Towerbirch pipeline expansion gets conditional green light

Second layer of consultation will be needed on $439M expansion project

A $439 million expansion of the Towerbirch natural gas pipeline and processing network in Northeast BC and Northwest Alberta has been approved by the National Energy Board (NEB) – sort of.

Nova Gas Transmission Ltd., a subsidiary of TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP), received conditional approval from the NEB October 6. The NEB found the project to be in the public interest and recommends that the Governor in Council approve it.

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But for natural resource projects in the Trudeau government era, approval by the NEB or Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) is no longer enough.

A second layer of consultation will be required, in addition to the year-long review process that just took place.

Distrustful of the NEB and CEAA, as structured by the previous Harper government, the Trudeau government is in the process of overhauling them.

Just this week, a conference in Ottawa has been examining proposals to reform the NEB and CEAA regulatory processes.

Until that is completed, new interim measures for major natural resource projects that get NEB or CEAA approval require additional “deeper” consultations with First Nations.

Additional public engagement must be conducted as well. The project must also undergo an assessment to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions that the project might produce.

If the recent decision on the Petronas Pacific NorthWest LNG project is any measure, the Towerbirch expansion could see greenhouse gas emissions caps placed on it.

The Towerbirch expansion project will add a total of 88 kilometres of new pipeline to the existing network in the Dawson Creek area.

Nova Gas has planned to start construction in mid-2017. Whether the new additional review measures will delay the construction start date is unclear.

Stewart Muir, executive director for Resource Works, said there is a clear public dissatisfaction with the way the NEB and CEAA have reviewed projects like the Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway pipeline projects.

Whatever reforms take place, he said he hopes to see the opportunities for public engagement start earlier on in the review process.

But he hopes that a revamped NEB and CEAA don’t become so cumbersome that projects do not get timely reviews.

“Let’s be careful and ensure that we don’t render our Canadian processes so slow and unable to render final decisions that we lose out on Canadian energy security,” Muir said.

@ Copyright Pipeline News North

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