NEB timelines imposed by Harper government obstruct rigorous scientific assessment

Oil tanker in BC waters

BY KAREN WRISTEN AND PAUL PAQUET, SPECIAL TO THE SUN DECEMBER 23, 2015

The National Energy Board’s ongoing assessment of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project has again demonstrated why the tight timelines imposed by the former Harper government’s restrictive amendments work to defeat the kind of rigorous scientific assessment that the public is led to expect and undeniably deserves.

In a ruling on Dec. 17, the NEB refused to admit into evidence a formative review by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences commissioned by Congress to assess the potential environmental consequences of spills of diluted bitumen (dilbit). In doing so, the NEB observed that proponent Kinder Morgan would be unduly prejudiced by admitting the evidence late in the hearing process and refused to extend its timelines to incorporate this new and highly relevant information. Notably, however, failure to evaluate existing evidence can result in unnecessary harm. The NEB ruling does not address how denying admission of this new evidence might compromise its own assessment and recommendations.

The National Academy paper, published on Dec. 8, addresses “whether the transport of diluted bitumen in pipelines has potential environmental consequences that are sufficiently different from those of commonly transported crude oils to warrant changes in regulations governing spill response planning, preparedness, and cleanup.” The answer is an unequivocal “yes”. Dilbit is inclined to submerge quite soon after a spill on water and can sink to the bottom even if the oil is less dense than water. Tracking, confining and cleaning up dilbit is an unresolved problem that current technology does not address effectively. Moreover, regulatory processes have failed to come to grips with these concerns…

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