Hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline heated up on Monday as a lawyer for a Tumbler Ridge area landowner challenged both Enbridge officials and Joint Review Panel chairwomen Sheila Leggett.
Darryl Carter, representing Alberta Lands Ltd., accused Leggett of preventing him from being able to conduct a meaningful cross-examination after she ruled in favour of an objection raised by Enbridge lawyer Laura Estep that his questions were out of order.
Leggett is chairing a three-person National Energy Board (NEB) panel conducting an environmental review into the proposal to build a $6 billion pipeline from Alberta's oilsands to Kitimat, B.C. In the quasi-judicial process, Leggett has the power to rule which questions are in order and she repeatedly told Carter he had to move on because she felt his answers had been answered or were better suited for a different witness panel.
The exchanges between Leggett and Carter were some of the most contentious since the hearings moved to Prince George last week and at times appeared to be headed towards an impasse.
"The panel is not finding it useful to go over ground that's already been covered," Leggett said at one point, late in the nearly two hours of questioning. "We want you to move on."
At various points in the proceedings Carter challenged Leggett's rulings that the witnesses, specifically Enbridge Northern Gateway engineering manager Ray Doering, had been adequately answering his questions.
"I can't carry on in a fair way in this hearing if I don't understand what you understand," Carter said at one point and he later added: "If the [Joint Review Panel] can't see that [the questions aren't being answered], then one of us isn't seeing it right and I have to defer to the panel."
The crux of Carter's argument centered around whether or not Alberta Lands Ltd., and its owner Grant Evaskevich were adequately consulted during the routing phase of the project. Carter challenged Enbridge on how well it followed up with a 2006 promise to provide his client with copies of technical reports. Doering contended similar information was provided in 2011 and that the delay was due to a multi-year break the company took in pipeline planning; Carter suggested the information that was supplied wasn't sufficient.
Questions surrounding emergency preparedness also sparked a dispute between Leggett and Carter as the chairwoman asked him to limit himself to the technical aspects of the planning and to save other questions for other witnesses.
"If I was supposed to restrict all my questions today to the technical aspects, I might not well have bothered," he said.
There were fewer fireworks, but the Northwest Institute for Bioregional Research also questioned how the process is set up during questioning later in the day. Lawyer Richard Overstall said the fact Northern Gateway has announced it will be revising portions of the route, but have yet to supply detailed information on those route revisions makes it challenging to ask the right questions.
"It's very, very difficult - in fact there's not much of a point in talking in detail about this now," Overstall said, regarding route changes around the Morice River.
Enbridge consultant Drummond Cavers said the company is always taking into account new information and that's why there will soon be a new route released.
Overstall went on to tell Leggett that there's a "mismatch between the proponents decision-making process and the panel's decision-making process."
Leggett didn't respond directly to Overtsall's concerns, instead encouraging him to ask his question.
Lawyers for the Samson Cree Nation, Ermineskin Cree Nation and Enoch Cree Nation also questioned the witnesses on Monday. They asked about the protective coatings the pipes would have and how it would protect the pipe from the corrosive nature of diluted bitumen. They also covered how the pipeline's electrical system operates and what happens in the event of an electrical failure.
Finally, lawyers for the Joint Review Panel itself began its questioning of the first witness panel late Monday afternoon, starting with tunnel plans. That cross-examination will continue on Tuesday morning.
The second witness panel, focussing on pipeline operations and emergency response is expected to get underway later on Tuesday, with the province of B.C. the first intervener set to ask questions.