Energy regulators have extended the deadlines for submissions in hearings on a $500-million natural gas pipeline expansion project because of the pandemic, but have ruled out an indefinite adjournment.
Some First Nations involved in the hearings before the Canada Energy Regulator Commission on Nova Gas Transmission Ltd.’s plan to build an 85-kilometre pipeline asked for an adjournment until all pandemic health restrictions have been lifted.
The O’Chiese First Nation, at Maskwacis, was among those who supported delaying the hearings until all health restrictions have been relaxed — or if that cannot be granted, a delay at least until August.
Samson Cree Nation also asked for additional time between steps in the hearing process.
Nova opposed the delays, saying it could jeopardize lining up the necessary construction approvals to keep the project on schedule, which could drive up costs.
Nova hopes to have the $509-million project done by 2022. Construction on 40- and 45-kilometre sections of pipeline northwest and southwest of Rocky Mountain House is planned to start in early 2021.
The project is expected to add $285 million to the province’s GDP with $175 million in wages projected.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers also opposed an adjournment because of the potential financial impact.
The commission rejected an adjournment, but offered a compromise.
“Recognizing that parties are affected by pandemic limitations, the commission has decided to give generous lead time before the next hearing step is to occur.”
The commission says it recognizes that COVID-19 is “creating extraordinary and devastating effects. For Indigenous parties, the impacts may be felt even more keenly.”
While the commission wants to maintain good relationships with Indigenous peoples, it must review the application as “expeditiously as circumstances or fairness permit and within the legislated time limit.”
If some degree of regulatory certainty is not achieved, it could prejudice Nova, its customers and potentially the “broad Canadian interest.
“This will be the case if the project is delayed, even during a pandemic, and if Canadian projects are not seen as competitive,” says the commission in its adjournment decision.
Intervenors will be given more time to file additional evidence, which was due by June 18. Requests for additional information and the replies will continue through July and August.
Indigenous groups went before the commission in January and February to present their views on the potential impact of the project. About a dozen representatives from Maskwacis’s Louis Bull Tribe and Samson Cree Nation spoke.
Louis Bull Tribe’s Clyde Rabbit said pipelines, pump jacks, rights-of-way and other industrial activity have already had a significant impact on traditional hunting lands. Wildlife and native plants have become more scarce.
Samson Cree Nation’s Besim Buffalo also spoke of the declining wildlife, contaminated creeks and the damage done to plants by pesticides used around pipelines and other industrial sites.