The panel reviewing the environmental effects of the proposed Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline will on Thursday deliver its recommendation on whether the federal government should approve the controversial project.
The three-person joint review panel, which started public hearings in Kitimat, B.C., in January 2012, can attach "terms and conditions" should it recommend the Conservative government approve the project.
The $6.5-billion pipeline is slated to transport crude from Alberta to Kitimat, where the oil will be loaded on to tankers and move through the Douglas Channel before hitting open water. The project's supporters argue it will fuel expansion in the oil sands and bring a higher dollar for heavy crude because producers will no longer be reliant on one customer: the United States. Opponents also believe the pipeline will fuel expansion, but argue that is not something Canadians should cheer about. Some argue the risk of spills – both on land and in the water – is too great.
Some of the JRP's public hearings came with tense moments. Many First Nations groups B.C. oppose the project, as do environmentalists. B.C. Premier Christy Clark has also expressed concern, rolling out conditions she wants met before supporting the project, including a slice of the economic benefits. The pipeline has caused tension between Ms. Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford as the two governments try to meet each other's demands.
The JRP, however, is focused on the environment effects of the project. It is an independent body, mandated by the federal Minister of the Environment and the National Energy Board. The JRP will deliver its decision Thursday at 2:30 Mountain Time, according to a statement released Tuesday.
"This report will detail the panel's recommendation to the federal government on whether or not the project should be approved and the reasons for this recommendation," the JRP statement said. "The report will also include terms and conditions that the applicant must implement if the project is approved."
Northern Gateway's westbound oil pipeline is designed to move 525,000 barrels of oil per day. The project comes with a twin line, moving 193,000 barrels of condensate per day eastward. Condensate is needed to thin heavy oil so thick crude can be transported by pipeline. Condensate is in short supply in western Canada.
Todd Nogier, a spokesman for Enbridge on the Northern Gateway file, would not speculate on what the report would say.
"We are looking forward to the joint review panel's report and conditions," he said Tuesday.
The JRP wrapped up 18 months of public hearings, which took place in 21 locations in Alberta and B.C., in June, 2013.
The federal government has been critical of lengthy regulatory processes and has taken steps to "streamline" future processes.
Oil producers once argued Northern Gateway, which is designed to stretch 1,177 kilometres, was key to oil sands expansion. While they still support the project, along with Kinder Morgan Inc.'s desire to expand its existing Trans Mountain system to the west coast, energy companies now argue growth in northern Alberta will continue regardless of Northern Gateway's fate. Shipping oil by rail, for example, is becoming increasingly popular, and proposed projects which would move oil eastward are in the works.
Kinder Morgan on Monday filed an application to build its proposed $5.4-billion Trans Mountain expansion. The project already allows oil companies to access Pacific tidewaters. Kinder Morgan wants to twin the line, bringing total capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.
B.C.'s Liberal government has outlined five demands on pipeline projects. It wants them to successfully complete an environmental review; have "world-leading" marine spill response, prevention, and recovery systems; have land oil-spill response, prevention, and recovery systems; address First Nations' treaty rights and provide First Nations with opportunities to benefit from the project; and ensure B.C. gets a fair share of the economic benefits. These demands are vague, but dipping into Alberta's royalties is off the table.