As Canadians, we are fortunate enough to live in a country where we have the ability to speak our mind on issues that matter most to us. It is a fundamental right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And, at the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, we believe in this right too.
We believe that, as a productive member of a democratic society, it is important for all Canadians to be heard. Recently, a lawsuit was launched against the Canadian government for violating freedom of speech during an upcoming National Energy Board (NEB) hearing.
The hearing that the lawsuit refers to is actually a proposal to re-reverse a pipeline that was built decades ago. The pipeline was originally built in the 1970’s to supply oil from western Canada to eastern Canadian refineries in the wake of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries embargo. The pipeline was later reversed in the 1980’s due to changing market conditions. Now, the pipeline operator is looking to reverse it, once again.
The proposed pipeline re-reversal project crosses multiple jurisdictions and, as such, it falls under the NEB’s purview. However, similar to other regulatory regimes, there needs to be a clear understanding of the role of the regulator. The NEB is an independent federal agency created by the Parliament of Canada in 1959. Its mandate is to regulate international and interprovincial aspects of the oil, gas and electric utility industries. The NEB is also a quasi-judicial court that is accountable to the Parliament of Canada and requires intervenors to provide information on potential projects. Public consultation through the NEB process has specific rules, just like any other regulatory regime; and appearing in front of the NEB at a hearing, is not something to be taken lightly.
During the NEB process, the regulator will review, among other things, the economic, technical and financial feasibility, and the environmental and socio-economic impact of the pipeline project. Projects regarding the development of energy products, such as oil, fall under a different regulatory regime. Unfortunately, the failure to clearly distinguish between the two can result in arguments that are fundamentally erroneous.
It is also important to clearly understand some of the recent changes made to the federal environmental legislation. In 2012, the responsibility for environmental assessment of federally regulated pipeline projects within the NEB’s jurisdiction was consolidated. It was not, as some would believe, limiting the scope of the energy hearings to such an extent that ordinary citizens effectively would not be able to speak at the hearing. To suggest this, is not only wrong, but it clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Canadian energy regulatory system and the institutions that have been founded to deal with such projects.
From my point of view, as Canadians, it is important to create a rational debate which upholds the fundamental principles of democracy and would help find the right balance between developing our natural resources, protecting the environment and supporting Canadians’ quality of life. In this regard, pipelines remain a critical mode of transportation to a modern and well-functioning society. Without them, the necessities in life, such as fuel for cars, rubber tires for bicycles, shoes to protect our feet, and even plastic for hockey helmets would not exist.
Can we do more to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels? Certainly. But, it can’t happen overnight. What may come as a surprise to most Canadians is that our member companies support greener forms of energy and invest in alternative fuels, such as wind farms and solar energy. While reducing our dependency on fossil fuel is a laudable goal, it is a complex matter. So, in the meantime, our industry continues to provide one of the safest forms of transporting crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products to market.
And lastly, it is clear that one of the key elements of a well-functioning democracy is to have constructive and well informed discussions that also enable all Canadians to be heard. At the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, our hope is that Canadians will exercise their fundamental freedom to be informed and to share their views by asking us the tough questions. But, they should also ask our opponents the tough questions too.
For more information on pipelines, please visit: www.aboutpipelines.com
Dr. Brenda Kenny
President and CEO,
Canadian Energy Pipeline Association