09/07/2012 11:29 EDT | Updated 11/07/2012 05:12 EST

B.C. questions shut down at Gateway pipeline hearing

The B. C. government's cross-examination of Enbridge at the Northern Gateway Pipeline review got off to a rough start in Edmonton yesterday when the province's lawyer got shut down moments into her questioning.

On Thursday, lawyer Elisabeth Graff was asking Northern Gateway president John Carruthers about the insurance for oil spill disasters when panel chair Sheila Leggett intervened.

Leggett reminded Graff that the Edmonton hearings are to focus on the economic impacts of the project and that disaster preparedness is being dealt with at upcoming hearings in B.C.

Graff said there had been consultation with Enbridge on the topics to be covered and that any overlap with other hearings would be minimal.

But Leggett said that wasn't good enough and shut her down.

"I'm wondering if it would maybe be appropriate for us to close for today," said Leggett.

Former AG gets late start

The rebuff came just hours after Premier Christy Clark announced former attorney general Geoff Plant was flying out to Edmonton to take charge of what she called B.C.'s legal "A team."

Plant outlined his strategy for the hearings as he boarded a plane for Alberta.

"The question [is] whether Enbridge is actually capable of getting the kind of insurance to ensure against the risk of liability," said Plant.

But back in B.C., NDP Environment Critic Rob Fleming said he is concerned the government isn't prepared for the final hearings of the federal review panel, which began on Tuesday without Plant.

"For Premier Christy Clark, who's trying to assure British Columbians that she has a handle on this file, this is more evidence that in fact she doesn't," said Fleming.

But Environment Minister Terry Lake maintains nothing unusual happened at yesterday's hearing and the panel adjourned because it was short on time and will hear all of B.C.'s questions.

Graff is expected to resume her questioning today and focus on the corporate structure of the project.

Final hearings underway

According to the schedule issued by the review panel, the final hearings underway in Edmonton are focusing on the economic, financial and tolling issues linked to the project.

The final hearings move to Prince George in October, where they will focus on environmental and socio-economic effects, impacts on landowners and land use, routing, design and construction, and operation safety.

In November, the hearings in Prince Rupert will deal with aboriginal rights and interests, environmental and socio-economic effects from the marine terminal and shipping, marine safety and accident response, and public and community consultation.

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 within six months of the panel's review.

Controversial plans

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.

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 or tanker spill.

Many opponents have pointed to damage done when a 2010 spill from an Enbridge pipeline damaged waterways and wetlands near Marshall, Mich., and cost $800 million to clean up.

There is also political opposition to the project. 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 the province's conditions, including a larger share of royalties, were met.