Canada’s National Energy Board says the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion 'in the national interest' with 16 recommendations for approval

The National Energy Board (NEB), which is an independent federal regulator of several parts of Canada’s energy industry to regulate pipelines, energy development, and trade in the Canadian public interest, delivered its Reconsideration report to the Government of Canada. Their overall recommendation is that the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is in the Canadian public interest and should be approved, alongside 16 new, nonbinding recommendations, in addition to the previously outlined 156 conditions.

The NEB’s Reconsideration report has now been submitted to the Government of Canada and is only one of the factors that the government will consider when making the final decision on whether or not the project should proceed. In their report, the NEB said the pipeline is in the national interest, stating the considerable benefits of the project including increased access to diverse markets for Canadian oil; jobs created across Canada; the development of capacity of local and Indigenous individuals, communities and businesses; direct spending on pipeline materials in Canada; and considerable revenues to various levels of government. 

The Trans Mountain project, which the government bought last year from Kinder Morgan Canada to ensure it gets built, will twin an existing oil pipeline between Alberta and British Columbia, tripling the system’s ability to ship oil to the West Coast by 590,000 barrels per day at a cost that could reach CAD $9.3 billion. Construction had just begun when a Federal Court of Appeals overturned approval last August, noting that the previous National Energy Board failed to consider the pipeline’s contribution to rising oil tanker traffic off the West Coast and resultant effect on marine wildlife. Responding to the court, the federal government ordered the NEB to reopen its review process to fill in the gap on marine life and Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi ordered a new round of consultations with affected Indigenous groups.

As indicated in the NEB’s report, the NEB has delivered a comprehensive, evidence-based, fair and meaningful review of Project-related marine shipping, within the timeline required by the Government of Canada. The NEB listened to a range of diverse views and carefully considered all of the evidence submitted, the results of which are reflected in the conclusions, conditions and recommendations presented in the report.
— Dr. Robert Steedman, Chief Environment Officer, National Energy Board

The new and supplement report focused specifically on those considerations with calls for submissions and hearings held since the time of the Appeals Court ruling. Their report will now go to the federal government to make the final decision on construction. In the press release, NEB Chief Environment Officer Robert Steedman said, “The NEB listened to a range of diverse views and carefully considered all of the evidence submitted, the results of which are reflected in the conclusions, conditions and recommendations presented in the report. The report recommends on overall sections that the project is in the national interest and should be approved.”

Throughout the process, the federal government argued that its CAD $1.5-billion Ocean Protections Plan would mitigate the adverse affects of rising tanker traffic and boost the Vancouver region’s response capabilities in case of an oil spill. Opponents, including environmental activists and a minority of First Nations, have continued to oppose the pipeline on the grounds that it poses a threat to the West Coast and the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population. The NDP British Columbian provincial government is also opposed.

The federal government gave the NEB 155 days to complete its reconsideration. The Reconsideration hearing included 118 Intervenors, including 52 Indigenous groups and individuals, and 8 federal government departments. The NEB’S 16 new, non-binding recommendations relate to matters that fall outside of the NEB’s regulatory mandate, but within the authority of the Government of Canada.

The Recommendations:

1. Develop a plan to assess the effects on the Salish Sea and a long-term strategy to manage those effects.

2. Release a public, annual report on the Salish Sea and any gaps in measures to address effects.

3. Develop a marine bird monitoring and protection program.

4. Expedite a study for establishing a Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and create it if feasible.

5. Develop a program to offset increased underwater noise and increased strike risk posed to marine mammal and fish species.

6. As part of an offset program: consider slowdowns in shipping routes, limits on whale watching boats, noise reduction of ferries and incentives and requirements for quiet vessel design.

7. Review and update federal marine shipping oil spill response requirements.

8. Develop a regulatory framework for making enhanced tug escort mandatory in the Salish Sea for tankers related to the pipeline.

9. Consider a Canada/United States Transboundary Vessel Traffic Risk Assessment.

10. Develop measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as supporting the use of low-carbon alternate fuels for marine vessels and providing economic incentives for the use of energy efficient technologies.

11. Seek feedback for the Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee on a marine safety system in conjunction with the Canadian Coast Guard.

12. Continue engagement with Indigenous communities, recreational boaters and vessel operators about navigation safety to prevent collisions with larger vessels.

13. Accelerate the development of the Enhanced Maritime Situational Awareness initiative and the proposed extension of the Automatic Identification System to smaller passenger vessels.

14. Look at new paths to deliver grants and contributions for financial incentives to promote innovation, such as new oil recovery technologies.

15. Have Transport Canada review federal marine oil spill compensation regimes with regards to compensation for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities that may be impacted by a marine oil spill.

16. Develop a complaint resolution program that gathers community feedback about port-related impacts and resolves complaints about marine vessels docked at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority managed anchorages.