Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) said this week that it would hold a series of public hearings, beginning later this year, to determine the route for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The NEB’s chief environment officer, Rob Steedman, told Reuters that while the expansion had already been federally approved, the regulator could force Kinder Morgan to change its route or impose further conditions.
Steedman did not specify whether the new hearings would delay the project. “Some areas, there may be either negotiations or regulatory restrictions specified. We just don’t know until we do each one individually,” he said.
Kinder Morgan Canada was planning to begin construction in September, though it has said that most major work would not take place this year. However, as well as the NEB hearings, the company is still facing additional hurdles, including efforts by the new provincial government of British Columbia to derail the project by joining a legal challenge against it.
Also this week, an aboriginal group, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, has asked a court to consider the federal government’s position for a tougher review on another proposed pipeline, Energy East, in an attempt to overturn approval of the Trans Mountain expansion.
Kinder Morgan and the federal government, which approved the expansion last year, opposed the Tsleil-Waututh’s motion in submissions on August 28, telling the court separately that the stance on Energy East was “irrelevant” to the Trans Mountain pipeline.
The C$7.4 billion (US$5.9 billion) Trans Mountain expansion would nearly triple the capacity of the existing pipeline from Alberta to the BC coast. It was proposed amid concerns over a shortage of takeaway capacity from Canada’s landlocked oil sands.
However, opposition to major new pipeline projects in North America has intensified in recent years, and if Kinder Morgan does reach the construction stage, it is likely that its progress will be disrupted by protests. Indeed, Reuters reported this week that environmental activists gathered in late August on an island off Washington State, on the border with Canada, to practice seaborne drills aimed at disrupting construction on Kinder Morgan’s Westridge crude oil terminal. The pipeline would run to Westridge.