In terms of sheer volume of information requested and hours of questioning scheduled, the Haisla Nation leads the way at the National Energy Board hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
The First Nations group is "at ground zero" of the $6.5 billion project to transport diluted bitumen from Alberta's oilsands to Kitimat, according to a lawyer representing the group.
"The Haisla Nation stands to be most heavily impacted by the project," Jennifer Griffith said after Tuesday's Joint Review Panel (JRP) session at the Ramada. "The pipeline, the marine terminal and the tanker traffic will all be the Haisla Nation's territory and all have the potential to have significant impacts on the Haisla Nation."
Griffth and fellow lawyer Jesse McCormick began their cross-examination of the current witness panel late Monday afternoon and carried on through all of Tuesday's session. It's expected they'll need the better part of Wednesday morning to complete their questioning. The group has also blocked off 20 hours of questioning for the next Northern Gateway witness panel, expected to be seated late this week or early next week.
Many of Tueday's questions were framed around the 2010 spill on a Enbridge-operated pipeline in Michigan which sent dilbit into the Kalamazoo River, which Griffith invariably referred to as "the big spill."
Topics covered ranged from sinking oil to evaporation rates to how quickly the company could shutdown valves in the event of spill.
"The events associated with the big spill at Kalamazoo raised serious concerns for our client, relating for the potential for such a spill into the Kitimat River and the impacts that would have on their territory," Griffith said.
Ever since the spill and a subsequent scathing report by the National Transportation Safety Board in the United States, Enbridge has cited human error as the reason it took so long to contain the Michigan incident. During testimony Allan Baumgartner, the director of control centre operations for Enbridge, said training has been upgraded so that a similar situation couldn't happen again.
Griffith pressed the witnesses on whether or not human error should be factored into their modeling of spill scenarios. As it stands now, most of the examples submitted by Northern Gateway assume that it taxes a maximum of 13 minutes to shutdown a valve and that responders can be on scene within 12 hours.
"We do feel comfortable in the models we've prepared to date," Enbridge director of environment, lands and rights-of-way Kevin Underhill said in response.
Despite the assurances from the company that its employees are better equipped to handle emergencies now, Griffith said her client is still concerned human error could cause problems if the pipeline is built.
"With respect to human error, Chief Councillor Ellis Ross has addressed that in his oral evidence given to the panel in January of 2010, the concern is the potential for human error can never be eliminated," she said.
The Haisla lawyers also spent a large part of the day looking at a 2008 audit the National Energy Board did of Enbridge's operations and how the company responded to its findings. Griffith asked Enbridge vice-president for pipeline integrity Walter Kresic if the company had immediately addressed all the concerns that came up in the audit, could the Michigan spill have been prevented.
"I don't see how," Kresic responded.
Griffith has asked permission to produce an expert report on the audit and submit it as late evidence to the panel. JRP chairwoman Sheila Leggett didn't immediately rule on the motion, instead asking Griffith to submit it in writing.
In addition to the oral questions the interveners are asking during the current phase of the hearings, they were also able to provide written information requests in the months leading up to the cross-examination. The interveners then use these documents as aids when asking questions of the Northern Gateway witnesses.
The Haisla information requests have been some of the most popular, used by a variety of interveners including the provincial government.
"The range of the [information requests] submitted by the Haisla Nation reflects the level of concern the Haisla has with the project," Griffith said.
After the Haisla Nation completes its cross-examination, the Northwest Institute for Bioregional Research will get its crack at the Northern Gateway operations panel.