09/04/2012 05:55 EDT | Updated 11/04/2012 05:12 EST

Northern Gateway hearings resume with economics focus

The economics of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline will be the focus of the next phase of hearings when they resume in Edmonton today.

"The Edmonton hearings are really going to focus on the financial matters related to this proposed project," said Kristen Higgins with the National Energy Board. "It's also going to look at the general need for the project."

Hearings by the joint federal-provincial review panel started in January, but this phase will see a change in tone and purpose. Evidence presented earlier in the process can now be challenged and questioned by intervenors.

"It's also the opportunity where the panel is really going to hear about the evidence that is on the record — the testing of that evidence," Higgins said. "And it's going to form a lot of the information that the panel is going to use when they make their recommendation."

Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. wants to build the $6-billion pipeline to transport raw bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat, B.C., where it can then be shipped to Asian markets.

However, the project has met with widespread opposition in British Columbia, particularly among environmentalists and First Nations people who worry about the potential damage to inland and coastal areas that would be caused by a pipeline leak.

There is political opposition, as well. B.C. Premier Christy Clark sparked a battle with her Alberta counterpart, Alison Redford, when she announced that British Columbia would not approve the project unless conditions, including a larger share of royalties, were met.

The federal and the Alberta governments are in favour of the pipeline because it will move Canadian energy into new markets. Enbridge spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht believes Canadians should be excited about this.

"This is one opportunity for Canada's resources to be moved into new markets and so, in terms of needing this, yes, we do feel that this is a project that Canada needs right now," he said.

Labour group opposes project

Enbridge will appear at the hearing in Edmonton, along with representatives from the Alberta government and Coastal First Nations.

The Alberta Federation of Labour will also make a presentation. The group, which represents organized labour in Alberta, plans to argue that the project is not in the public's interest because it will send refining jobs out of the province.

"If we're going to be selling raw bitumen to Chinese refineries, then we are shipping tens of thousands of very, very good-paying long-term jobs down the pipeline to Asian markets and that, to us, is not putting the public interest first," said AFL policy analyst Shannon Phillips.

Two weeks have been set aside for the Edmonton portion of the hearings. The panel will move on to Prince George in October and Prince Rupert in November and December.

Final arguments will be presented to the panel next spring, which must make a recommendation by the end of 2013.

Ottawa is expected to make a decision with six months of the panel's review.