BUSINESS

Gateway pipeline hearings resume: First Nations get chance to question Enbridge

09/17/2012 01:40 EDT | Updated 11/17/2012 05:12 EST
EDMONTON - Lawyers for an aboriginal group fighting the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline have raised more questions about who could end up with ownership stakes.

Hana Boye, who represents the Haisla band which claims much of the pipeline's route as its traditional territory, queried Enbridge (TSX:ENB) officials on who put up money for 10 $10-million option agreements that could guarantee their holders space in the pipeline and a share of its ownership.

"If we don't know who these investors are, we're not able to determine if they're financially viable, if they're market-force driven or if it's in the interest of Canadians," she said.

Lawyers for environmental groups had already raised questions at hearings earlier this month about the possibility of Chinese interests buying control of the project.

On Monday, Enbridge vice-president John Fisher said most of the purchasers have been identified. Those who aren't are covered by a confidentiality agreement, he said.

Under further questioning, Fisher conceded that the Chinese state-owned oil company Sinopec owns one of the $10-million units.

Boye then asked if the purchasers of the other units would be able to sell them and whether Enbridge would have any influence on who would be able to buy them.

"It would be a private transaction between those two parties," Fisher said. "It could happen."

Boye pointed out that Chinese energy firms are buying Canadian companies who have purchased option units. The China National Offshore Oil Corp. has purchased a share of MEG Energy, which is an option owner. As well, Chinese interests are also trying to buy Nexen (TSX:NXY), which owns another one of the 10 options.

The testimony came as hearings on Enbridge's controversial pipeline resumed in Edmonton. It was the first chance for First Nations representatives to cross-examine company officials about the proposed $6-billion line.

Haida and Haisla officials have made statements voicing concerns about the project at earlier hearing sessions.

The pipeline would carry bitumen from Alberta's oilsands to the B.C. coast where it would be loaded onto tankers headed for Asia.

People living along the route and on the B.C. coast fear the impact of possible spills, but supporters of the pipeline argue it's needed to expand Canada's export options.

The latest round of hearings in Edmonton are to last all week.