Northern Gateway Joint Review questioning and final argument hearings skip Kitimat, most of the northwest BC pipeline route

The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel questioning hearings and final arguments will bypass Kitimat and most of the communities along the proposed pipeline route, according to a letter to all intervenors from the JRP prompted by questions from the Gitxaala Nation.

The Joint Review Panel has not yet issued an official  and final procedural directive concerning the final hearings, and in response to the Gitxaala letter, the JRP secreteriat will convene a conference on May 30, in Calgary to set up that procedure. The three panel members will not be present at the conference.

In the letter to the intervenors, the JRP proposes:

Final hearings for questioning will take place in three locations. The Panel intends to hold these hearings in Prince Rupert, BC, Prince George, BC and either Edmonton or Calgary, AB. These locations are centrally located, have adequate facilities and reasonable transportation access. Would fewer than three locations be appropriate? What are your comments on the locations chosen by the Panel?

As for the final argument hearings, the Joint Review Panel says:

The Panel anticipates allowing parties to present final argument either: (i) orally;
or (ii) in writing. On an exception basis, parties may request permission of the
Panel to allow final argument on a specific topic both in writing and orally.
The Panel anticipates holding hearings for final argument in two locations;
namely Prince Rupert, BC and either Edmonton or Calgary, AB. Mechanisms will
be established to allow parties to participate remotely (i.e. via telephone or other
electronic means). Do you have any input on these locations?

For the questioning period, the Joint Review Panel says it anticipates that it will sit from Monday to Saturday for two week periods, followed by a one week break. Standard sitting hours would be from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Cheryl Brown, representing the Kitimat group Douglas Channel Watch, has already objected to the fact the Joint Review Panel has apparently decided to bypass Kitimat.

The location of the panel should include Kitimat as it is the community
experiencing the highest impact from the project -land and marine. The citizens
of Kitimat need to have the opportunity to hear the proceedings and how it will
potentially impact their future. Accommodations can be provided in Terrace with
bus transportation provided if needed and this is standard practice for other large
events. Air travel into Terrace/Kitimat is reasonable with good transportation to
Kitimat. Rupert has some exposure to the project but to justify that the hearings
take place there due to adequate facilities, that it is central and has reasonable
transportation access is not valid. Rupert is not central for the Northwest and the
issue of getting from the terminal to the city by ferry is hardly reasonable.

The proposed schedule seems adequate. For intervenors with limited financial
resources any length of stay outside their own area can be difficult.

Note that in its letter the JRP asks: “Would fewer than three locations be appropriate?” There is no suggestion that the number of locations be expanded.

This is despite the fact throughout the hearings, Sheila Leggett, the chair has repeatedly told intervenors in each location to hold back their comments until the final hearings. In addition, during the intervenor phase of the hearings, questioning was not permitted, only statements on local or traditional knowledge.

The JRP letter to intervenors goes on to say

The Panel intends to have questioning on oral evidence completed prior to
questioning based on written evidence pertaining to the List of Issues.
Questioning of witness panels will proceed at each location based on issues.
These issues largely mirror the List of Issues set out in the Hearing Order (dated
5 May 2011) and discussed in the Panel Session Results and Decision (dated
19 January 2011). The Panel intends to address each issue listed below in
relation to the entire Project at only one location. The location for each issue is
as follows:

Prince Rupert

(a) Potential Impacts of the Proposed Project on Aboriginal Interests
(socio-economic matters; asserted and proven Aboriginal and treaty
(b) Environmental Effects
(c) Socioeconomic Effects
(d) Consultation (with the public and Aboriginal groups)
(e) Safety, Accident Prevention and Response (related to the marine
terminal and marine transportation)

Prince George

(a) Potential Impacts of the Proposed Project on Landowners and Land
Use (pipeline crossings; depth of cover; impacts on agricultural soils)
(b) Routing (general route of the pipeline and route selection criteria).
General location of the facilities and siting of a marine terminal.
(c) Design, Construction and Operation
(d) Follow up and monitoring
(e) Safety, Accident Prevention and Response (related to the pipeline)

Edmonton or Calgary

(a) Need for the Proposed Project (supply and markets; commercial
support; economic feasibility)
(b) Potential Impacts of the Proposed Project on commercial interests
(c) Financial and Tolling Matters (tolling structure and methodology;
proposed financing; financial responsibility of the applicant)

The letter asks, “Do you have any additional issues for each hearing location or any input on the general format identified?”

