CALGARY — An environmental group that tried to widen the scope of the National Energy Board’s reconsideration of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
“I think the NEB has a long record of siding with industry over communities and other concerns … so we have every expectation that they’re going to recommend the project go ahead despite the serious problems with it,” said Sven Biggs, climate campaigner for Stand.earth, a Vancouver environmental group formerly called ForestEthics.
Opponents of the project are already planning their response, which will include legal challenges, he said on Thursday.
“It’s likely there are going to be more lawsuits and more delays because of them, and if the cabinet decides to go ahead and restart construction, you’ll see protests in the streets and along the pipeline route,” he said.
The federal regulator gave it’s stamp of approval to the project on Friday but the restart of construction of the controversial crude conduit from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., still faces hurdles.
The NEB’s 2016 approval of the project was set aside last summer by the Federal Court of Appeal which found that the regulator had not properly considered how southern resident killer whales would be affected by additional tanker traffic because of the increase in crude oil flows.
The court also found there was insufficient consultation by the federal government with Indigenous communities.
In response, Ottawa ordered the NEB to reopen its review process to fill in the gap on marine life and Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi ordered a new round of consultations with affected Indigenous groups.
The NEB report’s delivery will start the clock on a 90-day deadline for cabinet to decide whether the project should proceed, but officials in Sohi’s office have said a final decision won’t be made until consultations are complete, which means delays are possible.
Vanessa Adams, spokeswoman for Sohi, wouldn’t comment on Thursday on whether a cabinet ruling could be delayed.
But she said in an email the federal government wants to “achieve the required public trust” to help move resources to market by first addressing environmental, Indigenous and local concerns.
She said a 60-member consultation team in British Columbia and Alberta has met with more than 85 of 117 Indigenous groups impacted by TMX and more meetings are taking place daily.
On Tuesday, the NEB rejected a motion by Stand.earth filed on Jan. 21 demanding it add consideration of the project’s upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions to its review of marine shipping issues.
The group had asked the board to apply the same standard to the project as it did with the cancelled Energy East pipeline before it submits its final report to the federal government.
But the federal regulator said Stand.earth’s proposal missed its deadlines and repeated requests made by several other parties that had already been denied.
Meantime, cabinet is under immense pressure to decide the fate of the pipeline before the federal election in the fall.
There is also pressure to get the expansion built because Ottawa bought the existing pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion last August, after political opposition to the expansion left the company’s shareholders reluctant to proceed.
Supporters of the pipeline rallied in front of the NEB building in Calgary when the decision came down.
Cody Battershill with Canada Action has been beating the drum for the this project for several years.
He believes the environmental concerns about the project are overstated, and there would actually be benefits from this expansion.
“We could see less American oil tanker traffic in Canadian waterways and all of the measures that we have taken to do everything we can to the best possible standard internationally. To me, this project should have already been built.”
He beckons opponents to consider the alternatives that would be in place because of a lack of pipelines.
“Moving oil by pipeline and tanker is safer than by rail.”
He added there would be a boon for the countries economy because of this project.
“We desperately need new pipelines. It has been a decade since we built a new pipeline. We desperately need to reach international markets and to reach new customers where we can get a higher price than simply selling all of our oil and gas to the United States.”