A National Energy Board panel has postponed hearings that were supposed to begin next week into the Trans Mountain expansion because a consultant who prepared evidence in favour of the project will soon work for the regulator.
Kinder Morgan Canada, the company behind the project, filed evidence with the board in late 2013 that was prepared by Steven Kelly, a consultant with IHS Global Canada at the time. The report touted the project's economic benefits.
In July, federal Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford announced Kelly had been appointed to a seven-year term on the board starting Oct. 13.
"There can be no question that public confidence in the impartiality of tribunal decision-makers is integral to the administration of justice. The dual role of Mr. Kelly, as a person who prepared evidence in this proceeding and as a future board member, may raise concerns about the integrity of this hearing process," the three-member panel wrote in a letter to the company and intervenors on Friday.
"With this in mind, the panel has decided on its own volition to strike from the hearing record all evidence prepared by or the under the direction of Mr. Kelly."
The panel has directed Kinder Morgan to list any other evidence Kelly prepared and wants to know whether that material will be replaced.
In the letter, the panel members say they don't know Kelly personally and that measures are being put in place to make sure there is no contact between Kelly, the panel or its support staff while the project is being assessed.
The hearing panel is postponing oral arguments that had been scheduled for Calgary on Monday and Burnaby, B.C., next month. Once it gets the information it has requested from Kinder Morgan, it will outline its next steps.
Earlier this month, 35 participants dropped out of the Trans Mountain review process, calling it "biased" and "unfair."
Kinder Morgan plans to almost triple the capacity of a pipeline that runs from near Edmonton to a marine terminal in the Vancouver area, enabling shipments of Alberta crude to Asia.