The Tsleil-Waututh Nation will press its court case Tuesday to challenge the National Energy Board's review of Kinder Morgan's oil pipeline expansion plans, arguing that aboriginal concerns are being neglected.
An NEB panel is scheduled to hear presentations on Dec. 17 in Calgary, where officials from Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain project will make their arguments for tripling the pipeline's capacity from Edmonton to the West Coast.
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation in North Vancouver is appealing the NEB's review process, citing a lack of respect for native rights. Lawyers representing the aboriginal group will be in the Federal Court of Appeal to contest the NEB's hearing order. In May, 2014, "the applicants applied for leave to appeal the issuance of the hearing order for this project," the federal regulator said on its website, confirming the long-awaited appeal will be in Vancouver on Tuesday.
Trans Mountain has an existing capacity of 300,000 barrels a day. An estimated one-fifth of the oil shipments has been going to Kinder Morgan's Burnaby-based Westridge export terminal on the shores of Burrard Inlet, while most of the rest is being delivered to refineries in British Columbia and Washington State.
Rueben George of the Sacred Trust Initiative of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN) issued a statement: "This case is about the NEB and federal Crown acting unilaterally and running roughshod over TWN's constitutional rights, resulting in a fundamentally flawed review process."
The Sacred Trust Initiative, which has been on a fundraising campaign for the court challenge, is urging donors to "help TWN send a clear message to the new government that this risky project will not get built without First Nations consent."
Intervenors are slated to deliver their arguments in January and February of 2016. Last month, the NEB said it will issue recommendations in May, 2016.
"Trans Mountain deeply respects aboriginal rights and title in Canada, and we acknowledge the Crown's responsibility to consult with representatives of the First Nations," Trans Mountain spokeswoman Ali Hounsell said in a statement. "For more than three years we have been engaging in meaningful consultation and to date Trans Mountain has consulted with approximately 133 aboriginal and First Nations groups."
The pipeline expansion project carries an estimated price tag of $5.4-billion, though Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson said last week that he is looking at a revised figure of $6.8-billion, which would be at the upper limit of costs while still maintaining contracts with shippers.
"Like the Tsleil-Waututh, Trans Mountain appreciates the need for a healthy Salish Sea, and we are committed to safe and environmentally responsible operations. As always Trans Mountain stands by our commitment to engage with First Nations and invites Tsleil-Waututh Nation to come to the table and engage in clear, productive conversation," Ms. Hounsell said.
In late 2013, Kinder Morgan sought approval from the NEB for a pipeline that would boost the total capacity to 890,000 barrels a day. Industry analysts say twinning the existing Trans Mountain pipeline would be an attractive way for Canada to diversify its oil exports.
NEB spokeswoman Tara O'Donovan said she couldn't comment directly on the court case, but added that "all NEB decisions are subject to independent and impartial judicial oversight, generally through the Federal Court of Appeal and Supreme Court of Canada, and the NEB is bound to act in accordance with the court's decisions."
Environmentalists and many First Nations have raised concerns about an array of projects. There has been added uncertainty in the energy sector after the Liberals won a majority government in the Oct. 19 federal election. This week, the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office gave conditional approval to Woodfibre LNG's project near Squamish, but the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has yet to rule on that proposal to export liquefied natural gas.