The proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will need 1,200 permits to pass through British Columbia to the tidewater that Alberta says it needs to secure its economy, but only 66 of those permits have so far been approved and the process isn't likely to get easier.
The figures, released by the B.C. environment ministry on Thursday, would seem to bolster the concerns of Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd., who told an energy forum held by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade that the controversial $7.4-billion project is in danger of getting bogged down because of persistent permitting delays.
At least one prominent B.C. First Nation leader has said permitting delays are exactly how he wants the project killed.
"Anyone investing in Kinder Morgan should prepare for a long, drawn-out and very expensive battle," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said in a news release.
The permitting delays are on top of legal challenges slowly winding their way through the courts for the project.
Mr. Anderson told the board of trade that, despite approvals, work on the project is not on schedule. He said the only place that Kinder Morgan has been able to commence construction as of the end of September is at a marine terminal in Burnaby.
"We're still working on thousands of local, provincial and federal secondary approvals and permits," he said. "Trans Mountain has been working co-operatively and in good faith to obtain the permits." However, he said the company has only been "partially successful."
"We simply cannot get to work yet," he said, adding that the company has encountered "continuing delays" in the permitting process in Burnaby, which has yet to provide needed permits. He said processes that are supposed to take five to seven weeks are now taking months. He said other permitting authorities are working on the issue.
Last month, Kinder Morgan asked the National Energy Board to intervene, citing its challenge in Burnaby. The company wanted the NEB to expedite its request for a review, but the NEB declined. Kinder Morgan has warned the project could be facing a nine-month delay.
Kinder Morgan had asked for the case to involve only written submissions to the board, wrapping up by Nov. 10. Instead, oral submissions are to begin next week.
On Thursday, Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said in an interview that the company's submissions for permits were flawed, but that he is leaving the issue, without interference, to the city staff who manage permits and approvals for all projects.
"I separate policy from administration in our city rigorously," said Mr. Corrigan, who has been a pointed critic of the pipeline expansion. "It's totally up to our municipal staff to see there is compliance with the regulatory requirements. I don't get involved in that."
Mr. Anderson, declaring the time for advocacy on the project or seeking more opinions is over, said he and his team will carry on to obtain the permits and approvals for the project.
"Now is the time to show Canadians and the world that we have had the healthy debate, that we have had a rigorous review and that we will get on to build the project," he said.
In Victoria, B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan, whose government opposes the pipeline, would not commit to a speedier permitting process though his attorney-general has said in the past that the government could be at risk of a lawsuit if it is found to be obstructionist.
When asked if his government would ensure there are no unnecessary delays in its processes, Mr. Horgan said on Thursday that the NDP has made it clear since the spring election campaign that they do not believe the increase in tanker traffic associated with the project is in B.C.'s interests.
"We are currently in court at the federal level, fighting the federal government's decision to not look at the risks of expanding tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea and we will continue to do that," the Premier told reporters.
"As Premier, I have an obligation to make sure I am voicing the concerns of those who believe that our marine environment and our economy could be adversely affected if there is a catastrophic event as a result of increased pipeline activity in the lower mainland as well as increased tanker traffic."
Also attending Thursday's forum was Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, making a rare visit to Vancouver to lobby for the project vital to her province's energy sector.
She told the board of trade she was making a "progressive case" for the pipeline expansion, citing economic benefits from its construction to residents of both provinces and the context of Alberta adapting a climate change action plan that includes phasing out coal pollution and shifting Alberta to renewable energy.
"I would not be standing before you today if I did not believe that the Trans Mountain pipeline contributed to a better Canada," she said.
Ms. Notley told a subsequent scrum that speeches such as Thursday's were part of a continuing effort to build support for the project. "Every little bit counts," she said, referring to her remarks.
Asked if Ottawa could do more to promote the project, she said she was pleased with supportive remarks on the project delivered earlier Thursday by federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr.