Canada’s embattled National Energy Board beat a temporary retreat from Montreal Monday, suspending hearings into TransCanada Corporation’s proposed $16-billion Energy East pipeline through Quebec.
The NEB cancelled the hearings before they began, after three protesters broke in to the meeting room in a downtown hotel and charged the panelists, according to media reports. The planned week of public input ended in disarray, amid a flurry of revelations alleging impropriety by the review panelists and an agency culture of slack safety enforcement.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the NEB confirmed that it would adjourn the entire week of Montreal hearings “as a result of a violent disruption on the first day of the proceedings and ongoing security concerns.” It added that “the board will not proceed with further panel sessions until it reaches a decision” on two motions calling for two of three panel members to recuse themselves over alleged conflicts of interest.
“Disruptions like this one,” the statement continued, “compromise the Board’s ability to conduct the session in a secure manner and prevent intervenors from having an opportunity to be heard, sharing their views, and asking questions.”
The Globe and Mail editorialized that the NEB had “botched these hearings, perhaps beyond repair,” before being “caught red-handed” holding a private meeting with ex-Quebec Premier Jean Charest in his capacity as a TransCanada lobbyist. And The National Observer took a victory lap for the investigative journalism that first brought the story to light. (If you haven’t yet subscribed to The Observer, you should! – Editor.)
On Monday, the Montreal session was abruptly shut down after protestors rushed the three-member panel in the opening minutes of the first day’s hearing. About 150 people protested outside the hearing venue, The Canadian Press reported, and a smaller number made their way inside, where they “chanted, held hands, and prevented proceedings from getting going.”
The protest and subsequent cancellation prevented Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who opposes the pipeline and had been scheduled to speak first in the hearing, from testifying. Last week, Coderre called on the NEB to suspend its Quebec hearings, after reports surfaced that the two panelists had met privately with Charest.
Civil society organizations previously called for panelist Jacques Gauthier and Lyne Mercier to recuse themselves from the pipeline review. Would-be intervenors from Quebec have also complained that TransCanada has persistently failed to provide supporting documentation for its application in French.
The national regulator’s shambolic Montreal retreat was only the latest in a long series of embarrassments calling into question its competence and independence.
Those concerns were underscored again this week by a report from CBC News, citing documents belonging to TransCanada obtained by Radio-Canada. The documents showed that the NEB had been aware since 2008 of more than 1,400 substandard pipe elbows and other fittings installed in existing TransCanada pipelines, but did not issue a safety notice about the rupture-prone parts until this past February.
In July, the Observer reported that Canada’s two other long-distance pipeline giants, Kinder Morgan and Enbridge, were about to miss an NEB deadline to replace faulty components that industry experts called “ticking time bombs.”
In a statement reported by CBC News, the company insisted that it had “conducted a comprehensive technical assessment of its network” after becoming aware of the parts’ weakness, and that “the fittings the company uses meet required thickness.”
As the CBC noted, however, “a Transportation Safety Board report and an NEB audit into a 2013 incident in Buffalo Creek, Alta., where a [TransCanada-owned] pipeline transporting natural gas ruptured, confirmed the elbow where the failure originated contained substandard materials.”
On the other side of the country, the Board’s decision earlier in the year to approve Kinder Morgan’s plan to double the capacity of its TransMountain pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. was denounced as “fraudulent” by one leading energy executive, and placed under review by an independent panel named in May.