Canada energy regulator could be curbed after pipeline fiasco

Wed Oct 19, 2016 3:42pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren and Nia Williams

OTTAWA/CALGARY (Reuters) - Canada's government may curb the national energy regulator's power, including stripping it of sole oversight for new projects, as part of reforms to a body under pressure over a botched pipeline hearing, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Ottawa, responding to what it says is general public displeasure with how environmental assessments of energy projects are carried out, is eyeing major reforms and tentatively plans to push them through in 2018, said one of the sources.

Such changes will irritate industry players who insist the National Energy Board (NEB) is working well. Critics say the NEB is too close to the energy industry.

The Liberal government has named an expert panel to review potential changes to the environmental assessment system and will wait for it to report back early next year before deciding which approach to take. The panel can recommend the NEB's responsibilities be amended, said a spokesman for the panel.

Environmentalists and aboriginal activists are stepping up opposition to energy projects, threatening years of delays at a time when Canada needs to get its landlocked crude to its east and west coasts to avoid pipeline bottlenecks that leave Canadian oil trading at a discount.

One option under consideration is stripping the NEB of its authority as the only body that can assess major federally-regulated energy projects such as pipelines, the sources said.

A second, separate panel will look specifically at how the NEB is governed.

The NEB upset Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and other cabinet members with the way it handled a hearing into TransCanada Corp's proposed Energy East pipeline in the province of Quebec, said four sources.   Continued...

A man enters the National Energy Board building in Calgary, Alberta, Canada March 24, 2015. REUTERS/Todd Korol/File Photo