PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. - The company proposing to build the Northern Gateway pipeline to British Columbia's pristine coast was hammered with its own record Thursday by a lawyer for environmentalists who wanted to know how the company can be trusted even to conduct the building phase without environmental damage.

Frustrations were palpable on both sides at environmental hearings into the project as critics demanded definitive answers from Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB) about what are yet only preliminary plans.

Tim Leadem, the lawyer for EcoJustice, which represents a coalition of conservation groups at the final hearings, cited violations during the construction of an Enbridge pipeline in Wisconsin in 2007. The company paid $1.1 million to settle a lawsuit by the state for those incidents.

"You're obviously proposing something to the people of Canada that's going to be built... that may carry with it the potential during the construction phase to actually significantly affect ecosystems and habitat of wild species that Canadians tend to value," Leadem noted on the third day of testimony under oath.

"On the record, when we look around, we see incidents such as what happened in construction in Wisconsin. Can you really assure the people of Canada that you're to be trusted, that your company can be trusted to do this job?"

Ray Doering, manager of engineering for the Northern Gateway project, said Enbridge has spent 10 years already on the project and has filed volumes of field work, assessments, and preliminary plans in volumes "unlike any that I've ever seen."

Tom Fiddler, the company's senior manager of safety and construction, said there are thousands of kilometres of company pipelines operating safely throughout Canada that speak to their record.

"The evidence is clear," Fiddler told the panel.

"I appreciate your answer, Mr. Fiddler and Mr. Doering, but I suppose the good people of Wisconsin were told more or less the same thing before construction debris was placed in their wetlands," Leadem countered.

"I don't imagine they were told in advance we're going to build you a pipeline and we're going to foul your wetlands in the process."

Enbridge has pointed out repeatedly that despite several high-profile incidents, it safely delivers more than 99.99 per cent of volume in the largest pipeline network in North America.

But the track record does not instill a great degree of trust, Leadem said.

"With all respect, how can you assure the people of British Columbia, the people of Alberta, the people of Canada, that this pipeline is going to be built, that you're not going to foul wetlands, that you're going to treat everything carefully, that you've got endangered species that will be encountered. I've yet to hear that you can actually do something about ensuring those kinds of things will not occur, will not happen."

Leadem said he and his clients are also concerned that the design of the pipeline is continually changing.

"At some point I'm trying to understand what exactly will be built," Leadem said.

B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake had a similar complaint after the province's initial two days of questioning, saying he was "extremely concerned" about the incomplete responses from Enbridge experts.

John Carruthers, president of Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, said outside the hearings that the company has gone well beyond what is required and what is normally provided at this point in the approval process. The company has filed more than 20,000 pages of documents with the joint review panel, more information than has been filed on any pipeline in the past, he said.

"We will have spent $300 million getting through this part of the process, to getting to a decision: Is the pipeline in the Canadian interest and what will be the environmental impact of that project," Carruthers told reporters.

"After those larger questions are answered at this stage, the NEB has a very thorough process as the specifics of construction are decided."

Testing, assessment and planning continues, resulting in the updates and revisions to the plan filed with the panel.

"People want to know the specifics, but there's another phase if the project is approved, then we have to go into the more detailed design and the NEB approves that as well," he said.

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  • June 18, 2012 -- Elk Point

    Enbridge Inc.'s <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/19/enbridge-elk-point-spill-_n_1610613.html" target="_hplink">Athabasca pipeline leaked an estimated 230,000 litres of oil</a> about 24 kilometres southeast of Elk Point, Alberta. <br></br> A member of Greenpeace cleans up a mock oil spill outside the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline office in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, June 13, 2012. The mock spill was set up by Greenpeace to show the risks of spills similar to the recent one outside of Red Deer, Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

  • June 18, 2012 -- Elk Point

    Although the spill didn't leak into any waterways, Energy Resources Conservation Board's Darin Barter said the<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/19/enbridge-elk-point-spill-_n_1610613.html" target="_hplink"> spill was considered "significant" in size</a>.<br></br> "Any amount of crude oil out of a pipeline is significant to us. Obviously we've had a number of pipeline incidents in the past short while and we're monitoring cleanup on them and we have a number of investigations underway."

  • June 7, 2012 -- Red Deer River

    An estimated 475,000 litres of oil <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/09/alberta-oil-spill-red-deer-river_n_1583579.html" target="_hplink">spilled from a Plains Midstream Canada pipeline</a> and proceeded to leak into the Red Deer River. <br></br> Oil from a pipeline leak coats a pond near Sundre, Alta., Friday, June 8, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipeline leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of oil. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

  • June 7, 2012 -- Red Deer River

    Some of the oil <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/11/alberta-oil-pipeline-spill-red-deer-river-clean-up_n_1588536.html" target="_hplink">seeped into the Gleniffer reservoir</a>, which some Albertans rely on for drinking water. Plains Midstream Canada <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/11/alberta-oil-pipeline-spill-red-deer-river-clean-up_n_1588536.html" target="_hplink">trucked in drinking water</a> for those residing near the area.

  • May 19, 2012 -- Northwest Alberta

    Pace Oil and Gas's waste disposal line <a href="http://www.calgaryherald.com/business/energy-resources/Rainbow Lake spill pegged at 22,000 barrels/6683338/story.html" target="_hplink">leaked about 22,000 barrels of a mixture of oil and water</a> 20 kilometres southeast of Rainbow Lake. The spill was discovered on May 19 by another oil and gas company.

  • May 19, 2012 -- Northwest Alberta

    The oil spill "<a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/pipeline-spill-sends-22000-barrels-of-oil-mix-into-alberta-muskeg/article2447765/" target="_hplink">ranks among the largest in North America in recent years</a>," the Globe and Mail wrote.

  • June 26, 2011 -- Swan Hills

    A pipeline explosion and oil leak at a Pengrowth Energy facility caused a pipeline to leak <a href="http://edmonton.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110627/edm_oil_110627/20110627/?hub=EdmontonHome" target="_hplink">500 barrels of light, sweet crude oil into Judy Creek</a> near Swan Hills, Alberta.

  • June 26, 2011 -- Swan Hills

    Energy Resources Conservation Board spokesman Darin Barter said the <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2011/06/27/edmonton-oil-spill-swan-hills.html" target="_hplink">leak was relatively small</a>. <br></br> "It's what we would consider a minor spill with 95 per cent of the product coming out of the pipeline being water and five per cent oil," he told CBC. "However, we're taking it very seriously, as is the company."

  • April 29, 2011 -- Little Buffalo First Nation

    Plains Midstream Canada's 45-year-old Rainbow pipeline<a href="http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/a-dire-warning-from-a-broken-pipe/article4262774/?service=mobile" target="_hplink"> spilled roughly 28,000 barrels of light crude oil</a> near Little Buffalo First Nation.

  • April 29, 2011 -- Little Buffalo First Nation

    Residents, including children, <a href="http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/news-media/latest-news/urgent-measures-needed-for-citizens-of-little-buffalo-first-nation-in-" target="_hplink">reported incidents of burning eyes, stomach pains, disorientation, nausea and headaches</a>, according to the Assembly of First Nations.