CALGARY – The regulatory panel weighing the controversial Northern Gateway oil pipeline said Tuesday it will likely make its decision in about two years, several months later than estimated by the builder, Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.
The proposed 1,200-kilometre pipeline would ship oilsands crude from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded onto tankers that could transport it to Asia — providing exporters with alternatives to the United States, the biggest importer of Canadian crude.
However, as with the Keystone XL pipeline that TransCanada Ltd. (TSX:TRP) hopes to build from Alberta to refineries along the Gulf Coast in the southern United States, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal faces opposition on environmental and other grounds.
Thousands of people are set to speak at hearings across northern British Columbia and Alberta between January of next year and April 2013.
The joint review panel said Tuesday, in announcing several dates for the hearings, that it expects to release an environmental assessment report in the fall of 2013, and announce its final decision around the end of that year.
Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel said in May he was anticipating an early 2013 decision, but it’s clear from the hearing schedule that won’t be the case.
The company issued a statement late Tuesday saying it “welcomes clarity around the hearing process.”
“We understand that there is significant public interest in the Northern Gateway project. The JRP seems to be ensuring that there is a thorough inclusive process, and we are supportive of that. We see value in a well-defined process and remain committed to the regulatory review,” Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway said in an emailed statement.
Enbridge also faces a longer review process than it expected for a proposal to reverse part of an oil pipeline in Ontario.
The National Energy Board said Monday it will begin oral hearings this fall into Enbridge’s Line 9 proposal.
Enbridge originally aimed to begin work on the $20-million Line 9 reversal project in early 2012, with start-up anticipated in the fall of next year.
“While the schedule extends further into 2012 than we had anticipated, we respect the board’s desire to enable stakeholders and communities affected by the project to have the opportunity to participate in the regulatory review process,” Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Varey said in an earlier email Tuesday.
Opposition to major pipeline projects has grown since the disastrous offshore spill in the Gulf of Mexico after BP’s leased Deepwater Horizon rig experienced a fatal explosion in April 2010.
The pipeline industry’s reputation as a relatively reliable and environmentally safe way to transport oil was tarnished by a much smaller spill in July 2010, involving an Enbridge pipeline in southern Michigan.
There have also been periodic small-scale leaks at the original Keystone pipeline and a major spill at the Rainbow pipeline in northern Alberta operated by Plains Midstream Canada.