February 07, 2005 --- Vol. 11, No. 14February 2005

Mackenzie panel rebukes applicants, continues with analysis

The Mackenzie Gas Project joint environmental review panel told the Mackenzie partners that until it gets more thorough responses to questions relating to the proposed pipeline’s impact it will not set dates for public hearings.

In a Feb. 3 letter, panel Chairman Robert Hornal delivered a sharp rebuke, suggesting the proponents may not “fully appreciate the level of detail” required before the environmental phase can move to full public hearings.

He said a deadline of Feb. 18 for the responses will be extended to March 31.

However, in a Feb. 4 letter the panel rejected claims by a coalition of 15 organizations and individuals that it breached its rules of procedure for the conduct of an environmental impact assessment. That umbrella organization, writing under the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee’s letterhead, argued that the environmental impact statement filed last October “suffers abundant deficiencies,” and for that reason the review panel should not proceed with a technical analysis.

In response, the panel said that although there were “significant information gaps” in the environmental impact statement it was sufficiently complete to proceed with the technical analysis.

Hart Searle, a spokesman for Imperial Oil, the lead partner in the Mackenzie consortium, told Petroleum News today that Hornal’s Feb. 3 letter “helps clarify the panel’s expectation of us.” He said the consortium has seen no reason yet to change the “broad outline” of its plan to start shipping gas from the Mackenzie Delta by about 2009.

However, he did concede that gathering momentum on the Alaska gas project is being monitored closely to determine the possible impact on the Mackenzie project’s needs for construction labor and materials and its ability to access spare pipeline capacity. “Until sufficient information is filed by the proponent in response to this letter, the panel will not be in a position to schedule further rounds of IRs (information requests), or set the matter down for hearings,” Hornal said on Feb. 3.

Searle said the Mackenzie consortium is moving ahead with developing responses to 600-plus information requests from the joint review panel, registered interveners and Canada’s National Energy Board, hoping that hearings can start this spring. In recent weeks, the panel has been deluged with information requests and calls for a postponement of the current regulatory round from environmental groups, such as the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, Sierra Club of Canada, World Wildlife Fund and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, plus communities along the pipeline route and aboriginal organizations.

Hornal said the 6,500-page initial application failed to properly address the impact on communities and the environment and how the consortium planned to minimize any harm. “The information required from the proponent to address these gaps is substantial in scope and detail,” he said in the letter.

Hornal said there “may be a divergence” between the consortium’s “understanding of impact assessment review by a panel and the panel’s expectations.”

Although the panel can neither approve nor reject the pipeline, its findings will carry weight with the National Energy Board.

Editor’s note: See full story in Feb. 13 issue of Petroleum News.

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