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BC ends pipeline cross-examination with many unanswered questions

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VANCOUVER - Lawyers for the provincial government wrapped up their cross-examination of company experts at the Northern Gateway review hearings on Friday with many questions left unanswered.

Environment Minister Terry Lake said the province was looking for more information on the oil spill prevention and response plans promised as part of the $6-billion project.

"Through our cross-examination, we didn't get as much information as we hoped to from (Northern Gateway Pipelines) on how they intend to deliver the world-leading spill prevention, response and remediation that we require," Lake said in a statement Friday.

"That is something we feel the panel will give due consideration."

The province also expressed concern about the testimony given under oath about the company's oil spill plans.

"During cross-examination in Prince George on land-based spill preparedness and response, (Northern Gateway) did not demonstrate how they would be able to access or respond to spills in remote areas or how they would locate and recover sunken oil," said the statement from the provincial Environment Ministry.

"The province's cross-examination also revealed that (the company) will not have a spill response plan finalized until six months before pipeline operations begin."

It pointed out that the company will not have a marine emergency response plan until after the project has been approved either, and testimony this week confirmed those plans won't include a dedicated rescue tug or specific tanker routes.

B.C. has set out five conditions for its approval of the project, including a "world-leading" oil spill prevention and response plan on land and at sea, and a "fair share" of the economic benefits.

"We have made it clear that B.C. will only support the Northern Gateway pipeline if it satisfies our five conditions," Lake said, adding that the next step is to assess whether that is the case.

B.C. has commissioned an independent report on oil spill regulations and has a symposium scheduled next week in Vancouver.

The possibility of an oil spill on land or at sea is a major hurdle for the multibillion-dollar project.

Last week, the federal government announced additional tanker safety measures to try and address concerns in B.C. about this and several other pipeline proposals.

Ivan Giesbrecht, spokesman for Northern Gateway Pipelines, said the emergency response plans to date will be refined and tested before operations start.

"Notwithstanding the incredible amount of work on record to date — on a scale unprecedented in Canada and likely anywhere else in the world — a Joint Review Panel decision isn't the end, but the beginning of even more work, more detailed proposals, and better outcomes," Giesbrecht said in an email Friday.

The company wants to work with the province, he said.

"Northern Gateway is aligned in the objective to have safe world-class operations and spill response. If the B.C. government has any ideas for improvements, any features they would like to see built into the project, we would love to discuss this," Giesbrecht said.

The panel has yet to hear interveners and federal government officials questioned under oath, before final arguments begin in May. The panel report is due by the end of the year.

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