It also asks intervenors questions like: “What parties’ witnesses do you anticipate questioning during the final hearings? What issues do you anticipate you will ask questions about? How much time do you anticipate you will require for questioning for each issue?

The panel says it is considering a process for expert witnesses which would entail having expert witnesses for parties with conflicting opinions seated together in a single witness panel and questioned at the same time, mainly about issues that “are highly technical in nature” so the panel can “assess complex expert evidence, understand differences, and focus on certain technical issues in an efficient manner.”

The letter goes on to say that the panel intends to permit “questioning of witnesses by telephone and is exploring other remote means.”

However, the letter to the Joint Review Panel from Cheryl Brown of Douglas Channel Watch clearly shows the kind of problems faced by those “directly affected” by the pipeline if they live in rural northwestern British Columbia.

Technology is limited as I am rural and do not have high speed internet. Could
the use of local video conferencing facilities be utilized. The panel needs to consider that there are many intervenors that are independent in the process and do not have resources to participate that others may have. It bears on the JRP
to ensure there is the ability of all to participate in the process in a reasonably fair and equitable way and the panel needs to consider other ways to configure the hearings

Telephone questioning during the NEB KMLNG (Kitimat LNG) hearings in Kitimat in June was awkward to say the least, and often plagued by technical problems in getting lines up and staying connected. Telephone questioning also meant that the energy industry lawyers actually in the hearing room at Riverlodge had a distinct advantage over the remote questioners.

The letter of the Joint Review Panel by Cheryl Brown of Douglas Channel Watch also outlines the issues the environmental group will be trying to bring before the panel:

Cheryl Brown
Cheryl Brown of Douglas Channel Watch speaks to District of Kitimat Council on May 7, 2012 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Here are issues that need to be addressed within the communities highly affected
i.e. Kitimat
•Routing: through the tunnel and the difficult terrain of the Kitimat River,
•Siting of the marine terminal,
•Safety, accident prevention response related to the terminal and marine
transportation, environmental effects on the estuary, Douglas Channel
and marine route.
•Socioeconomic and environmental effects are different across the entire
pipeline. To address then in one place does not allow for adequate
participation by intervenors from other areas to address the areas that are
of concern. A significant number of intervenors are without funding and
are privately involved in the process. The hearings have to acknowledge
•Aboriginal interests are unique to different areas and the costs for travel to
one place would be a burden.
•Consultation with the public needs to be represented in more locations.
The public that has been involved as intervenors do not have resources to
travel. The panel needs to consider this.

Brown goes on to say that the use of expert panels “sounds interesting” but she adds she is “not sure how one would interact with the panel. More details are required.”

The Joint Review Panel’s proposed schedule, which basically eliminates effective participation by those most affected by the pipeline, raises a key question at the national political level. Is the fact the panel is skipping most of the communities involved a return to the National Energy Board tradition that it is nothing more than a private club for Calgary energy lawyers or is it a result of pressure from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver to speed things up?

The controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway twin pipelines, if approved, will transport bitumen from Alberta to the port of Kitimat and condensate from Kitimat to Alberta.  Although there is significant opposition to the pipeline in British Columbia, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made clear the pipeline is a national priority.  Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has repeatedly condemned people who oppose the pipeline as “radicals.”

Update:  District of  Kitimat, Haisla Nation to question JRP schedules bypassing Kitimat

In separate e-mails to Northwest Coast Energy News, Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan and Haisla Nation Chief Counselor Ellis Ross both say they will be file objections with the Joint Review Panel questioning the JRP’s position in bypassing Kitimat in both the questioning round and final arguments.


