The National Energy Board is extending its review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion by seven months to give the company more time to provide information on its revised route.
The regulator now plans to make a final recommendation on the project by Jan. 25, 2016, instead of July 2, 2015.
The federal government would then have six months to make a final decision on approving the project.
B.C. Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver said the delay has major political ramifications.
“What this has done is pushed the final decision on Kinder Morgan from before the federal election to after the federal election of 2015,” Weaver said. “That’s not going to be lost on people, because this is very much going to be an election issue.”
Burnaby NDP MP Kennedy Stewart called the extension a major victory that makes the pipeline unlikely to ever be built because the review process is now a “shambles.”
It’s not yet clear if the revised schedule will mean any significant delay for the review’s oral hearings, expected early next year.
Aboriginal traditional evidence hearings slated for late summer have now been split into three sessions through the fall.
The changes so far mean only minor delays in the next deadlines for intervenors, who say Kinder Morgan has not supplied good enough answers in response to their questions. Those intervenors include the provincial government, the City of Vancouver and Lower Mainland regional districts.
The new preferred route would drill or tunnel through Burnaby Mountain and the NEB has requested the company supply more information about that plan.
The City of Burnaby, however, has so far refused to allow Kinder Morgan access to the area and the company could ask the NEB for an order compelling the municipality to cooperate.
Weaver, who is also an intervenor, said the extra time added to the process should be used to ensure better answers are provided on many fronts, not just ones related to the Burnaby routing.
He suggested more testing be conducted on how diluted bitumen behaves in ocean water.
Legislation requires the NEB to complete the review within 15 months, but that can be extended if the regulator requires more information.
Kinder Morgan did not immediately comment, saying it is “considering the implications of these changes.”
The NEB will now take applications for new intervenors affected by the route change in Burnaby.
The proposed $5.4-billion pipeline twinning would nearly triple Trans Mountain’s capacity to 890,000 barrels of oil per day and bring hundreds of additional oil tankers through Burrard Inlet each year.
– with files from Wanda Chow