June 10, 2015 - 9:29 AM
VANCOUVER - The chairman of the National Energy Board is vowing to make pipeline inspection reports public in his latest effort to increase transparency at the embattled regulator.
Peter Watson said the reports will be published online beginning in September, in order to inform the public that the board continues to monitor pipelines even after they are built.
"If a project is constructed like the existing Trans Mountain line, we have all these responsibilities to ensure its safety on an ongoing basis and we take that very seriously," he told The Canadian Press.
"I'm trying to open up and be more transparent with some of the information we share, to help the public understand what we do every day to ensure pipeline safety."
Watson met with two Vancouver-area mayors on Tuesday as part of a months-long cross-country tour to improve public relations. British Columbia politicians and First Nations have denounced the board's ongoing review of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The chairman said the board conducts about 150 to 200 inspections annually that scrutinize pipeline construction, monitor the existing right-of-way and include meetings with landowners along the route.
All of that information will be made public, and the only redactions will likely be personal details such as landowners' names and contact information, he said.
Watson has also undertaken a public consultation on emergency response plan transparency that is set to close on June 25. He said he expects to make a decision on the issue by the fall.
"I'm not happy with the status quo. I think we legitimately can get more information out there," said Watson. "If we keep the plans confidential, how can the public have any confidence that we know what we're doing?"
Kinder Morgan hopes to triple its bitumen-carrying capacity by laying nearly 1,000 kilometres of new pipe along the existing Trans Mountain line from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C.
The City of Vancouver, however, passed a motion on Tuesday to formally oppose the expansion, with three councillors voting the other way, according to spokesman Braeden Caley.
Kinder Morgan has so far released a redacted version of its emergency response plan. The NEB panel reviewing the expansion refused a request from Premier Christy Clark in January to compel the company to disclose more details.
Watson said that even if he decides to require companies to publish full plans, the order would likely not extend to Trans Mountain, as the panel has already made its decision.
Trans Mountain spokeswoman Ali Hounsell said it supports the "important, national conversation" on emergency plan disclosure and is part of a Canadian Energy Pipeline Association review the NEB will consider.
She added that Kinder Morgan welcomes the board's decision to publish inspection reports online.
But Sven Biggs, a campaign organizer with ForestEthics Advocacy, said Watson's strategy won't restore public trust.
"I think most Canadians are probably going to be surprised to find out that they didn't have access to this information to start out with," he said.
"(The) announcement doesn't do anything to address the fact that the public has lost confidence in the National Energy Board's ability to review pipelines."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015