Questions were answered and asked alike at the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel information session on June 21.
About 20 members of the Fort community came out to find out how to get involved in the Joint Review Panel (JRP) process and how it all worked.
Members of a process advisory team held an information session at the Stuart Lake Seniors Recreation Centre to provide instructions and guidance on getting involved in the JRP process, which will ultimately recommend whether or not the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project be approved and under what conditions. Therefore, any governments, groups or individuals with concerns or information about the pipeline would have to bring them forward to the JRP in order for them to be considered in that decision.
Brenda Price from the JRP Secretariat, and a member of the advisory team, presented the basics of the process and fielded a volley of questions by the community members at the session.
Essentially, the JRP is set up as an independent review body by the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to weigh the risks and benefits of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.
The JRP is made up of three “independent and unbiased” members, Sheila Leggett, panel chair, Kenneth Bateman, and Hans Matthews.
The panel was appointed to provide an environmental assessment and make a decision on whether the project can proceed and if it can, under what conditions.
“It’s important that the panel hears about all aspects and views on the project when they’re making their decision,” said Price.
The panel is still waiting to see if any of the local, regional or provincial government bodies register to get directly involved in the review process.
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad has been asking questions of Enbridge and said they have been answering all his specific concerns about stream crossings and tanker passage to his satisfaction so far, and because it is a federal process, he will not be directly involved with the panel.
He did go to the information session in Vanderhoof and said “I’m more concerned that that process has the ability and time and resources to be able to hear from the public, from First Nations, non-First Nations community, and community leaders so that it gets a good sense of kind of the issues that people have and the concerns that people have.”
Rustad said the province is in favour of the pipeline if it can be done safely for the environment “and we are going to leave it up to the professionals to make the recommendations as to what needs to happen to make sure that it’s safe or whether it should even go ahead.”
The provincial Ministry of Environment office said it will be working with the panel review process via the Environmental Assessment Office, and the government of British Columbia will be deciding soon whether or not to register as a government participant or as an intervenor in the JRP process.
The local District of Fort St. James has not yet decided whether they will get involved in the process, according to their office.
As well, First Nations groups might still be deciding whether or not to involve themselves in the process.
Nak’azdli Chief Fred Sam said the First Nations alliance Nak’azdli is part of is still deciding whether to get involved as well.
“I think with any process, federal process or anything, they don’t recognize aboriginal rights and title … that’s our concern about that process,” said Sam.
The process offers different ways for citizens, groups or governments to put forward their concerns or comments, via letters of comment, oral statement, as an intervenor (group or individual) to put forward comments and questions in different forms or as a government participant.
The hearings and evidence are matters of public record, and people will be able to access all of the evidence from the hearings online and the hearings will be broadcast online as well via: http://gatewaypanel.review-examen.gc.ca/clf-nsi/hm-eng.html
The JRP hearings will be held in areas where there is the most interest demonstrated through people registering to present in any form to the JRP or showing other forms of engagement.
Some of the deadlines for some forms of involvement are already approaching, and persons or groups wishing to register as intervenors or government participants must do so by July 14.
Kris Neilson asked whether the past performance of the company would be factored into the JRP decision.
According to Price, while the JRP has a broad mandate, it can only consider information brought forward in the review process, so people with concerns about Enbridge’s past spill response or safety record, would have to bring those issues forward to the panel.
There were also questions raised as to the actual unbiased nature of the panel, in the light of a recent article entitled “National Energy Board: Captured Regulator?” by investigative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk in the Tyee. The article is critical of the National Energy Board, and in it Nikiforuk writes: “In an era of volatile energy prices, it appears that regulators would rather please industry than police it.”
However, Price said the National Energy Board operates at “arms length” from government and is essentially a judicial body.
Concerns were also raised about the location of the hearings, given they will take place starting in January of next year, and therefore travel in the winter to the hearings would be difficult for people.
“They want to go where people want to talk to them,” said Price, so she said they would take the message back to the panel the community here is interested to be involved.
Kelly Izzard, a community member at the session, said the session showed him people are engaged.
“I’m encouraged by attending,” said Izzard, who would like to see the review panel come to the Fort. “I think it’s very important that the review panel comes to Fort St. James because of the local and provincial implications of the pipeline.”