An academic’s perspective on changes to the pipeline review process

As applications for new pipeline projects come before the National Energy Board (NEB), Canadians have been hearing more about changes to Canada’s pipeline review process. Two of these changes include time limits for project reviews and a new definition of who can participate in public hearings.

CEPA spoke with Dr. Michal Moore, area director of energy and environmental policy at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, to get his perspective on these two changes.

Pipeline review time limits

The reform: In 2012, the National Energy Board Act was amended to include time limits for processing applications. The pipeline review process can take no longer than 15 months after an application has been made.

What critics of the reform say: Time limits rush the review process.

Dr. Moore’s perspective:

“Setting a time limit is a good thing,” Moore said. “Frankly, it forces the regulator to end things that are just endless.”

Moore pointed to the seven-year review of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline project as an example of an “endless” process (by the time the review finished, opportunities for economic benefits from the project had passed).

Deadlines ensure evidence is submitted in a timely manner, explained Moore. He also added that time limits for reviews are not a new concept.

“The fact that the federal government said, ‘alright, we’re going to initiate a series of compliance timelines,’ is new to Canada, at least in terms of statute, but it’s not new to the rest of the regulatory world,” said Moore, who pointed out that most state regulators in the U.S. use time limits for reviews (Moore served as the regulatory commissioner with the California Energy Commission).

Guidelines for who can participate in the hearing process

The reform: In 2012, new legislation defined who can participate in pipeline hearings. A person must be “directly affected by the granting or refusing of a project application” and/or “have relevant information or expertise for the board to consider.”

What critics of the reform say: These changes do not give ordinary citizens a chance to be heard.

Dr. Moore’s perspective:

Moore explained that having a system to determine who has standing at the front end of a hearing helps the regulator operate within its authority. The regulator needs to define who it allows in the hearing process because issues outside of the regulator’s power do not belong in the proceedings.

For example, concerns about the future of oil and gas production in Canada need to be brought to legislators, not regulators (the NEB’s job is to evaluate the economic, technical and financial feasibility, as well as the environmental and socio-economic impact of the pipeline project itself).

“The regulator is not a policy maker,” explained Moore.

Moore added that some groups have been using the intervenor process not to improve debate, but to tie-up reviews by introducing issues the regulator is unable to solve.

“(This tactic) is designed to simply cause so many delays that things die of their own weight because they can’t get done in time. That’s not fair,” he concluded.

CEPA’s perspective on regulatory reform 

CEPA supports these reforms because they help ensure pipeline reviews are efficient and timely while maintaining a system for rigorous environmental and socio-economic review.

Learn more about CEPA’s perspective on recent changes to the regulatory process:

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2013, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.