The chairman and CEO of the National Energy Board, Peter Watson, has a serious public-relations problem in Greater Vancouver.
That's because many residents of this region have little faith in the regulatory agency's capacity to hold a fair-minded process in connection with Kinder Morgan's application to expand oil shipments to the Lower Mainland.
The multinational energy company wants to triple the amount of diluted bitumen it transports via pipeline from Alberta to the Lower Mainland.
If the pipeline application is approved, approximately one oil tanker per day will sail through Burrard Inlet.
That's an alarming prospect for those who were disgusted by the federal government's response to a recent fuel spill in English Bay.
Today, Watson and Coast Guard assistant commissioner Roger Girouard will meet with Metro Vancouver's mayors' committee to discuss pipeline safety and the National Energy Board. It takes place today at 1 p.m. in Metro Vancouver's second-floor boardroom at 4330 Kingsway.
No doubt, the conversation will also focus on how Kinder Morgan's wholly owned subsidiary, Trans Mountain Pipeline, plans to do exploratory work in regional parks. This would be in connection with the proposed pipeline.
This morning on CBC Radio, Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan said that under an agreement between the pipeline company and the regional government, it will be a "minimally intrusive inspection".
On Burnaby Mountain last year, on the other hand, Corrigan explained that the company actually did drilling work. But he expects the same to eventually occur in regional parks.
In the meantime, Corrigan described the NEB's public-hearing process as a "farce".
That's because the Conservative government has restricted the NEB's terms of reference to examining the shipment of diluted bitumen through a pipeline.
There's no opportunity for the regulator to take into consideration people's concerns about important issues such as climate change, a potential increase in tanker traffic along the B.C. coast, or the impact of further development of the Alberta oilsands.
"They're there to rubber stamp...the application by Kinder Morgan," Corrigan told CBC Radio.
No matter what Watson says today, he's not likely to change this perception. The energy regulator has lost legitimacy with many Vancouver-area residents and municipal politicians because of its narrow terms of reference and its insistence that the applicant's interest supersedes municipal zoning laws.
Whenever something like that happens, it's a recipe for protests and court challenges.
According to a City of Burnaby news release in February, Kinder Morgan has refused to answer or gave only partial responses to 62 percent of the city's questions.
“Because the city has very significant questions that focus on the hundreds of ways in which Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline and tank farm would threaten our city and region’s safety, security and livability, we again asked Kinder Morgan to provide answers," Corrigan said in the news release. "Unfortunately—but not surprisingly—Kinder Morgan has again failed to show respect for our citizens’ questions by refusing to answer almost half of them.”
Today, Lower Mainland mayors have an opportunity to let Watson know that until his agency allows people to inquire about climate impacts of pipelines, the NEB will continue to be viewed as a partner of Kinder Morgan by many residents.
Let's hope that these politicians take advantage of this opportunity.