PRINCE GEORGE, B.C.—The environmental assessment panel examining the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline returns to British Columbia for final hearings that will put the project’s environmental impact and emergency planning under a microscope.
The hearings, slated to begin in Prince George, will see Enbridge Northern Gateway scientists and project critics questioned under oath about the evidence they’ve submitted to the panel.
Enbridge officials said they look forward to their return to B.C.
“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.
“The (panel) is the appropriate forum for this confidence-building exercise with Canadians.”
But company officials may take a back seat to federal government representatives, who will be subject to questioning for the first time since hearings began earlier this year.
Several participants in the panel hearings have been so keen to get answers on everything from regulatory changes to government budget cuts that the panel has already tried to rein in the cross-examinations.
Officials from Aboriginal Affairs, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources and Transport Canada will be answering questions on evidence those ministries have provided to the panel as it weighs the project.
Nine participating groups have been denied requests to question federal witnesses because their questions were not linked to the specific evidence filed with the panel.
The Alberta Federation of Labour wanted to ask about refining oil in Canada and government views on keeping jobs in Canada, while the Haida Nation wanted to know about foreign interests in the project and federal budget cuts.
At least a dozen groups and individuals will be allowed to question the federal government representatives.
Several conservation and First Nations groups will forego attending the hearings in Prince George and focus on Prince Rupert, where the tanker port and shipping will be under scrutiny.
The Haisla Nation will also be there, said chief counsellor Ellis Ross, but the review process has already taken a “tremendous” amount of time and resources and the Haisla and other First Nations are already looking beyond the environmental assessment process.
“This is an environmental assessment, that’s all it is. This is not a process to deal with Aboriginal rights and title. This is not consultation and accommodation of Aboriginal rights and title,” Ross said.
“This is a really important part of the process for B.C. and Canada, but it’s not the most important part of the process for aboriginals.”
The pipeline would transport diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands from Bruderheim, Alta., across northern B.C. to a tanker port planned for Kitimat, B.C.