10/18/2012 08:10 EDT | Updated 12/18/2012 05:12 EST

Enbridge Northern Gateway Promises Unsatisfactory: BC Minister

VANCOUVER - The company that wants to build the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline through pristine British Columbian wilderness is challenging provincial government officials to stop the trash talk and come see company operations for themselves.

Janet Holder, executive vice-president of Western access for Enbridge (TSX:ENB), issued a news release Thursday in response to yet another broadside from the government outlining what it sees as the unacceptable answers Enbridge is giving to questions during environmental hearings into the project in Prince George this week.

Environment Minister Terry Lake has taken Enbridge to task for a lack of detail in its spill response plan, among other issues.

"The answers that we are getting in Prince George show that Enbridge/Northern Gateway has not yet done the work to prove that this pipeline will be safe," Lake said in the news release.

"The company is not giving us much reason to have confidence that they can deliver on their promises."

The release was issued as hearings on Northern Gateway wrapped up after two weeks in Prince George.

They resume again next month in Prince Rupert, where issues including the potential of a deep-water spill will be examined.

Lake's statement is the latest news-release snipe the government has fired as British Columbia continues an aggressive campaign to underline the five demands it says must be met before the province will consider co-operating with the pipeline.

But Holder fought back Thursday in her own release.

"There is a need for direct discussions rather than interchanges through the media. This is the time for the B.C. government to be working with Northern Gateway to create the best possible solution for British Columbians," she wrote.

Enbridge has been dogged by a harshly critical report from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board that concluded Enbridge employees behaved like the Keystone Kops as three million litres of oil spilled into a creek that flows into the Kalamazoo River after a pipeline leak near Marshall, Mich. in July 2010

The board refered to "major deficiencies" by the company and a "systemic deficiency in the company's approach to safety."

Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded more work is needed to clean up the river.

Enbridge officials have repeatedly said they have learned from their mistakes at Kalamazoo and on Thursday, Holder invited B.C. government officials to come see the Northern Gateway route for themselves.

"See our control room and go to Michigan to see how we addressed our spill at Marshall. Northern Gateway is having ongoing dialogue with all other stakeholders whether they support the project or not," Holder wrote.

"However, B.C. ministers and the premier's office have declined all invitations to meet since February 2012. Many of the issues being raised in the hearing could be effectively addressed jointly."

But Lake said Enbridge has been coming up short on answers to B.C.'s questions at the hearings.

Lake said lawyers learned Enbridge hasn't yet determined how accessible parts of the pipeline would be in the event of a spill, and that it won't have a spill response plan finalized until six months before operations begin.

"The company needs to show British Columbians that they have practical solutions to the environmental risks and concerns that have been raised. So far, they have not done that," Lake said in the release.

Holder said in her release there appears to be a "misunderstanding" of how a pipeline project gets built and the way the National Energy Board regulates the project.

She said additional detail is required as the project advances.

"This is consistent with previous NEB decisions with respect to other pipeline proposals," Holder said.

In Prince George, John Carruthers, president of the pipeline proposal, said it's up to the company to show those against the project why it should be built and he acknowledged the company has a ways to go to assuage concerns associated with it.

"I think then there's questions about how those benefits are distributed," he said. "Very legitimate questions, ones that need to be addressed in terms of benefits for regional people, for Aboriginal people.

"I don't think there's any debate about the benefit for Canada, those are overwhelming."

Pipeline opponents are planning to hold events next week around the province to show their unity against the plan, including a sit-in in Victoria Monday.

(Prince George Citizen)