COLUMN: Why I get to participate in Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion hearings

Kinder Morgan
Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline runs under the back sports field at Watson elementary school in Chilliwack.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

I feel like I won the lottery.

Of the 2,100 or so who entered, about 1,700 were accepted. OK, not exactly long odds when three-quarters of those who applied “win.”

My lottery win lets me participate in the National Energy Board (NEB) hearings into Kinder Morgan’s proposed twinning of the 60-year-old Trans Mountain oil pipeline.

There are two levels of participation in the hearings being held next January: commenter and intervenor. A commenter can provide views on the project in a single letter of comment. Commenters can’t voice opinions at the hearings.

Intervenors, on the other hand, can provide evidence; respond to oral cross-examination on that evidence; cross-examine others; and “provide argument” (whatever that means).

Among the 400 intervenors are the Fraser Valley Watersheds Coalition, the Popkum Indian Band, the Sto:lo Collective, the WaterWealth Project, the Yarrow Ecovillage, the Fraser Valley Regional District, the City of Abbotsford and the District of Hope.

The City of Chilliwack applied and was accepted as a commenter.

Of the 2,100 who applied, 468 people or organizations were rejected outright. One in five applicants as intervenors were downgraded to commenter.

There are 1,250 commenters.

There has been much gnashing of teeth regarding the application process to participate. One registered professional planner with experience doing energy research for BC Hydro was denied participation. Eric Doherty told the Tyee that it  was “Kafkaesque” that someone with his qualifications would be rejected. The process’s legitimacy is taken away by having such a high bar, he said. Doherty also claimed it took him five hours to apply, something that struck me as odd since it took me about 45 minutes.

And I got accepted.

I talked to Josh Bourelle in January of this year, and he said the changes really limit who can participate in the hearings. Those changes came about after many thousands participated in the Northern Gateway hearings. After that, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver expressed concern that “foreign special interest groups” had “hijacked” the regulatory process. Changes were made to ensure that only those with expertise or who were directly affected could take part.

Bourelle, who runs Regulatory Consultation Services and used to work for the NEB, said a lot of people are left out of the new process.

“We think the process is important and it’s important that not just those who are opposed or supportive are part of it,” he told the Times earlier this year.

He argued the new process takes away from the largescale letter campaigns that swamped the Northern Gateway process, but also from regular folks who want to take part.

Fair enough, but I think of myself as regular folk and I get to participate. All I did was take 45 minutes, fill out the nine-page form online, and I’m in.

I also see at least four intervenors on the list from Chilliwack appear to be regular folk who live right near the pipeline’s route, including Michael Hale who lives at the Yarrow Eco-Village under which the pipeline runs.

So how did I get in? The Trans Mountain Pipeline runs right underneath the back sportsfield at Watson elementary school. My daughter attends the Global Montessori program in a portable at Watson, and my son may do so as well in the next three years.

I’m directly affected, so says the NEB.

While I understand the critics of the process, 1,750 commenters and intervenors ranging (alphabetically) from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to Ms. Kat Zimmer sounds like a lot of participation to me.

And here’s the thing, if you like democracy and due process, then it’s good to see a lot of people and organizations, all with relevant information or expertise or who are directly affected, will get to have their say.

And if you are a cynic, it doesn’t matter how many people and organizations get a say: the NEB and this federal government will green light this project anyway.

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