Hearings into Northern Gateway wrap, decision expected before year end

TERRACE, B.C. – The federal government was trying to slip in evidence about the safety of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline as public hearings into the project wrap up, aboriginal and environmental groups say, even though the panel had already rejected the evidence.

The Enbridge (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, which has been holding public hearings since January 2013, wrapped up the hearings Monday. Panel chairwoman Sheila Leggett said members would present a final report to the federal government by the end of this year.

Environmental and aboriginal groups urged panel members to reject the argument last week of Jim Shaw, a Department of Justice lawyer who quoted a March 18 news release that referred to new measures to protect the coast with a “world class” tanker system.

Rosanne Kyle, who represents the Gitxaala First Nation, told the panel the argument was not supported by evidence.

“Give no weight to press releases,” Kyle told the panel.

She also noted that Northern Gateway President John Carruthers has already told the panel he “could not attest to the accuracy” of the information in the news releases on the Department of Transport website and so the panel ruled it was inadmissible.

Christopher Jones, representing the province of British Columbia, echoed Kyle’s arguments saying there was no evidence before the panel about the federal tanker safety program.

He urged the panel to base its decision “on evidence and not anything else.”

Cheryl Brown, who represents the environmental group Douglas Channel Watch, noted that the federal government has not released any details of its safety plans and nothing has been passed by Parliament.

The reference to the safety plans was “only rhetoric to gain social licence,” she said.

Enbridge was also at work Monday to clarify its offer to aboriginal groups along the route of the proposed pipeline.

One offer obtained by The Canadian Press indicated the amount would total as little as $70,000 a year for some bands, but the company said late Sunday that is not the average offer and in fact, the average range would be about three times that amount.

Northern Gateway has offered aboriginal groups along the route the opportunity to buy into a 10-per-cent equity stake in the pipeline

A legal assessment for one of the bands compiled in 2011 and also obtained by The Canadian Press, said the anticipated annual average net income — after repayment of loans with one per cent interest for Enbridge over and above the rate at which the company borrows the funds — would be $70,500 a year.

The assessment expressed concern that the bands would have to borrow the money to buy into the agreement from the company, but an Enbridge spokesman said the offer to borrow the funds was made at the request of aboriginal groups, which might not be able to obtain as low a rate of interest as the pipeline company.

Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway said the $70,500 would be on the lower end of the scale and would be for a band located some distance from the pipeline route.

“The numbers reflect the impact that the project would have on a particular aboriginal community,” Stanway said Sunday, adding that distance from the actual line is one factor in the equation.

Some aboriginal leaders say the amount is a far cry from the path out of poverty the company claims.

Only nine of the total of 60 interveners chose to participate in Monday’s hearings which are limited to responses to oral arguments that were heard last week. In contrast to packed hearing rooms at the beginning of the process, the chairs in the room Monday were only about one-third full.

As the panel grapples with safety, along with other issues, Enbridge Inc., announced Monday it has shut down pipelines in northern Alberta as a result of a weekend spill of synthetic crude.

The spill from Line 37, about 70 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray, Alta., caused Enbridge to close its Athabasca and Waupisoo pipelines — a major part of the network that serves Alberta’s oilsands.

The 540-kilometre Athabasca line can carry up to 570,000 barrels per day of crude from the Athabasca and Cold Lake regions to Hardisty, Alta., a major pipeline hub in eastern Alberta, about 200 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.

The Waupisoo line can carry up to 600,000 barrels per day to Edmonton from Cheecham Terminal, near the site of the spill.

The company estimates between 500 and 750 barrels of oil had spilled. A spokesman for Enbridge was not immediately available for comment Monday.

The company said Sunday that unusually heavy rains may have resulted in a ground movement that affected Line 37.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier story misspelled the name of Jim Shaw.