January 07, 2015 - 5:00 AM
VICTORIA - A proposed network of pipelines from natural gas fields in British Columbia's northeast to liquefied natural gas export plants in the northwest will not be permitted to pump oil and diluted bitumen, the provincial government says.
The Natural Gas Development Ministry said a new regulation prohibits the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission from allowing any conversion of a natural gas pipeline supplying an LNG facility.
But the Opposition New Democrats said the regulation is not tough enough.
Stikine New Democrat Doug Donaldson said Tuesday that he wants legislation instead to guarantee oil and bitumen won't end up in the proposed gas pipelines. He said that in the spring, he intends to re-introduce his private member's bill from last year in an effort to ban oil and bitumen from the pipelines.
Donaldson said many of the proposed natural pipelines will pass through his riding, and area residents and some First Nations are concerned about the potential of an environmental disaster connected to a leak or rupture of a pipeline pumping oil or bitumen.
"I don't see why they're so afraid and so opposed to bringing this through legislation," he said. "The trouble with that is (that) regulation can be created or destroyed through cabinet order behind closed doors at the signature of a cabinet minister."
Donaldson said legislation offers more certainty that the prohibition will remain in effect, adding any amendments would be conducted through a public process that involves debate in the legislature.
Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman said the regulation offers certainty that the pipelines will only transport natural gas.
"The province has been meeting with and addressing issues from B.C. First Nations around the development of liquefied natural gas," Coleman said in a statement. "The intention has always been to create legal certainty — for First Nations and for industry as we develop the industry, and regulation does that."
The B.C. pipeline regulation currently applies to six proposed pipelines, including the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project, which is slated to bring natural gas to the Petronas-backed Pacific Northwest LNG plant.
It also allows for the addition of more pipelines.
Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad said in a statement that the oil-and-bitumen-free pipeline regulation should address concerns of B.C. First Nations about possible environmental issues associated with oil pipelines.
Some First Nations have said they are less concerned about the environmental risk associated with gas pipelines because if a leak occurs gas dissipates into the atmosphere even though the danger of an explosion remains.
Last year, several B.C. government officials were asked to leave a First Nations forum on liquefied natural gas in Fort Nelson over the province's decision to exempt most of the gas produced in the province from mandatory environmental assessment.
The decision essentially meant that natural gas plants that produce so-called sweet gas would no longer face an automatic environmental assessment. According to figures from the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, that would account for about 99 per cent of the natural gas produced in the province.
Environment Minister Mary Polak quickly reversed the decision after the forum, saying government would consult with First Nations.
The matter also prompted Premier Christy Clark to rearrange her schedule for a "chief-to-chief" meeting in Fort Nelson to patch things up.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015