10/10/2012 02:04 EDT | Updated 12/10/2012 05:12 EST

B.C. focuses on Northern Gateway spill response

B.C.'s chief legal strategist at the Northern Gateway hearings in Prince George believes an intense examination of safety plans for the $6-billion pipeline proposal should reveal any flaws.

The current round of the Federal Joint Review Panel hearings,which continue today in Prince George, are focusing on the emergency planning along the proposed 1,200-kilometre route across central B.C.

Former B.C. attorney general Geoff Plant says he wants to know if Enbridge really can mount an effective spill response in remote wilderness locations.

Plant says the province is concerned that even a small leak of heavy, sticky bitumen will foul pristine creeks and flow into larger rivers — causing a lot of harm very quickly.

Meanwhile, a former B.C. energy minister who supports the pipeline project is criticizing Enbridge's handling of the proposal, saying Enbridge has failed to sell a good project to the public.

Bad PR for good project, says senator

Conservative Senator Richard Neufeld was the energy minister for the B.C. Liberal government through much of the last decade. Now he is particularly critical of Enbridge's announcement that it plans to spend an additional half a billion dollars improving the safety of the pipeline.

Enbridge announced the upgrade shortly after a U.S. report criticized its handling of a serious spill on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 that cost $800 million to clean up.

"Why wasn't that $500 million there to start with? They obviously must have known that, because they announced it pretty quick. So that really sent a huge red flag up to me. What is going on? Where did they start with their safety? I don't know," said Neufeld.

The final hearings in Prince George this month will focus on environmental and socio-economic effects, impacts on landowners and land use, routing, design and construction, and operation safety.

The hearings then move to Prince Rupert in November where they will focus on 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.