The provincial government will get another crack at Enbridge on Tuesday as the second of three company witnesses panels takes the stand at National Energy Board hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
Lawyers Christopher Jones and Elisabeth Graff have set aside six hours to ask a 13-member witness panel questions surrounding the operations and emergency plans for the proposed $6 billion project to connect Alberta's oilsands and Kitimat.
Last week the pair sparred with the first witness panel over the design of the pipeline and provincial Environment Minister Terry Lake criticized the answered the Enbridge witnesses gave.
Geoff Plant, a former provincial attorney general and adviser to the province's legal team, said heading into the hearings that Enbridge has a long way to go to meet the government's needs. Premier Christy Clark has set out five conditions which need to be met before her government would consider approving the pipeline.
Many of the interveners who have already come out against the pipeline and are using the cross-examination phase to bolster their statements for the final arguments phase in the spring of 2013. However the provincial government has yet to come out either in favour or against and are ostensibly using the hearings to get more information to make up their mind.
"I think what we can expect is progress towards meeting those conditions," Plant said. "One of the issues we're learning more about here is well there's a certain set of standards the project has to meet in order to get a recommendation from the Joint Review Panel, the province's standards in some respects might be higher. We are learning things that are helpful, but they might not quite get us over the threshold at the end of this process."
Enbridge spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht said the company hasn't been surprised by any of the questions which have surfaced so far and will be ready to answer whatever the province has in store this week.
"The government of B.C. has a lot of questions, as they should, and we don't shy away from that," he said. "We respect the process, we believe the province does as well."
Graff spent much of her time questioning the first witness panel on surficial geology and that's exactly what the witnesses were talking about on Monday afternoon when the final intervener, the Northwest Institute of Bioregional Research, finished asking its questions.
In between there was more than 32 hours of testimony covering a cornucopia of technical topics from landslide and avalanche risk along the proposed route to leak detection methods to the type of steel the company plans to use during construction.
The theme which carried on through most of the questioning surrounded Enbridge officials constantly saying more information would be available once the final design of the project is complete and interveners wondering how they were supposed to ask questions if the data is incomplete.
Giesbrecht said the company has filed more information than the Joint Review Panel had requested and its plans are changing to make the pipeline better.
All of the witnesses on the 10-member panel spoke at various times during the questioning, but Enbridge Northern Gateway engineering manager Ray Doering answered more questions than anyone else. Doering is also listed as a witness on the remaining two Enbridge panels.
The second Enbridge witness panel has 41 hours set aside for questions and its expected they'll answer questions for the remainder of the week. A third Enbridge witness panel, focusing on environmental and socio-econmic concerns, will take the stand after that.
Giesbrecht encouraged members of the public to attend the hearings, which continue all week at the Columbus Community Centre on Domano Blvd.
"Most people aren't geo-technical engineers or economists," he said. "But there's a great deal of learning that can come from something like this."