Analysis: Canada may seek to silence some foes of new pipeline
By Jeffrey Jones
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Some opponents of the proposed C$5.5 billion ($5.5 billion) Northern Gateway oil pipeline to Canada's Pacific Coast may not get a chance to be heard as scheduled by the regulatory panel looking at the plan because of federal government moves to streamline the country's environmental review process.
As part a series of changes to environmental reviews that are packed into a sweeping budget bill, the pro-development Conservative government seeks to restrict who can appear before regulatory panels to those deemed directly affected by the proposals and those with relevant expertise.
The new rules come after more than 4,000 people registered to comment at hearings into Enbridge Inc's controversial Northern Gateway pipeline. The project, which would move crude from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific Coast for shipment to lucrative markets in Asia, is opposed by environmentalists and by many aboriginal groups along the mountainous route in British Columbia.
Partly due to the large number of people wanting to have their say, the regulators said in late 2011 they were extending the process by a year to late 2013. It started in January.
The "directly affected" provision would not force the three-member panel to strike any evidence already presented, but it would give it "additional flexibility to manage the remainder of the review process within timelines that will be established following passage of the bill," according to a government source.
The "new tool" is aimed at allowing regulatory panels to guard against having their proceedings used "as a platform for delay and protest," the source said.
The government says Canadian oil's lack of access to global markets leaves the economy captive to deep oil price discounts. It has accused "radicals" of seeking to clog up the proceedings in attempts to force delays in building the pipeline.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said after the March announcement of the budget measures that the regulatory changes will apply to Northern Gateway. Continued...