Pipeline ruling will take two years

The regulatory panel weighing the controversial Northern Gateway oil pipeline said Tuesday it will likely make its decision in about two years, several months later than estimated by the builder, Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.

CALGARY — The regulatory panel weighing the controversial Northern Gateway oil pipeline said Tuesday it will likely make its decision in about two years, several months later than estimated by the builder, Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.

The proposed 1,200-km pipeline would ship oilsands crude from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded onto tankers to Asia.

However, as with the Keystone XL pipeline that TransCanada Ltd. (TSX:TRP) hopes to build from Alberta to refineries along the Gulf Coast in the southern United States, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal faces opposition on environmental and other grounds. Thousands of people are set to speak at hearings across British Columbia and Alberta between January of next year and April 2013.

The joint review panel said Tuesday, in announcing several dates for the hearings, that it expects to release an assessment report in the fall of 2013, and announce its final decision near the end of that year.

Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel said in May he was anticipating an early 2013 decision, but it’s clear from the hearing schedule that won’t be the case.

Enbridge also faces a longer review process than it expected for a proposal to reverse part of an oil pipeline in Ontario. The National Energy Board said Monday it will begin oral hearings this fall into Enbridge’s Line 9 proposal.

Enbridge originally aimed to begin work on the $20-million Line 9 reversal project in early 2012, with start-up anticipated in the fall of next year.

Opposition to major pipeline projects has grown since the disastrous offshore spill in the Gulf of Mexico after BP’s leased Deepwater Horizon rig experienced a fatal explosion in April 2010.