An energy executive is weighing in on the federal review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion with a scathing letter that calls the National Energy Board’s review process “fraudulent” and a “public deception” — and calls for the province of British Columbia to undertake its own environmental assessment.
Marc Eliesen — who has 40 years of executive experience in the energy sector, including as a board member at Suncor — writes in his letter to the National Energy Board that the process is jury-rigged with a “pre-determined outcome.”
Eliesen is the former CEO of BC Hydro, former chair of Manitoba Hydro and has served as a deputy minister in seven different federal and provincial governments.
In his letter, Eliesen tells the National Energy Board (NEB) that he offered his expertise as an intervenor in good faith that his time would be well spent in evaluation Trans Mountain’s proposal.
“Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that the board, through its decisions, is engaged in a public deception,” Eliesen writes. “Continued involvement with this process is a waste of time and effort, and represents a disservice to the public interest because it endorses a fraudulent process.”
Eliesen writes that he was dismayed when the oral cross-examination phase was removed from the Trans Mountain hearings. He notes that oral cross-examination has served as a critical part of all previous Section 52 oil pipeline hearings.
“It is my experience that when a proponent does not face the spectre of oral cross-examination, their written responses to interrogatories suffer from a lack of detail and accountability,” Eliesen writes. “Still, I was willing to see the results of the Information Request process the board promised would be sufficient.”
When those information requests came back, however, Eliesen lost all hope in the process.
The unwillingness of Trans Mountain to address most of my questions and the board’s almost complete endorsement of Trans Mountain’s decision has exposed this process as deceptive and misleading. Proper and professional public interest due diligence has been frustrated, leading me to the conclusion that this board has a predetermined course of action to recommend approval of the project and a strong bias in favour of the proponent.
In effect, this so-called public hearing process has become a farce, and this board a truly industry captured regulator.
A regulator is considered ‘captured’ when it turns into more of a industry facilitator, rather than a regulatory watchdog.
Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion proposal would triple the amount of oil the company ships to Burnaby and increase the number of oil tankers travelling through Vancouver Harbour and the Gulf Islands seven-fold.
National Energy Board Has 'Pre-Determined Course of Action' to Approve Trans Mountain: Eliesen
Eliesen argues that a series of National Energy Board decisions reflect a pre-determined outcome.
“They reflect a lack of respect for hearing participants, a deep erosion of the standards and practices of natural justice that previous boards have respected, and an undemocratic restriction of participation by citizens, communities, professionals and First Nations either by rejecting them outright or failing to provide adequate funding to facilitate meaningful participation,” Eliesen writes.
To illustrate this behaviour, Eliesen outlines six examples:
1) Intervenors being excluded from the formulation of the list of issues to be taken under consideration during the review. Kinder Morgan’s opinion, on the other hand, was taken into account when formulating the list.
2) The board refusing requests from intervenors — including municipal governments and First Nations — for more time to prepare information requests (due to the highly technical, voluminous nature of Trans Mountain’s application).
3) The lack of basic professional standards of disclosure, source verification, references and methodology in Trans Mountain’s studies.
“It is shocking that in a process such as this where due diligence is required on a major capital project that the board has not held Trans Mountain to a minimum professional standard of accountability and transparency,” Eliesen writes. “The Board’s veneer examination of the proponent’s case is reflective of a decision not to dig too deeply for fear the economic case may crumble, or a lack of economic, financial and business acumen on behalf of the Board to know where and how to dig.”
When basic business questions are asked by intervenors, Trans Mountain refuses to answer them, Eliesen adds.
4) The board’s axing of oral cross-examination. The Government of Canada’s Department of Justice has informed the board that evidence given without cross-examination should be rejected. The Department of Justice stated “Canada’s position is that cross-examination is necessary to ensure a proper evidentiary record …” Furthermore, “cross-examination serves a vital role in testing the value of testimonial evidence. It assists in the determination of credibility, assigning weight and overall assessment of the evidentiary record. It has been termed ‘the greatest legal invention ever invented for the discovery of truth’ … without cross-examination the board will be reviewing only untested evidence.”
5) The board's failure to compel Kinder Morgan to answer questions adequately. In the absence of oral cross-examination, the board is relying on written information requests between intervenors and the proponent. However, Trans Mountain has failed to respond in a way that addresses the core elements of most questions — and the board has failed to compel them to answer.
“They have either provided non-responses, general statements, or referred back to the inadequate information in the original application that gave rise to the question in the first place. In many instances Trans Mountain has assumed the regulator’s role declaring that the question asked is outside the List of Issues established by the NEB,” Eliesen writes.
Out of the approximately 2,000 questions not answered by Trans Mountain that intervenors called on the board to compel answers to, only five per cent were allowed by the board and 95 per cent were rejected.
6) Trans Mountain has failed to answer even the Province of British Columbia’s questions, so the province asked the NEB to compel Trans Mountain to answer. But guess what? That request was also denied by the board.
“The board has sided with Trans Mountain dismissing the Province of B.C.’s need for answers in pursuit of its duty to British Columbians,” Eliesen writes in his letter. “The NEB’s bias in support of the proponent is reflecting poorly on the Province of B.C. in that it is unable to obtain necessary answers to conduct its due diligence.”
Province of B.C. Should Cancel Equivalency Agreement, Launch Own Review of Trans Mountain
Eliesen finishes his letter by calling on the Province of B.C. to cancel the equivalency agreement with the federal government to undertake its own environmental assessment as the only meaningful way to get answers to its questions.
Andrew Weaver, Green MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, joined the call for the B.C. government to issue the 30-day notice required to cancel the equivalency agreement with the feds and launch its own, separate environmental assessment process.
“In the past week alone we have seen Kinder Morgan sue Burnaby residents for trespassing on parkland and one of the most credible intervenors, Marc Eliesen, fully withdraw from the hearing process,” Weaver says.
The June 2010 equivalency agreement signed between the federal government and province set the review process for major pipeline and energy projects under the National Energy Board, with final approval to be determined by the federal cabinet. The equivalency agreement for the Trans Mountain project can be cancelled with 30 days notice.
“The B.C. government needs to stand up for British Columbians,” Weaver says. “What we need is a made-in-B.C. environmental assessment that is controlled by British Columbians to ensure our concerns get respected and that our questions get answered.”
Photo credit: Jenny Uechi, Vancouver Observer