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First Nations leaders meet with RCMP at the Unist'ot'en camp near Houston, B.C., January 9, 2019. The two sides had previously made an agreement to end the blockade but after speaking with people at the camp arrangements were made for another meeting. Jimmy Jeong for The Globe and Mail.

Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

A lawyer representing TransCanada Corp.’s $6.2-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline project is urging the National Energy Board to endorse British Columbia’s support for the 670-kilometre route, saying a time-consuming federal review would jeopardize construction plans.

Sander Duncanson’s comments came in response to a July application by a B.C. environmentalist asking for a federal review of the pipeline venture, which received provincial regulatory approval in 2014. The NEB’s initial hearing is scheduled for late April and early May in Calgary.

Coastal GasLink, also known as CGL, will be built entirely within B.C. and has already received the required permits and approvals from the province’s regulators, Mr. Duncanson said in a filing this week to the NEB.

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The project started clearing land earlier this year to make room for work camps along the route.

The uncertainty over regulatory jurisdiction threatens to delay construction, Mr. Duncanson warns. “Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent on the CGL pipeline alone," he wrote. “Significant regional, provincial and national benefits would be put at risk if work on the project were to be interrupted or suspended.”

The ripple effects would be felt by LNG Canada, a consortium led by Royal Dutch Shell PLC that has begun construction on an $18-billion terminal to export liquefied natural gas from Kitimat on the West Coast. TransCanada has designed CGL to transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat.

“The CGL pipeline’s construction schedule has been aligned with the construction schedule of the multibillion-dollar provincial LNG Canada facility. Any suspension of construction for the CGL pipeline would necessarily impact LNG Canada’s schedule,” Mr. Duncanson said. “It would seriously harm the province’s and Canada’s reputation as jurisdictions in which there is sufficient legal certainty to plan and execute long-term projects."

If it turns out that the case should be under federal purview, the second phase will be a full hearing by the NEB, likely extending the regulatory process into late 2020.

Mike Sawyer, the environmentalist who brought the application to the NEB, argues that while CGL seeks to build within B.C., the pipeline would be “functionally integrated” with TransCanada’s Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. (NGTL) system in Alberta and northeast B.C.

Mr. Duncanson counters that even if CGL were to be eventually connected to B.C. lines leading to Alberta, the main purpose of the B.C. pipeline remains transporting natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat.

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“While Mr. Sawyer’s argument appears to rely on the possible connection between the CGL pipeline and the NGTL system, a connection to the NGTL system is dependent on a number of contingencies and is not certain,” Mr. Duncanson wrote. “The NEB must make its decision on the facts before it, based on what is known today – the NEB cannot decide a question of jurisdiction based on assumptions about what facts may exist in the future."

TransCanada hopes to have the B.C. pipeline in service by the end of 2023 to start a series of tests, while LNG Canada wants to begin fuel exports to Asia by early 2025.

Other critics of CGL include two Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary leaders who plan to build a protest camp, setting the stage for a new blockade against the pipeline project. The Globe and Mail reported last month that Warner Naziel and Adam Gagnon are planning to construct a cabin, a bunk house and associated sheds on the traditional territory of the Laksamshu clan (or Likhts’amisyu under an updated spelling by a linguist).

Mr. Naziel and Mr. Gagnon also hope to use their protest camp to attract “prominent climate scientists” and draw attention to climate-action activists. “This place would also host climate-change camps for parents interested in helping steer their children and youth into a future with strong critical thinking skills,” the Laksamshu clan said in a statement last month.

A report commissioned by the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association said regulatory burdens are mounting as pipeline firms strive to address environmental and Indigenous concerns. “Over the past several years there has been an increase in the volume, complexity and duplication of regulations imposed on the pipeline industry in Canada,” according to the report released on Wednesday. “Finding the right balance between environmental, social and economic trade-offs will be critical.”

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