CALGARY – National cohesion on Energy East seemed to drift further out of reach Tuesday after the Quebec government announced plans to seek an injunction against the company proposing the cross-Canada pipeline.
Environment Minister David Heurtel said his government got no response from TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) to two letters it sent in late 2014 advising that the $15.7-billion project must pass a provincial environmental impact assessment.
So he said the province intends to go to court to make sure the company obeys provincial rules. The Calgary-based company insists it’s a matter of federal jurisdiction.
“In the face of its neglect, the government has taken action,” Heurtel said.
“This is not only a matter of respect, but equally a question of fairness toward all companies that wish to do business in Quebec.”
Heurtel sought to defuse any potential backlash from Western Canada. In January, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was among those to blast Montreal-area mayors for opposing Energy East on environmental grounds.
“This is not directed at any province or region,” said Heurtel. “This is about one company that wants to do a project in Quebec which, in our opinion, is not respecting Quebec law.”
He stressed that Tuesday’s announcement does not mean the province has decided whether it is for or against the project.
In Vancouver, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he understands a province’s desire to seek “social licence” for pipelines.
“Even though governments grant permits, ultimately only communities grant permission,” he said. “And drawing in from voices and a range of perspectives is going to lead us to better kinds of solutions and better outcomes for everyone across the country.”
Pipelines that cross provincial boundaries are subject to a federal environmental review process administered by the National Energy Board. The federal cabinet makes the final decision based on the NEB’s recommendation.
Provinces conduct their own reviews to help formulate their positions, which are considered in the NEB process.
Quebec’s environmental regulation agency is to begin hearings Monday.
TransCanada called Tuesday’s move “perplexing” in light of that impending process.
Louis Bergeron, vice-president in Quebec and New Brunswick for Energy East, said the BAPE (the French-language acronym for the environment review body) already has most of the necessary documentation Heurtel said was needed.
“If there’s additional information that is required, we will be providing it during the BAPE hearings,” he said.
Energy East would carry 1.1 million barrels a day of western crude as far east as Saint John, N.B., serving domestic refineries and international customers.
Federal-provincial wrangling has also played into British Columbia pipeline plans.
In January, the B.C. Supreme Court nullified an equivalency agreement in which that province gave the NEB the power to review the Northern Gateway proposal.
That means B.C. must make its own decision on the controversial plan after consulting with and accommodating indigenous communities along the route.
Northern Gateway aims to ship 525,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., for export to Asia.
Heurtel was asked Tuesday whether the Northern Gateway case had anything to do with Quebec’s decision to push ahead on the legal front.
“It definitely had an impact but it wasn’t the only reason we decided to press forward,” he said.
B.C. has imposed five conditions on oil pipelines that cross the province. The conditions include receiving regulatory environmental approval, First Nations support and a test on the economic benefits.
Companies also must have systems in place to respond to spills on land and in water as well as plans and programs to recover anything that is spilled.
Former NEB chairman Gaetan Caron said there’s nothing particularly new about provinces voicing concern over a project’s environmental impact.
“I don’t think anything fundamental has changed,” said Caron, now with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.
“What has changed for the NEB has been the politicization of regulatory process for pipelines.”