New Canada hearings for Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion route

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada’s National Energy Board will hold a series of public hearings beginning this year to determine the route for Kinder Morgan Inc’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the regulator said on Thursday.

A crude oil storage tank at Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline terminal is seen in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada November 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

While the expansion is federally approved, the NEB could force Kinder Morgan to tweak its route or impose further conditions, the regulator’s chief environment officer, Rob Steedman, said in an interview.

Asked if the hearings would result in delays for Trans Mountain, Steedman said: “Some areas, there may be either negotiations or regulatory restrictions specified. We just don’t know until we do each one individually.”

A spokeswoman for Kinder Morgan’s project said: “Trans Mountain factored in the possibility of route hearings when developing our phased construction approach and timeline.”

Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd, the local division of Houston’s Kinder Morgan Inc, has said it plans to start construction in September but that most major work will not happen this year.

The NEB said Kinder Morgan had met conditions required for part of the project, an expansion of a west coast marine terminal.

The Trans Mountain expansion would nearly triple the capacity of the existing pipeline from Canada’s oil heartland of Alberta to the west coast and significantly increase crude tanker traffic.

Canadian crude producers, whose landlocked product trades at a discount to the West Texas Intermediate benchmark, say they need more pipeline capacity to fetch better prices, but efforts to attain that have encountered fierce opposition from environmental and aboriginal groups.

The NEB announced the route hearings after Kinder Morgan’s planned path received 452 statements of opposition.

The route hearings, some of which are scheduled for next year, could last weeks, although they do not have firm dates for conclusion or for when the NEB needs to render decisions, according to the regulator.

Reporting by Ethan Lou; Additional reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Peter Cooney