Ministers won’t comment on questions raised at Gateway hearings – Critics say gov’t trying to minimize debate

By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal September 19, 2012

EDMONTON – Alberta’s provincial government won’t comment on questions raised at the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings, such as whether foreign ownership is acceptable to Albertans or whether Enbridge is vastly underestimating the projected cost of cleaning up spills.A lawyer for a B.C. First Nation suggested at the National Energy Board’s regulatory hearing that the economic benefit of the pipeline has been significantly overstated.

A Prince George engineer told the hearings that carbon emissions could cost $742 million a year, but the province will not say how or if those new developments impact the government’s view of the project.

“We are actually not commenting on the hearings at this point because Alberta is likely to appear before the panel next week … to discuss our economic submission,” wrote Mike Deising, press secretary for Energy Minister Ken Hughes. “Reason for not commenting is to respect the process.”

Environment Minister Diana McQueen “doesn’t want to offer comment on these issues yet,” her press secretary wrote in an email.

“Alberta is appearing before the panel next week to discuss its position at the Gateway hearings, and the minister feels we need to respect that process and put our thoughts before the panel when the time comes,” Wayne Wood wrote.

The extent of Chinese ownership of the project has not been made public.

Enbridge VP Paul Fisher told the panel he has “absolutely not” considered the possibility that foreign interests might seek commercial control of the line. Fisher told the panel the percentage of foreign ownership is more appropriately a policy consideration for the federal or provincial governments.

Deising did not say Wednesday whether Hughes will engage in such policy discussions, or whether the province has a position on the issue.

“The government is simply refusing to talk about hugely important questions so they get a minimum amount of debate and the public remains blissfully unaware of many of the serious problems that do exist,” NDP Leader Brian Mason said.

“It may not be within the jurisdiction of the board, but it is certainly in the jurisdiction of the government. It is worthwhile to have those conversations now.”

Mason also commented on suggestions that Enbridge is setting up a separate company to build the pipeline, a corporate structure that could protect the parent company from liability if the pipeline leaks.

“This manoeuver to avoid liability – which could be in the billions – is completely unacceptable,” Mason said. “If (the province) can’t prevent that kind of corporate manipulation, they should be demanding a massive bond, a billion to start.”

Lawyers at the hearing also have also suggested that Enbridge is significantly underestimating cleanup costs, pegging them at $14,000 per barrel. By that estimate, the company’s massive 2010 spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River would have cost $281 million to clean up, far less than the $760 million it actually cost.

The company says cleanup costs are higher in the U.S., but Wood did not say whether those numbers affect the province’s view of the project. He also did not comment on suggestions that carbon emissions will cost $742 million each year.

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Original source article: Ministers won’t comment on questions raised at Gateway hearings