TERRACE, B.C. - The proposed Northern Gateway project reached a major milestone on Monday with the end of public hearings on the pipeline, and now the company will focus on resolving lingering questions, says president John Carruthers.
Carruthers said the focus that has been on the joint review process for several years will now move to building public support and working with the British Columbia government, aboriginal groups and others who brought their concerns to the panel.
"It's a milestone. Everyone's been able to submit their evidence, submit their questions and make their voices heard," he said. "It is good to get through this milestone and look forward to a recommendation at the end of the year."
Carruthers said Northern Gateway wants to build support for the $6-billion project.
"In cases where there were still concerns, we'll try and work directly with those people — the province of British Columbia, or aboriginal groups or others — to see if better discussion might address their concerns. That will be ongoing," Carruthers said from Terrace, B.C.
On the final day of arguments, the lawyer for Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB) told the panel that B.C. First Nations don't have an aboriginal right to direct oil tanker traffic.
Richard Neufeld said that fears expressed by the Haida and other First Nations about possible damage to the herring spawning bed were "a probability of a probability of a probability."
For their part, environmental and aboriginal groups spent the day urging the panel to give no weight to news releases or promises of a "world-class" tanker safety system.
Christopher Jones, a lawyer representing the province of British Columbia, echoed those thoughts on tanker safety, and urged the panel to base its decision "on evidence and not anything else."
Evidence is now closed, and no new agreements or legislative changes will factor into the panel's report to the federal government, due by the end of the year.
The province has told the panel that the project should not go ahead as proposed.
No definitive meeting dates have been set, but Carruthers said discussions with the province will take place now that the hearings are over.
Carruthers also addressed a 10-per cent equity offer made to First Nations.
A legal assessment for one of the bands compiled in 2011 and obtained by The Canadian Press said the anticipated annual average net income would be $70,500 a year.
He said that while some groups outside of a 160-kilometre corridor might stand to receive as little as that amount, the majority of groups which are inside that zone stand to collect more.
The offer amounts to an average of $7 million over 30 years — $280 million in total for all bands—in net benefits, Carruthers said.
Individual negotiations are ongoing, and the company has denied requests for a list of participating bands and the final sums involved, but said it would put an average of about $230,000 a year into First Nations' coffers.
A legal assessment of the offer also obtained by The Canadian Press said the bands would have to borrow money to buy into the agreement from the company, but an Enbridge spokesman said the loan offer was made at the request of aboriginal groups, which might not be able to obtain as favourable a rate of interest as the pipeline company.
The federal review panel was told by the Haida Nation that 26 of the 45 bands offered equity in B.C. and Alberta had signed on.
The hearings that had become a Canadian battleground for the international fight over global warming ended with little fanfare in the northern city of Terrace, far from the urban centres that hosted the most raucous protests against the pipeline.
Like the Keystone XL line proposed into the United States, the project has been the target of an environmental movement determined to challenge the greenhouse-gas emitting oil industry and the planned expansion of the Alberta oil sands.
But on the final day, only nine of 60 interveners chose to participate and most of the chairs in the room sat empty.
At about the same time as the hearings came to a quiet close, far from the hotel basement where the panel heard parting words, the project proponent, Enbridge Inc., announced it had shut down pipelines in northern Alberta as a result of a weekend spill of synthetic crude.
The spill from Line 37, about 70 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray, Alta., caused Enbridge to close its Athabasca and Waupisoo pipelines serving Alberta's oilsands.
The company estimates between 500 and 750 barrels of oil had spilled.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version misspelled the name of Jim Shaw.
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