SIXTEEN months of hearings into Enbridge’s $5.5 billion plan to build the Northern Gateway pipeline to carry Alberta crude to a marine export terminal at Kitimat are to finish in Terrace next month.
At least two weeks has been set aside beginning June 17 to hear oral summations by opponents and proponents of the mammoth project, which has become a national and international issue.
Kristen Higgins of the National Energy Board, the federal agency which has been conducting the hearings through a three-member Joint Review Panel, characterized the Terrace sessions as roughly equivalent to lawyers presenting closing arguments in a courtroom.
“There won’t be any cross examination. That’s what’s been taking place in Prince Rupert,” said Higgins of the extensive technical sessions, which have now concluded in the coastal city.
Those wishing to make closing oral arguments also have to make written arguments and the deadline for those is May 31, she said.
“Intervenors and government participants will have up to an hour to speak; Northern Gateway will have two hours,” Higgins added of the oral submissions.
The written submissions are to ensure that proponents and opponents have the opportunity to fully submit their respective positions, she said.
Following the hearings, the three-member panel will gather all of the evidence it has heard over the course of the 18 months and prepare a written report into the viability of the project for the federal government by the year’s end.
Conceived in the middle part of the last decade, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway has been labelled by proponents as a way to increase Canada’s energy export industry by providing an outlet to Asian markets.
Backers have said Canada isn’t able to take full economic advantage of the Alberta oilsands output because pipelines extend to only one customer, the United States.
But the project has been heavily criticized by native and environmental groups as being environmentally risky.
First Nations have also said the pipeline would infringe on aboriginal rights and title.
In addition to worries about leaks from the 1,170 kilometre long pipeline and consequent environmental damage, the Northern Gateway debate has extended to opposition to increasing the number of oil-carrying tankers traveling to and from the coast.
The oil export debate has now extended to the provincial election with NDP leader Adrian Dix expressing opposition not only to the Enbridge plan but to the prospect of the Kinder Morgan company building another pipeline in the south to increase oil exports through Vancouver.
The Northern Gateway hearings began in Kitimat and then in Terrace in January 2012 with subsequent sessions taking place in cities across Alberta and in B.C.
First Nations, environmental groups, citizens and companies have had the opportunity to present their opinions.
The technical sessions in Prince Rupert, which featured the cross examination of not only Enbridge but of also First Nations and others, delved into the engineering specifics of the pipeline project and also of the marine protection measures that would be put into place.
Even the hearings themselves have been attacked by Northern Gateway opponents who say the federal Conservative government has already decided it should be built.