JRP Procedural Direction No 7  (pdf)

JRP letter to all parties Procedural Conference on Final Hearings  (pdf)

Letter to JRP from Cheryl Brown of Douglas Channel Watch  (pdf)

Kitimat Council invites Enbridge to respond to avalanche worries

District of Kitimat Council voted unanimously Monday, March 19, 2012, to invite Enbridge to make a presentation to council about the concerns about avalanches along the Northern Gateway pipeline route that could threaten the town’s drinking water.

Two weeks earlier Murray Minchin of Douglas Channel Watch gave a detailed presentation that he said showed evidence of major avalanches in the past on the bitumen and condensate pipelines route. Minchin said at the time a major avalanche could breach the diluted bitumen pipeline and quickly threaten Kitimat’s drinking water.

At the time, Minchin asked that council sponsor a new public forum that would include representatives from Enbridge, the Haisla First Nation and an environmental group.

However, Monday’s motion from Councillor Mario Feldhoff read:

That we invite Enbridge to make a presentation to Council addressing issues raised by Douglas Channel Watch in Mr Minchin’s March 5, 2012, presentation to Council entitled Nimbus Mountain area.

The motion was quickly carried with almost no discussion.

Phil Germuth
Councillor Phil Germuth (Northwest Coast Energy News)

The water supply problem is worrying some members of council. Councillor Phil Germuth said that in the future he will be introducing a motion that will call attention to worries that, in case of a pipeline breach, that Kitimat would not have a water supply for months or even years.

At the opening of the meeting, Veronica Bilash, of Douglas Channel Watch, gave a presentation, based on information from West Coast Environmental Law on the responsibilities of municipalities when it comes to the proposed pipeline and presentations to the Northern Gateway Joint Review process.



Bilash criticized council for not participating in the Joint Review panel.

Administrator Ron Poole said Kitimat is an intervenor in the process, but, so far, Kitimat has not formally taken part in the Joint Review. Kitimat is actually listed as a “government participant.” The district has not filed any documents with the JRP.

Veronica Bilash
Veronica Bilash speaks to Kitimat Counci about municipal responsibilities. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The council has voted to remain neutral and not take any position until the JRP has issued its report. Bilash said that this position is preventing Kitimat from making any views based on municipal responsibilities until it is too late.

In the presentation, written by West Coast Environmental Law staff lawyer, Josh Patterson, points out that municipal governments have responsibility for

  • human occupancy and resource use, social and cultural well-being, health, infrastructure and services, and employment and the economy
  • infrastructure and services for construction-related traffic and transient population
  • Patterson noted that local governments will bear the burden “for any emergency response and clean-up and lasting economic, employment, health, environmental and social impacts form a potential large oil spill.”

Bilash said that Kitimat would face major impacts in these areas and that by remaining neutral, council was not facing its responsibilities.


Kitimat Council to consider new Enbridge forum after warning about avalanches on pipeline route

Douglas Channel Watch
Angus McLeod and Margaret Stenson, members of the environmental group Douglas Channel Watch, wear "ocean blue" scarves at a meeting of the District of Kitimat Council, March 5, 2012. The "ocean blue" scarves represent the group's determination to protect the oceans. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

District of Kitimat Council will consider a motion at its next meeting on March 19 to hold a second community forum on the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

The notice of motion was introduced by Councillor Mario Feldhoff after a request for a new forum by the environmental group Douglas Channel Watch.

Murray Minchin called for the forum after a presentation to council about the avalanche dangers at Nimbus Mountain, where Enbridge plans a tunnel through the mountain.

Minchin said Enbridge has not done a forest survey on Nimbus Mountain where the pipeline would emerge from the tunnel. However, a survey by Douglas Channel Watch members of tree growth on Nimbus Mountain, Hoult Creek on the pipeline route and Hunter Creek which are tributaries of the Kitimat River, shows strong evidence of previous avalanches which could cause serious damage to the twin bitumen and condensate pipelines.

Minchin says that documentation filed by Enbridge with the Joint Review Panel shows that while an Enbridge response crew could reach a breached pipeline in that area in four hours, it would also take four hours for as much as two million litres of diluted bitumen spilled in that area to reach the Kitimat River estuary.

The lower slopes in the area have a large population of young, small, closely packed trees and lumpy rock material on the forest floor that show that it is periodically “swept clean by avalanches,” Minchin told the council.

