Canadian Manufacturing

Robyn Allan quits Trans Mountain review board, says it’s ‘a rigged game’

The highly-respected economic thinker says the review's scope is so narrow that the outcome is predetermined



VANCOUVER—A prominent economist has dropped out of the National Energy Board’s review of Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, accusing the board of betraying Canadians with a “biased” and “broken” process.

Robyn Allan, an outspoken critic of the expansion, said she is withdrawing as an expert intervener because the review’s scope is so narrow that the outcome is predetermined.

“It’s a rigged game,” a former CEO of the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia said Wednesday. “We’re getting the scope that supports Kinder Morgan. It’s a private sector, ‘How do we get to yes?’ masquerading as a public interest review.”

Kinder Morgan’s proposed $5.4-billion expansion would twin an existing pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., tripling its capacity to 890,000 barrels of petroleum a day. The energy board is expected to make a final decision on the project next January.

The board had approved Allan’s participation for her expertise in risk, insurance, economics and corporate structure. About 400 interveners are involved in the Trans Mountain review.

Spokeswoman Tara O’Donovan said the board values public input and was “disappointed” that Allan chose to withdraw. She strongly rejected accusations of bias and insisted the review was fair.

“Every board member is held to an exemplary standard of ethical conduct and has a desire to serve the Canadian public interest,” O’Donovan said in a statement.

“The rules of natural justice, including those relating to conflict of interest and bias … are closely followed. To suggest otherwise is simply wrong.”

In a scathing letter to the board this week, Allan questioned why the review was limited to the proposed new pipeline and infrastructure, rather than looking at the existing line and system as a whole.

“When you have an earthquake, for example, and it disrupts two pipelines because they’re in close proximity and some of the oil spills into the Fraser River, they’re not looking at that,” Allan said.

She also criticized the panel for examining only the capacity that Kinder Morgan had applied for, 540,000 barrels, rather than the much greater capacity that’s part of its design. She also questioned why the marine shipping assessment is limited to an area of just 12 nautical miles.

Allan said the exclusion of oral cross-examination, allowing the company to respond in writing to questions, had turned the hearing into a “farce.” Further, she said the socioeconomic and environmental effects of bitumen exploration should have been included.

She also questioned why Kinder Morgan was allowed to amass $136 million from a surcharge on shipper tolls to pay for pre-development costs. She said the cost to shippers meant they were making smaller net profits and paying less taxes.

“In an unprecedented decision, the NEB took Kinder Morgan’s shareholders away from the risk and put it on the backs of Canadians,” she said.

Trans Mountain spokeswoman Ali Hounsell said in a statement that an intervener’s role is important and it’s unfortunate that Allan chose to remove herself from the review process.

“Trans Mountain is committed to a transparent and full review of our proposed expansion project as defined by the NEB, and we will continue to have meaningful conversations both inside and outside of the regulatory process,” she said.

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