More than 45 northern governments, First Nations, Indigenous organizations, companies, environmental groups, business associations and individuals have filed to act as interveners in response to Smithers resident Michael Sawyer’s challenge to TransCanada’s Coastal Gaslink pipeline.
This comes as the National Energy Board (NEB) takes its next steps in deciding if the 670-kilometre long natural gas pipeline, which will run from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat and supply the $41 billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas plant at Kitimat, should fall under its jurisdiction.
The list includes the District of Kitimat, the Haisla Nation and LNG Canada’s owner/partners.
Even though the $6.2 billion pipeline has received provincial environmental approval, Sawyer wants the project reviewed by the NEB.
He argues that the pipeline will ultimately connect to TransCanada’s existing NOVA Gas Transmission system and because that is federally regulated, Coastal GasLink’s pipeline should also come under federal jurisdiction.
Sawyer’s also been critical of the provincial environmental review, saying it was insufficient to consider the full impact of natural gas resource development.
To date, the NEB has found Sawyer has an “arguable case” based on evidence he’s provided regarding TransCanada and its operations. As part of what it calls a “further process”, the NEB invited interested parties to submit applications for standing.
The NEB has also been clear its decision is not a determination the Coastal GasLink pipeline does fall under federal jurisdiction.
Coastal GasLink itself has already been granted standing and there is no timeline as to when the NEB will decide its next steps.
“A decision regarding any subsequent procedural steps would only be made after the board determines who has standing,” it said in an Oct. 30 statement.
Now that LNG Canada has decided to go ahead with its project, called the single largest private sector investment in Canadian history, the prospect of further hearings has raised fears in the northwest and elsewhere of delays, or worse, the potential cancellation of the project.
“The construction and operation of the pipeline will provide economic benefits to our community through both employment and contracting opportunities,” wrote Kitimat mayor Phil Germuth in the District of Kitimat application.
“As a result, Kitimat is directly affected by how the Coastal GasLink pipeline is regulated.”
A lawyer for the Haisla Nation also referred to economic benefits in its application.
“If the Coastal GasLink project is found to be under NEB jurisdiction, this could affect timelines for both projects and thereby prejudicially affect the Haisla Nation’s economic interests,” wrote Jennifer Griffith of the Vancouver law firm Donovan & Company.
Douglas Channel Watch has also applied for standing with its chairperson Cheryl Brown saying it anticipates more projects and more reviews.
“We do not want to see the precedent set if this project is not given the appropriate review it deserves under the laws of Canada,” she said.
For its part, Shell Canada Ltd., which owns 40 per cent of LNG Canada, offered no comment in its application for standing but noted “its interests will be directly and sufficiently impacted by the board’s decision regarding jurisdiction ……”
The Sierra Club BC allied itself with Sawyer, saying he has taken the initiative in the name of “public interest and regulatory fairness.”
“We believe Sierra Club BC has a unique and insightful perspective regarding jurisdictional issues on pipeline projects like Coastal GasLink as well as full lifecycle impacts beyond regulatory borders,” wrote club official Mark Worthing.
The Luutkudziiiwus house of the Gitxsan Nation in Hazelton said developments cannot be decided without full indigenous participation.
“If allowed to proceed, it will affect our lands and waters and our members’ ability to exercise their rights and maintain their connection to their lands and way of life,” wrote house representative Charles Wright.
Federal Green party leader Elizabeth May was the only politician to file an application for standing.
“I have a specific interest in the scope of federal jurisdiction particularly as it relates to natural gas pipelines and other matters of environmental significance,” she stated.
While Coastal GasLink has already been granted standing by the NEB, Sawyer has not been granted standing and has had to file his own application.