The young trees in the area are small because they are growing on rockfall, and there are no mature trees. There are large boulders on the lower slopes, another indication of avalanche or rock fall, Minchin said.

He showed images of middle aged hemlocks farther up the slope near the proposed tunnel exit that sometime in the past had their tops ripped off. Damage to the spreading branches of the trees on one side indicate that the trees were hit by an avalanche when they were young.

There is evidence of a major rockfall on the mountain about 50 metres above the proposed tunnel exit with rock fall material clearly visible on the forest floor. The curve of the hemlocks in the area indicate that there is still downhill movement on the slope, Minchin said.

That means, he said, that with the plans calling for the twin pipelines to be suspended 200 metres in the air over Hoult Creek, that could be hit by an avalanche.

He said the presence throughout the area of “avalanche alders” combined with the fact that there are no hemlocks, is an indication, Michin said, of regular avalanche activity.

Giant boulder brought to Houlte Creek by an avalanche
This photograph from Douglas Channel Watch shows a giant boulder and a fallen hemlock in area close to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline at Houlte Creek, BC. (Douglas Channel Watch)

He showed a photo of a large boulder, perhaps the size of a carport, 100 metres from the proposed tunnel exit that was brought to the area by an avalanche.

He said a study of the age of young balsam would tell an expert when the last massive avalanche occurred “but it won’t tell us when the next one will occur.” The steep slopes on Mount Houlte, leading to the pipeline route along Houtle creek mean that area which feeds the Kitimat River has seen many avalanches in the past.

The pipeline then goes into the Hunter Creek area, which Minchin says, Enbridge’s own experts have warned is also vulnerable to avalanches. At Hunter Creek, avalanche debris could temporarily dam the creek, and then, when the debris is released by spring melt or water pressure, that could a create a flash flood; a flash flood that could damage the pipelines.

He pointed to the fact the cleanup of the Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan had been shut down for the winter because the bitumen becomes too sticky to move. He then asked how much longer would it take to clean up a spill under the winter conditions of the Kitimat area. Noting that Enbridge has admitted the Kitimat river would be closed for fishing for “at least four years” he asked “How long will the cleanup take…eight twelve? And where would Kitimat get its water?”

Minchin concluded by saying if there is a pipeline breach at Hoult or Hunter Creeks, despite Enbridge’s plans, the Kitimat River downstream from those creeks would be polluted for years.

He then asked that council organize a new public forum, with three representatives, one from the Haisla First Nation, one from Enbridge and one from an environmental group, adding. “The mayor of Dawson Creek has been trotted out at every one of these forums and is irrelevant, which is why we ask that three people speak to the forum.”

Great Bear photo exhibit makes it to Kitimat

Environment Arts


The Great  Bear Wild photo exhibit arrives in Kitimat Wednesday.  The exhibit will open in a Kitimat store front, in the City Centre mall,  for a ten day run, on Wednesday Nov. 2, 2011, continuing to Nov. 12. The opening reception is Saturday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.

Bringing the exhibit to Kitimat took a lot of time and effort  sources say. That’s because the District of Kitimat’s officially neutral stance on the Enbridge Northern Gateway precluded official venues such as the Riverlodge Recreation Centre and the Kitimat Museum.   The local environmental sponsors of  the exhibit also tried, unsuccessfully, sources say, to find a space in a number of other possible venues around town.

The local sponsors are Douglas Channel Watch, Kitimat Valley Naturalists and Friends of the Wild Salmon.

At the beginning of September. 2010, the International League of Conservation Photographers sent some of the world’s best shooters on a RAVE (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition) into the Great Bear Rainforest. That photo exhibit was sponsored by Pacific Wild, Save Our Seas, the Gitga’at First Nation and National Geographic.  The shoot concentrated on the area along the coast within the boundaries of the Great Bear Rainforest and the mouth of Douglas Channel around Hartley Bay.

