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Douglas Channel, the proposed termination point for an oil pipeline in the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, is pictured in an aerial view in Kitimat, B.C., on January 10, 2012.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Enbridge Inc. must put in place all of its of voluntary spill and tanker safety plan, fund heavy oil spill research and hold nearly $1-billion in liability coverage if it builds its controversial Northern Gateway project, a federal panel has determined.

On Friday morning, the National Energy Board released a lengthy list of potential conditions for Gateway. The list does not constitute approval of the project – that decision is not expected until later this year. But the board said Friday "the publication of potential conditions is a standard step in the hearing process that is mandated by the courts."

The 199 conditions, which stretch over 45 pages, set out the terms under which Enbridge will have to abide if it gains approval for Northern Gateway, which proposes to carry oil sands crude to the British Columbia coast for export.

They include requirements that the company file reams of paperwork on First Nations employment, have hefty financial resources at the ready in case of a large spill, fund a research program on heavy oil spills and begin construction by Dec. 31, 2016.

They make clear the NEB's interest in gathering very specific data on the safety of the pipeline, down to advance reports into the pipeline steel that will be used and the techniques that will be employed to weld it.

In an interview, Enbridge spokesman Todd Nogier said the early release of the conditions will "provide ample and appropriate opportunity for all regulatory participants to provide their comments before the final argument hearings in June. This is a demonstration of just how inclusive this process is to all participants."

Mr. Nogier noted that it is "pretty standard" for pipeline to face lengthy conditions, but that Enbridge intends to provides its comments on them "directly to the joint review panel when our review is complete."

By comparison, the NEB attached 264 conditions to its support of the Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline – but just 22 to its decision on the Canadian portion of TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline. By the Keystone XL measure, the proposed Enbridge conditions are nearly an order of magnitude more numerous, and far more stringent.

For example, the NEB asked TransCanada to simply file "a list of pipe that was received from the pipe supplier" before it began pumping oil. With Gateway, the NEB wants Enbridge to provide numerous bits of documentation, including a full engineering report on the steel it intends to use – and that report must be filed three months before the pipe is manufactured.

Critics, however, are skeptical, pointing out that the potential conditions make no reference to oil sands expansion, a key concern among environmental groups. In addition, Cabinet must approve the conditions – and has shown a willingness in the past to excise some.

"The NEB can suggest all the conditions it wants, but it is up to the minister to make them part of the licence," said Keith Stewart, a campaign co-ordinator with Greenpeace Canada. "What we have seen in the past is that the NEB makes many recommendations, which are then abandoned or watered down when Cabinet gives its approval," he added, pointing to the Mackenzie process.

Under the draft conditions, Enbridge would be required to:

  • maintain $950-million in liability coverage, including $100-million in “ready cash” that can be accessed within 10 business days of a large spill to pay for cleanup costs
  • help fund a heavy oil spill research program that examines “the behaviour of heavy oils spilled in freshwater and marine aquatic environments.” The program must be developed in consultation with governments and First Nations
  • abide by specific requirements on inspecting its pipeline, including a requirement that it “investigate all dents greater than two per cent of pipe diameter to ensure they are free of gouges and not associated with a weld
  • not load oil tankers until it has installed a substantial spill response and marine safety system.
  • use a “three-layer composite coating or High Performance Composite Coating for the entire pipeline”
  • file a comprehensive “Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program” and a “Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program” within a year of approval
  • notify the NEB within two weeks of any attempt to hire temporary foreign workers
  • give the NEB, three months before it manufactures its pipe, a detailed report of the performance of the materials it intends to use, “summarizing the loading and dynamic effects considered during final design and which confirms that the pipeline has adequate strength to resist these loadings”
  • provide detailed technical data on the welds and welders it intends to use
  • file a detailed “Aboriginal, local and regional skills and business capacity inventory for the project” one year before construction start. Included in that inventory must be information on available First Nations labour and businesses along the route, as well as a description of what “potential skills and business capacity gaps” exist
  • submit biannual reports on First Nations, local and regional training and education programs, as well as more regular reports on employment and procurement with local communities
  • create a program to monitor First Nations contracting and procurement, which must be in place a year before construction
  • describe how it will develop Marine Mammal Protection plans nine months before building begins
  • develop a plan to monitor “potential adverse socio-economic effects” the pipeline might have during its construction phase
  • submit a detailed caribou habitat assessment, as well as a caribou habitat restoration plan, six months before construction begins
  • file a detailed “Air Quality Emissions Management and Soil Monitoring Plan” for the Kitimat region
  • create a plan to protect and manage “post-AD 1846 culturally-modified trees,” which are trees that bear evidence of lengthy First Nations habitation and use along the pipeline route
  • request specific NEB approval for “complementary leak detection” systems the company has decided to use
  • build emergency containment at the Kitimat marine terminal that would hold “six times the volume of the largest tank in the tank farm,” as well as allow for heavy rainfall and any water that might be used in firefighting