and the potential risks of this proposal.”

The federal regulatory hearings, which started last January, are set to conclude in April 2013. An environmental assessment report on the project is due in the fall of 2013 and a final decision is expected by the end of 2013.

Clark defended her government’s decision to participate in the hearing process as an intervener and not as a government.

She said registering as an intervener allowed B.C. to gather up-to-date information, including the recent U.S. National Transportation Safety Board report, which detailed the environmental devastation caused by a massive oil leak from an Enbridge pipeline along Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.

“As an intervener, we’re going to be asking questions about this (Northern Gateway) project and we’re also going to be asking about some of the questions that arise from the NTSB review,” said Clark.

“We are going to be putting some tough questions to the company as we get into these hearings based on what we see in that (NTSB) report.”

Clark said intervener status allows the province to cross-examine Enbridge and present a closing argument.

Opposition New Democrat environment critic Rob Fleming said Clark should have told British Columbians long ago whether the province supports or opposes Northern Gateway.

The NDP says it does not support the project and is looking for ways to put up legal roadblocks if it forms government following the May 2013 election.

“She owes people a lot more than some kind of update on why her government continues to take a non-position on this project,” Fleming said. “The Christy Clark government has been totally missing in action on this project.”

Environment Minister Terry Lake said intervener status allowed the B.C. government to build an inventory of information it needs to make an informed decision on the project.

He said the Michigan spill report will become part of the province’s line of questioning for Enbridge.

“It affects the landscape, no question, when you have a report like that,” Lake said.

Enbridge plans to construct a twin pipeline from the Edmonton area to Kitimat, on B.C.’s northern coast, where oil will be shipped by super tankers to Asia.