The ILCP says

The 14-day expedition to the Great Bear Rainforest called upon 7
world-renowned photographers and 3 videographers to thoroughly document
the region’s landscapes, wildlife, and culture. The RAVE provided media
support to the First Nations and environmental groups seeking to stop
the proposed Enbridge Gateway pipeline project (and thus expansion of
the tar sands) and to expose the plan to lift the oil tanker ship

The photographers did not come any further up Douglas Channel. One ILCP photographer, Neil Evers Osborne, is photographing the route of the pipeline by air.  That project is ongoing, hanpered, in part, by this summer’s miserable weather.

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Activists ramp up scrutiny of Enbridge Northern Gateway plans. I Western approaches

Energy Environment

596-Wagner1.jpgDieter Wagner, of Douglas Channel Watch, briefs District of Kitimat Council on the perils of Wright Sound, Oct. 17, 2011. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Activists in northwestern British Columbia are ramping up their scrutiny of  Enbridge’s plans for the Northern Gateway pipeline, including the company’s contingency plans in case something goes wrong.

There is also growing controversy over one part of the pipeline process that is separate from the Joint Review Panel, the TERMPOL process that is supposed to ensure the safety of shipping on the west coast.  TERMPOL, which is run by the Canadian Coast Guard on behalf of Transport Canada, has two major flaws, opponents say, first, that unlike the Joint Review Panel, TERMPOL’s proceedings are secret and, second, participation in the process for shipping companies and others is voluntary.

At the regular bi-weekly meeting of the District of Kitimat Council on Monday, Oct.  17, 2011 Dieter Wagner, of the group Douglas Channel Watch gave a detailed analysis of what his group says are the dangers involved in shipping supertankers along the west coast of British Columbia and up the Douglas Channel to Kitimat.

Wagner told the Council that the TERMPOL documents on Northern Gateway shipping are confusing, contradictory and often difficult for the layperson, even those with years of experience in the waters of  northwestern British Columbia to follow.

Wagner said that many areas of the coast approaching Douglas Channel are tricky to navigate with shallow water, rocks and shoals and thousands of crab traps, all very close to the proposed tanker routes.  Wagner said the TERMPOL study shows that in some of the areas approaching the Channel, the charts show 10 fathoms, (60 feet or 18.28 metres) while the supertankers draw 70 feet.

Wagner said that on some parts of the coast, sailors can see kelp, often growing on gravel beds, and since growing kelp is less than 70 feet high, it is another area that could be damaged if a tanker runs aground.

That means, Wagner said, the smallest mistake would mean that tankers would run aground. He also pointed out the plans for the pilots to board the tankers once the ships are already in shallow water.  He cautioned the plans say that under some circumstances, boarding by the pilot could be delayed, probably by bad weather and he doubted whether the companies involved would want to delay their tankers by two or three or more days, as BC Ferries are sometimes delayed in really rough weather.

The most dangerous area, Wagner said, is Wright Sound at the entrance to Douglas Channel, where the tankers would have to make a tight turn to enter the Channel.  Ferries and other ships heading south also have to make a turn and it was in Wright Sound that the ferry Queen of the North went off course, struck Gill Island and sunk. Wagner told the District Council what the Gitga’ata  First Nation said at last year’s Enbridge rally, the Queen of the North is still leaking oil.

(Other people in the Kitimat region, including the aboriginal people who have sailed the area for thousands of years, also express concern about Wright Sound, not only due to congestion from all the traffic using the Inside Passage but because of tricky winds and currents, especially in bad weather).

Wagner also said he doubted the extra navigational aides that Enbridge has promised to install along the route would stop human error accidents any more than traffic lights do.

He also said the up to 225 supertankers that would be used for the Northern Gateway project, crossing the Pacific to China or going down to California would greatly add to the green house gases going into the atmosphere from what he said was half a billion tons a fuel a year burned by the ships.  Tugs, liquified natural gas tankers and other ships would also to the emissions.

He concluded by saying that there are no Canadian regulations governing the use of the escort tugs contemplated by Enbridge’s plans.  Wagner also said that everything in the documents from Enbridge are just promises and there is no way at the moment to ensure that the promises are kept.

At the conclusion of the presentation, Councillor Randy Halyk, who is also a candidate for mayor, told his colleagues that one of the biggest problems with the review of the Northern Gateway is the secrecy of the TERMPOL process.