Participation in National Energy Board hearings: what you need to know

Many of you probably read Dr. Brenda Kenny’s op-ed titled Pipelines and freedom of speech published in some Canadian dailies last week.

In the op-ed, Dr. Kenny, CEPA’s former president and CEO, clarified misinformation about the role of the National Energy Board (NEB) and its hearing process.

With this post, we wanted to follow-up on Dr. Kenny’s piece by providing some more information on the NEB’s participation process.

What is the role of the National Energy Board? 

To quote the NEB: “The purpose of the NEB is to regulate pipelines, energy development and trade in the Canadian public interest.”

So what exactly does that mean?

In her op-ed, Dr. Kenny broke down the role of the regulator as follows:

“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.”

There has been a lot of debate recently about participation in the NEB hearing process, specifically in regards to pipeline projects.

Here are some facts about who can participate in the process:

Who can participate in the NEB hearings?

In order to participate in a hearing, a person must “have a stake in a proposed facility project.”

According to the NEB: “the Board will hear from the people who stand to be directly impacted by a proposed project, and may hear from those who have information and expertise that could help the hearing panel gain a greater understanding of a given matter under consideration.”

Limiting participation to experts and those directly impacted by the project helps balance two very important parts of the democratic process:

1. It ensures people directly affected have a voice.

2. It ensures the hearings are completed in a timely and efficient manner.

In any democracy, there must be balance. In the case of the NEB hearings, fairness must be granted to both those who oppose a project but also to those who support it, including the person or company who made the application. In fairness to all groups, the hearing process needs to be both inclusive and timely.

Why is the application process important?

Similar to many other functions of government, there is an application process that needs to be completed in order to participate.

Applications are a significant part of the hearing process because:

1. It’s more than just paperwork.

The application serves an important function in allowing the board to identify who meets the criteria outlined above.

“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,” wrote Dr. Kenny last week.

The application not only helps the board determine if you should participate but how – “as an intervenor, by filing a letter or comment, or in another way as determined by the Board.”

2. It encourages timeliness.

CEPA believes unequivocally in freedom of speech and citizens’ right to participate in decision-making. However, in order for any democracy to function, there must be processes in place to ensure things get done.

The NEB Act sets out timelines for the NEB review of a project and for subsequent decisions by the government on whether to allow a project to go ahead. In most cases, the review process will be completed and a decision made about 18 months after an application is filed.

Pipeline projects, like projects in other industries, have a shelf life. If the review process were to drag out, the project may no longer be viable by the end because of factors like lost market opportunities.

At CEPA, we want Canadians to be part of the debate about energy and pipelines. We also want to ensure Canadians get the facts and have a clear understanding of all pipeline-related subjects, including the Canadian regulatory system.

Want more information on pipeline regulation? Here are some resources:

The basics of pipeline regulation

What’s the deal with those pipeline hearings anyway?

CEPA’s Regulations and Standards information page

Applying to Participate in a Hearing (National Energy Board website)

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2012, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.1 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.