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Opinion: Regulatory Process or Public Relations Exercise – the National Energy Board

It is becoming increasingly difficult to believe that Canadians are being locked out of decision making that affects their futures for decades to come by a supposedly independent regulator.

It was recently announced that there would be an assessment of an oil pipeline project being proposed by Kinder Morgan Canada from Alberta to British Columbia. Many Canadians were looking forward to participating in an open and transparent process to discuss the pros and cons of this project. Instead, we are seeing a regulator who is trying to limit public participation at every step of the process and is treating Canadians and their concerns as insignificant.

Firstly, the regulator decided that they would not permit any discussion of the upstream effects of oil sands extraction. These upstream effects include the stripping of the boreal forest of northern Alberta and the creation of large tailing ponds (tailing lakes would be a better description). The energy intensive nature of extracting the oil sands would also be off limits. Any and all discussion was to focus on the pipeline. Some people may question why we need to have a discussion about oil sands extraction when we are discussing a pipeline. Without the context of the pipeline, the discussion makes no sense. A pipeline does not exist in isolation. If built, this pipeline would lead to a dramatic increase of bitumen extraction which would result in greater green house gas emissions. Bitumen does not mysteriously extract itself out of the ground and transport itself. It is an energy intensive process conducted by an industry. We can pretend that ever expanding bitumen extraction poses no environmental or social cost. As we have recently seen, the oil and gas sector of Canada has emerged as the largest source of green house gas emissions in Canada.

Secondly, we see concerned citizens being blocked from participating in the hearings even though many of us are directly affected by the project. We participate in the local economies of the Lower Mainland and Southern Vancouver Island which would be dramatically impacted by an oil spill. We cannot put the economic benefits of some Canadian citizens above the rights of other Canadians to their local economies, safety, and environmental concerns. Unless we are inclusive of people we may or may not agree with we cannot reach the synergy of ideas that produce excellent solutions for the future. By denying citizens the right to participate in the process, the National Energy Board has likely predetermined the outcome of its own process and limited alternative ideas that could have been explored. These could have also benefited the proponent, Kinder Morgan Canada. We will most likely never know better solutions given the bias the National Energy Board has introduced into the process by denying large number of potential intervenors.

Thirdly, we are being forced in to an artificial deadline where most pipeline projects were carefully studied over a multi-year process to ensure the safety of residents and marine life. The rights of investors are being advanced over the rights of citizens.

Fourthly, we are being denied the ability to cross-examine the proponent of this project, Kinder Morgan Canada or other intervenors for no apparent reason. This means that vital information could be missed in assessing this project. This process should be thorough, scientific, and evidence based, yet none of this evidence will be adequately tested due to the National Energy Board process.

The risks that the National Energy Board is taking by not conducting a fair, transparent, inclusive and open process will lead to decades of uncertainty. It is unacceptable and should be condemned by all Canadians regardless of whether you support or oppose oil pipeline infrastructure in the country.