The National Energy Board (NEB) has determined that the oral portion of a public hearing on an application from Enbridge to replace a segment of the Norman Wells pipeline will begin Aug. 8, 2017, all but ensuring the work will not get done this year.
In issuing the hearing order that sets out the schedule for the process, the board said it would release its decision within 12 weeks of the close of the hearing record.
Enbridge’s application to install up to 2.5 kilometres of new 12-inch pipeline under the Mackenzie River near Fort Simpson using horizontal directional drilling was submitted to the NEB on March 10, 2017 and deemed complete on May 18, 2017. The company also has applied to decommission in place the section of the pipeline that is being replaced.
Line 21 has been shut in as a precautionary measure since November 2016 after Enbridge identified slope instability on the south slope of the Mackenzie River, which could potentially affect the safe operation of the line.
“The sole purpose of the project is to resume safe operation of the existing Line 21 under the same operating conditions,” said the company.
Enbridge had sought a regulatory decision by July 15, 2017, indicating in a submission to the board that the successful execution of the proposed project is highly dependent upon the project schedule and timelines.
“Enbridge’s ability to complete construction requires that site preparation and mobilization of equipment begin in May 2017 so that drilling can commence as soon as practicable,” said the company.
In a statement issued this week, Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod said that his government views the $53 million project largely as a maintenance effort that it would not normally refer for environmental assessment, adding that it is confident the regulatory system will carefully consider it on its own.
“If the project is approved, we expect that it will be done in a way that protects the environment and the economic, social and cultural well-being of residents and communities in the Mackenzie Valley,” he said.
In an earlier submission, Enbridge asked that the board consider the letters of support from Imperial Oil Limited, the only shipper on the 50,000 bbl/d pipeline, and from the Village of Fort Simpson, the Fort Simpson Chamber of Commerce, the Norman Wells Land Corporation, the Norman Wells District Chamber of Commerce and the town of Norman Wells, indicating the importance of Line 21 to communities in the area.
In his statement, the NWT premier acknowledged that the Line 21 pipeline is a contributor to the economy of the territories, providing important services and opportunities for northern residents.
“This is why the GNWT has made it a priority to support timely and efficient regulatory processes for projects, to ensure that the interests of all residents are recognized and protected,” he said.
The preliminary list of 12 issues as set out by the NEB in its hearing order includes potential impacts of the project on Aboriginal interests and on land users, along with the potential environmental and socio-economic effects of the project and potential commercial impacts.
The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board must also consider the application. In a letter to the board, the NEB said that in consideration of MVLWB timelines, the federal authority is satisfied that the obligation to meet the requirements of preliminary screening will be met through the MVLWB process.
McLeod noted that his government is an active participant in the regulatory review through the northern boards and the NEB and as such will ensure that its input is “timely, evidence-based and cohesive.”