An article about the new chair of the National Energy Board Peter Watson appeared in the newspaper the Globe and Mail. It discusses some of the challenges that he is facing as the new chair. The article is good but raises many issues.
The Board has been effective in blocking carbon emissions from being discussed at National Energy Board hearings on oil sands pipeline proposals. The board provides opportunities to discuss the economic benefits of projects but stops intervenors from raising issues around carbon emissions even though the oil sands is one of the most polluting energy sources in the world. In fact, it is the fastest growing source of green house gas emissions in the country. Many Canadians would argue that oil is oil. The problem is that this particular oil source requires three barrels of fresh water for every barrel of bitumen extracted (Andrew Nikiforuk, Tar Sands, 2009). It also creates massive tailings ponds to hold the waste water. These giant tailings ponds leak into groundwater and have high levels of known carcinogens. They create dangers for migratory birds as well communities located downstream from oil sands extraction.
By creating this imbalance between the economic benefits of a project and its environmental impacts Canadians can not arrive at judgements based on sound scientific analysis that incorporates the totality of the affects of pipeline proposals. These proposals have decades of impacts on downstream communities and it is essential to discuss all elements that have a direct impact on a project’s approval or denial. The board’s current failure to conduct thorough environmental assessments limits the reception of their final recommendations. It is in the board’s interest to complete full assessments in order to have a reliable public interest determination. The public’s rejection of the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal in British Columbia is an example of what can occur when a regulatory process is not inclusive of differing perspectives. The board must work more thoroughly at actually listening to communities. This means holding more hearings in communities affected by pipeline proposals rather then largely holding them in Calgary.
Safety is the next issue with current board environmental reviews. Since the board has been effective in eliminating carbon emissions from its analysis, it partially creates a level of distrust in communities affected by pipeline proposals. Since the board may have a bias towards hearing economic benefits as indicated by their hearing orders, its attitudes towards safety are more easily rationalized through mitigation. If a true environmental analysis was conducted the results would be more readily accepted by intervenors participating in the regulatory process as well as the general public. Unfortunately, efficiency is privileged in regulatory processes currently conducted by the board. Safety is considered secondary and can always be “mitigated” by a proponent.
The chair states that emotion is driving much of the debate while the board is engaged in professionalism and that professionalism is supposedly going to overcome the emotion. Many Canadians are emotional as they do not see their regulatory processes as being transparent and open to the public. The outcome of these restricted processes are acts of direct action, civil disobedience, rallies, and protests. If people felt that their regulatory processes were inclusive, hearing processes would run more efficiently and with greater collaboration. Pitting some Canadians' economic interests against other Canadians' safety concerns is problematic. As Canadians, we would benefit from less political interference by industry led lobby groups and by greater emphasis on scientific based analysis. The lack of attention to environmental considerations is causing confrontation which could be redirected towards solutions. By blocking off carbon emissions and human made climate change from review processes the board raises the temperature of the debate rather then working towards solutions.
Natural justice is not being met in National Energy Board hearings on Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain proposal on a number of fronts. Firstly, when the board provides oral cross examination to members of the oil industry and the pipeline proponent yet blocks it for intervenors outside of the industry it creates a barrier to natural justice. Secondly, when the board stops discussions about human produced climate change and its affects on coastal communities it also prevents natural justice from being served.
The article states that there are 400 intervenors in the National Energy Board review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline but it does not mention that 2100 people applied to be involved in the process and were largely stopped from participating in the process.
The board must act as an independent regulator rather than an advocate for the oil industry. The public interest demands this. To successfully reach public interest determinations it must work to conduct inclusive hearings and processes. Utimately, it is important to support the work of the National Energy Board as we need to have judicial processes that work in the public interest. We also must work to hold the regulator accountable when it appears to drift away from the public interest.
Does the New National Energy Board Chair Create More Questions Than Answers? by Calvin Taplay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.