The endless bureaucratic and political quagmire continues to hold the Mackenzie Gas Project in its grip, causing yet another uncertain delay in the release of final recommendations by Canada’s National Energy Board.
This time it’s a squabble between the Canadian government and the Joint Review Panel appointed by the government to conduct the environmental and socio-economic review of the proposed C$16.2 billion project.
The NEB had been scheduled to make a crucial decision in September, but that long-promised goal has been shunted aside because the JRP is refusing to discuss its recommendations with the federal government in secrecy.
JRP Chairman Robert Hornal said holding the so-called “consult to modify” talks behind closed doors would be a “fundamental breach of the basic principles that the panel’s review is to be open and transparent and that the panel is to be accountable to the public at large and in particular the parties to its review.”
Tensions simmeringTensions between the JRP and the Canadian and Northwest Territories governments have been simmering over almost a year after the JRP issued a 700-page report containing 176 recommendations, all of which it said should be implemented if the MGP was to deliver significant economic benefits and avoid significant adverse environmental impacts.
The two governments produced an interim response earlier this year offering to accept, or accept the intent of 87 of the 115 panel recommendations they deemed to fall within their respective jurisdictions. That report became part of consultations over the summer with affected aboriginal groups.
France Pegeot, assistant deputy federal minister for the MGP, in an Aug. 13 letter posted on the MGP website, requested that the governments’ final response and that of the JRP be kept confidential during the “consent-to-modify” phase.
She told Hornal that “while we agree with and acknowledge the principles of openness and transparency during an environmental impact review, the public hearing phase of the process is now complete.”
Hornal has insisted that the JRP will not review the government’s draft response unless that document is made public.
He said the JRP believes that “any process between itself and the governments must not be confidential. Any documents exchanged between the governments and the panel must be available to the parties to the panel’s review.”
2018 earliest onstream dateStephen Hazell, who represented the Sierra Club through the JRP process, credited the JRP with doing as “sensational” job of work in examining the full range of implications of the MGP proceeding.
“The panel has been open in all of its dealings in support of its decision making over the past number of years,” he told the Canadian Press news agency. “Why should this aspect of it be secret? It’s really puzzling why the federal government is bound and determined to keep their interim decisions secret.”
The MGP consortium, led by Imperial Oil, has indicated that, even assuming regulatory approval, a fiscal agreement with the federal government and corporate sanctioning, the MGP could not come onstream until late 2018, four years behind the target date set in 2007.
The partners said they hoped to be in able to decide by late 2013 whether to proceed, which would see work on facilities and sites start by mid-2014, but that timetable was contingent on NEB approval of the principal project along with significant progress on the fiscal talks by Sept. 1.