Return to hearings in B.C. a chance to build confidence in project: Enbridge

VANCOUVER – Officials with Enbridge Northern Gateway say they are looking forward to a return to B.C. of the environmental review panel, which resumes final hearings next week.

Environmental protection and emergency preparedness will be up for questioning when the hearings, which began in Edmonton last month, get underway in Prince George on Tuesday.

“As the project proponent, we intend to demonstrate to British Columbians and to all Canadians through the examination of the facts and science upon which this project application is based that there is a path forward that provides for prosperity while protecting the environment,” Janet Holder, the company’s vice-president of western access, said in a statement released Friday.

“The (panel) is the appropriate forum for this confidence-building exercise with Canadians.”

The pipeline would transport diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands across northern B.C. to a tanker port planned for Kitimat, B.C.

Dozens of First Nations and conservation groups have been vocal opponents, citing the risk of an oil leak on land or a tanker spill off the coast, and many of them say they, too, are looking forward to the panel’s return to B.C.

Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, an alliance of aboriginal bands along the B.C. coast, said his group will focus on hearings slated for Prince Rupert beginning in November.

“This is intended to go at Enbridge’s experts and point out the flaws that they have in their assumptions around shipping and navigation, their flaws in emergency preparedness and response, flaws in environmental socio-economic stuff, flaws in aboriginal engagement,” Sterritt said.

The information Enbridge (TSX:ENB) has supplied to the panel, and to British Columbians, is “coming up short,” he said.

“We’re going at Enbridge’s witness panels in a way that we hope will give the joint review panel the information they need to make a learned decision,” Sterritt said.

“It’s such a vast array of half information and no information that it really is quite a flawed process at this time. And that’s not the fault of the panel.”

Company officials did not respond to requests for an interview but in the statement said the final hearings are a crucial stage that will allow company experts and interveners to be cross-examined under oath about their assertions on the project.

The company heard “strong views” from participants in the hearings held earlier this year and responded in July with additional safety measures, the statement said.

“We’ve made many changes to the design and route of the proposed pipeline and many of the changes are a direct result of listening to communities and working to address their concerns and interests,” Raymond Doering, Northern Gateway’s manager of engineering, said.

Enbridge said the Northern Gateway project is of strategic importance to all of Canada because it will open up Asian markets to Canadian oil. That access to a market other than the U.S. will increase the country’s gross domestic product by more than $270 billion in 30 years, Enbridge said, and contribute $80 billion in additional tax revenues.