The National Energy Board says releasing its decisions in Calgary is standard practice regardless of where in Canada the project is located, and it will not make an exception for its report on the controversial $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.
The board says it is considering whether to give reporters and interested stakeholders an embargoed look at the decision on whether to approve the project a few hours early in a lock-up in Calgary, which would be the first time the agency has ever done such a thing.
But it would mean no early heads-up for interested parties in British Columbia, where the pipeline proposed by Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. has sparked vigorous debate and where the effects would be most keenly felt.
After 180 days of hearings in 21 locations across British Columbia and Alberta, the board is to release its decision by the end of this month. It has yet to disclose a reveal the date, but has said it will give two days notice. The federal cabinet will have final say on whether the project proceeds.
The board suggested last week a Calgary release was likely, and spokeswoman Sarah Kiley elaborated this week in an e-mail exchange on the thinking of the independent federal regulator.
She said the board ruled out simultaneous lock-ups in Alberta and British Columbia.
“As far as hosting multiple media lock-ups, we need to make absolutely sure that the report is not inadvertently released before the markets close,” Ms. Kiley said. “This becomes more challenging if there are multiple events due to things like the need to ship reports.”
Because the ruling will affect markets, she said the report must be kept confidential until they close on the day of release.
“This makes hosting multiple media lock-ups problematic,” she wrote.
Will Horter, executive director of the Dogwood Initiative environmental group based in Victoria, B.C., said the board appears to be putting itself and the markets ahead of a robust dialogue with British Columbians.
“The word that comes to mind is ‘insult,’” Mr. Horter said in an interview. “They should come here and answer to British Columbians about their decision.”
An Enbridge spokesperson said the company will respond to the ruling in British Columbia.
The 1,177-kilometre pipeline would bring diluted oil sands bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., for shipment to Asia. The board is expected to release its report by the end of 2013, followed by a federal cabinet decision next year.
The B.C. government has rejected the Gateway proposal, suggesting Enbridge has not satisfactorily explained how it would deal with environmental damage from a major spill. First Nations and environmentalists, including Dogwood, have rallied against the project.
The B.C. Liberal government has set five conditions, including successful completion of regulatory processes like the board hearings, a “fair share” of fiscal and economic benefits for B.C., and world-class spill response, for supporting such heavy oil projects.
Premier Christy Clark played down the dispute over the release in an unrelated Tuesday news conference, saying that “in the world of 24-hour news,” information can bridge distances quickly.
“Back in the day, 150 years ago, when you had to depend on somebody to get on a horse and take your letter somewhere, I suppose it might have mattered more,” she said.