Yes, with conditions.
That's what John Carruthers, the president of the Northern Gateway division of Enbridge, expects the final decision on the Alberta to Kitimat pipeline proposal will be from the Joint Review Panel, when it releases its report next year.
Carruthers laid out what he believes one of those conditions will be when he spoke to the news media Wednesday, outside of the hearings that started this week in Prince George.
"Some verifications from independent parties" was the phrase he used.
In other words, there could be a third-party oversight agency that would have the authority to judge whether Enbridge is following through on the commitments it has made to exceed existing regulations and make the Northern Gateway Pipeline project one of the safest in the world.
That watchdog could oversee not just the pipeline but the marine component as well, making sure the tugs are operating safely and preventing any chance of a major spill in the Douglas Channel as they make their way east out into the Pacific.
It's an interesting idea but it invites as many questions as David Black's idea earlier this year of building a massive oil refinery in Kitimat to refine the bitumen before selling the fuel on the open market.
The obvious question of an independent observer overseeing Enbridge's operation of the Northern Gateway Pipeline is who would pay for it? If Enbridge would foot the bill exclusively, would it actually be independent? To have any chance of working, this watchdog would need to get money from both Enbridge and various levels of government, because it would need to also operate arms-length from government to be truly independent.
But the questions go deeper than that.
What would the pipeline watchdog's involvement be? Once it signed off on the conditions set out in the Joint Review Panel report, would it be disbanded or would it continue as an oversight body for the life of the pipeline?
If the latter, would it have day-to-day operational oversight and the authority to shut down the pipeline at the first sign of trouble or would it only respond after trouble already happened, like the Independent Investigations Office formed to review police incidents where people are killed or seriously injured.
Operational oversight would be expensive and cumbersome but possible if the right protocols were put into place at critical junctures in the process. It would free Enbridge staff to focus on their core job (moving bitumen from the oil sands to market) and allow the watchdog to focus on making sure not one drop of that bitumen spills onto land or into water.
That kind of oversight could appease some of the pipeline opponents who want an independent eye to have the authority to shut down the entire operation and demand action when problems first arise, rather than it being left up to people on the Enbridge payroll and their obvious conflict of interest.
Enbridge should certainly not fear that degree of scrutiny of its daily operations if it honestly believes it is using the best technology, the best systems and the best environmental design to make the best pipeline it can. If that is really the case, there should be no fear of having people standing right behind their staff who have the power to say "Stop. Now. And stay stopped until I say so."
If the makeup of this oversight agency included environmentalists and First Nations, in other words some of the fiercest critics of the pipeline, wouldn't that be enough to calm the concerns of most pipeline opponents?
Refusing to be part of such an agency would beg some other questions but in the direction of pipeline opponents.
Are they opposed to the pipeline no matter what or do they not want the responsibility of overseeing such a massive project because it's easier to complain than to be part of a constructive solution?
So many questions for both Enbridge and its detractors.
Fortunately, that's what the hearings are for.
-- Managing editor Neil Godbout