By Mike De Souza, Postmedia News, Vancouver Sun, February 16, 2012
Briefing paper outlines pipeline complaint
Enbridge, the company behind a controversial pipeline proposal to allow the export of bitumen from Alberta oilsands by tanker from the port of Kitimat, has complained federal departments were asking it for too much information while pushing the approval process at an "unrealistically fast" pace, says newly released briefing material from Environment Canada.
The internal records contrast recent statements made by federal cabinet ministers and the Alberta-based energy company about delays in the review process for the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline.
Paul Stanway, a spokesman for Enbridge, said in an interview Wednesday that the company raised the concerns early in the process, but that it was never proposing to slow down timelines for the project's approval.
While the company said that its discussions with the federal government were about its preference to delay detailed reports about its plans until after the project has received the green light from regulators, Environment Canada said Enbridge felt federal departments were "asking for more technical information and project design details" than the company was ready to provide at the time.
"The proponent has indicated that it is concerned that the Major Projects Management Office Project Agreement may be driving responsible authorities to issue project approvals within a time frame that is unrealistically fast, given the proponent's commercial plans in that it prefers to proceed through the regulatory process without detailed route plans," said Environment Canada in briefing material released through access to information legislation.
It was prepared for an October 29, 2010, meeting requested by Enbridge with the department's deputy minister, Paul Boothe, and two officials from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
The Major Projects Management Office was launched by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government in 2007 to improve coordination and efficiencies in the regulatory review process of major resource projects.
Stanway noted that the review panel has asked for some of the additional engineering information that Enbridge has provided and continues to produce. "If the suggestion is that we think we'd like to slow down the regulatory the process ... I can tell you that's absolutely not the case," Stanway said.
He estimated Enbridge is spending about $300 million to prepare its case for regulatory approval, but that it does not immediately want to spend millions of dollars on additional work such as detailed route plans until the project has approval. He said this is a normal part of a regulatory review. "This is already a very expensive process."
NDP MP Nathan Cullen, who represents a B.C. riding that would be affected by the proposed pipeline, said the documents raise doubts about the federal government's recent claims that Canada's regulatory process is too slow. Instead, he said, it demonstrates that the project, which would go through the Great Bear Rainforest, is a complex one that needs to be studied carefully.
"These are complicated things and if you want to get them right you have to take your time and know what you're talking about," said Cullen, a candidate in the NDP leadership race. "You can't offer any comfort to Canadians if you don't have your actual plans in place and ask this panel or the public to give their opinion and approval."
The Environment Canada document also estimated Enbridge had offered about $8 million to local First Nations communities through 36 different agreements, as of August 2010, to help them research, while the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency had distributed about $2.38 million in funding to 38 groups.
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