Trans Mountain Pipeline – NEB recommends approval

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

By Andrew Thomson | UPDATED February 22, 2019 2:01pmET

The National Energy Board has added 16 new conditions to its environmental assessment of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, nearly six months after a federal court halted construction on the $7.4-billion project.

The NEB remains in favour of approving the project in Canada’s national interest despite “significant adverse environmental effects” on the Southern resident killer whale population, along with negative implications for Indigenous cultural use of the whales and additional greenhouse gas emissions from marine tanker traffic.

The federal government must now consider the new report, along with a new round of Indigenous consultations that flowed from last year’s ruling.

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In quashing the government’s order in council, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled last August that the NEB failed to account for the potential impact of additional tanker traffic on the Southern resident killer whale population on the Pacific coast.

The government subsequently ordered the National Energy Board to re-examine its approval and the potential effect of increased tanker traffic on the Pacific coast. Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi wanted the NEB to consider the government’s 2016 ocean protection plan and a 2017 plan to protect the Southern resident killer whale

The government also announced a new “special marine technical advisor” for the NEB.

A kayaker paddles past the Kinder Morgan yard in Burrard Inlet in 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The federal government agreed to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline from Kinder Morgan last spring. Company shareholders approved the $4.5-billion sale on the same day (Aug. 30) as the federal court ruling.

A January report by the parliamentary budget officer concluded the federal purchase of Trans Mountain was at the “higher end” of the pipeline’s value range. Once Ottawa tries to sell the pipeline, construction delays, cost overruns, and low crude oil prices could all combine to reduce its value, currently estimated by the PBO at between $3.6 and $4.4 billion.

According to the study, a one year delay in getting the Trans Mountain expansion running (from 2021 to 2022) would reduce the project’s value by $693 million. Likewise, a 10-per-cent increase in construction costs would drop Trans Mountain’s value by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The 2018 federal court ruling also ruled that the final round of Indigenous consultation was inadequate. Ottawa promised new talks with 117 Indigenous groups, overseen by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci.