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Waterloo woman finds NEB e-mail lauding public’s inability to question pipelines

A Waterloo "citizen investigator" finds NEB memo boasting about Harper government changes at pipeline hearings designed to speed project approvals.

Louisette Lanteigne Waterloo resident holding NEB letter - photo James Jackson
Waterloo resident Louisette Lanteigne holding a recent NEB letter. Photo courtesy of James Jackson with the Waterloo Chronicle.

A Waterloo resident – now credited with finding crucial flaws in Enbridge’s Line 9 reversal pipeline in Southwest Ontario -- is sounding the alarm over an internal e-mail from the National Energy Board that appears to boast about new Harper government rules that reduce the public’s ability to ask questions at pipeline hearings.

Louisette Lanteigne uncovered the e-mail via an Access to Information request.  In the report attached to the memo, the NEB’s Hearing Manager for Oil Pipeline Applications told colleagues about the “successes” of a recently concluded Line 9A pipeline hearing in the summer of 2012. 

The manager states that the public’s inability to cross-examine witnesses at the hearing was one of several achievements.

“Having only final oral argument and no cross examination worked well in this case,” wrote the NEB manager, “due to the highly technical issues regarding engineering and integrity."   

Section of NEB e-mail discovered by Louisette Lanteigne

Section of the internal NEB report on the Line 9 hearing discovered by Louisette Lanteigne.  Full e-mail at story's bottom.

The e-mail was written three weeks after a Harper government omnibus bill C-38 law -- the "Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act" -- came into force in 2012 that put new limits on NEB hearings.  Conservative Minister Joe Oliver said at the time that the reforms were necessary to halt “environmental and other radical groups” from hijacking pipeline reviews.

Lanteigne, who discovered the NEB e-mail by accident, found the NEB manager’s comment hard to stomach. 

“I was shocked when I read that,” she said Monday from Waterloo, ON.  “The lack of public input is actually a liability.”

“You need cross examination.  You need it to understand the logic of why the decisions are being made.”

“They undermine the intelligence of the public.  Because they assume we don’t understand basic engineering,” she said.

Line 9 Reversal pipeline map - Vancouver Observer

Line 9 Reversal pipeline map from Enbridge's NEB application

A National Energy Board explains its hearing manager’s email about cross-examinations this way: 

“Because of the highly technical issues in this project, we held an oral final argument. Information placed on the record was tested through written information requests, which are available on the public record,” wrote a spokesperson last week. 

The NEB hearing manager also listed these “successes” in the 2012 e-mail:

  • Maintaining the hearing’s duration to 11.5 months
  • Handling protester disruption at the two-day oral hearing by clearing the room with security
  • Keeping deadlines for public participation “despite tight timelines”

Many observers were critical of the board for not doing a better job promoting the opportunity for the public to participate in the hearing.  Some, including local politicians opposed to the pipeline who wanted to be interveners, missed deadlines to apply because they were not informed, according to Lanteigne.

The NEB finally approved the full length of the $16.9-billion Sarnia-to-Montreal pipeline in March 2014.  (The budget is double the cost of Northern Gateway.) 

Line 9 will pump 300,000 barrels of oil through its U.S. pipelines into southwest Ontario and onward to Montreal refineries.  The move is part of a larger industry push, like TransCanada’s Energy East project, to pump Alberta and U.S. Bakken oil eastward. 

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