Energy debate is complicated


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It would appear the National Energy Board is in the eye of the storm.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/12/2014 (3022 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It would appear the National Energy Board is in the eye of the storm.

The NEB is Canada’s energy regulator and safety watchdog. We regulate about 73,000 kilometres of international and interprovincial pipelines. It’s our job to help ensure these pipelines are operated safely and in a manner that protects communities and the environment.

The demands on us seem to hit all of the major energy issues in 21st-century Canada: to increase market access for Canada’s energy; lead the climate change debate; to allow more people to participate in our process; to cut red tape; to go faster, to go slower; to ensure pipelines never fail and to answer to all the voices in the debate and to remain neutral through it all.

Earlier this week, the NEB was asked by a coalition of Manitoba environmental, community and religious groups to include climate change impacts in our review of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline application.

Very soon an NEB public hearing on the Energy East pipeline proposal will begin, and we estimate that over 5,000 people will be participating in the process. It could very well be the biggest hearing in the history of the National Energy Board.

The energy debate in Canada is complicated; it provokes strong and often polarized opinions. And the NEB often finds itself as a central figure in the stories spun out into the public arena.

So, why is that? And why doesn’t the NEB take into account greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands when it holds hearings for pipelines that propose to carry oilsands crude?

First, energy and environmental issues are more interconnected than ever before. Climate change and the debate around forms of energy that power our economy are global and systemic issues people are passionate about.

Let me be clear — we at the NEB care about climate change.

When we carry out pipeline reviews, we examine the greenhouse gas emissions that would emit directly from the construction and operation of that pipeline. But as you would expect, those emissions are small.

Let me also be clear that the NEB does not have the authority to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions that occur when the crude oil is being extracted from the oilsands upstream of the pipeline — that authority rests with provincial regulators.

And we do not have the authority to regulate the emissions that would occur when the oil in an NEB-regulated pipeline is burned to power a manufacturing plant or a car — that authority also rests with other regulators.

At the NEB, we do our job. And Parliament has clearly mandated what our job is. Other governments regulate greenhouse gas emissions both upstream and downstream of the pipeline.

However, in my short time as the NEB’s chairman I have come to realize I need to spend more time sitting across the table from Canadians and community leaders, listening to their concerns about the pipelines we regulate.

Because the quasi-judicial nature of the NEB’s hearing process is probably part of the problem when it comes to the NEB building better relationships with Canadians — as hearings are rule-bound, impersonal and often downright intimidating.

To this end, the NEB is launching a cross-Canada engagement initiative early in 2015. We will visit every province in the country, including Manitoba later in the winter, where we will listen to Canadians on how the NEB can improve its pipeline-safety and environmental-protection program.

We will meet with municipal leaders, aboriginal organizations, environmental groups, first responders, academics and other people and groups that want to meet us.

In addition to meeting with Canadians from coast to coast to coast, we will also include an online discussion forum at, open to anyone who wishes to share their views on pipeline safety and environmental protection.

We won’t be able to address every issue, but, hopefully, people will better understand the NEB’s role and they will also have the opportunity for their voice to be heard. Because for the NEB to remain relevant, we need to be composed and absolutely committed to listening to Canadians and to helping ensure the pipelines we regulate are safe and can be made even safer.

You have my personal commitment that we will do both.

Peter Watson is the chairman of the National Energy Board.

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