The word of the day at the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings on Thursday was specificity.
The Northwest Institute of Bioregional Research wanted specific answers to how certain spill scenarios would impact certain salmon populations, but representatives from Northern Gateway contended they were too specific.
"It partly goes to the level of the detail that local people along the pipeline route are concerned about," Northwest Institute lawyer Richard Overstall said after wrapping up his questions for the witness panel. "Specific fish populations, specific parks and the location of the pipeline in relation to that."
The National Energy Board (NEB) is conducting hearings into the environmental assessment for the pipeline which aims to connect Alberta's oilsands with Kitimat.
Overstall presented a series of spill scenarios along the Morice, Clore and Sutherland rivers which he contended could have a negative impact on fish which live and spawn in those waters. However his questions were often blocked by the Joint Review Panel (JRP) after objections from Northern Gateway's lawyer Dennis Langen.
"We can't give definitive answers to the hypotheticals my friend has been presents to the witnesses," Langen said at one point during the proceedings at the Ramada.
Tensions appeared to mount in all corners as the morning session wore on, dragging almost a full half hour into the scheduled lunch break. In particular, Northern Gateway experts Matthew Horn and Elliott Taylor appeared exasperated by the questions and Overstall seemed frustrated with the amount of information the proponent was willing to share. Even JRP chairwoman Sheila Leggett, who usually delivers her rulings with a smile, was interrupting interveners more than usual.
Northern Gateway insists that although it can't provide details of every possible scenario, it has modeled enough examples to know what would happen if a pipeline ruptured and how it should react.
"I think we're dealing with over 10,000 modeling combinations and I don't think this is an insignificant effort," consulted Jeffrey Green said during testimony.
Taylor, also a consultant hired by Northern Gateway to provide information to support its application, said hypothetical situations can only say so much, what's important is the company's ability to react in real time.
Not all of the exchanges were acrimonious. Consultant Malcolm Stephenson said the company agreed with the Institute that there would be "significant adverse effects" if a spill were to occur and hyrdocarbons get into the Morice River.
"I don't think we're very far apart in our understanding of the interpretation of these numbers," Stephenson said, trying to strike a conciliatory tone.
Overstall remains unconvinced there's enough information on the record to judge the projects merits.
"We're told first that they have no information on the specific salmon stocks, they haven't done a study with respect to potential oil spills," he said. "Secondly, we're told measures that will deal with the concerns - that may satisfy or may not satisfy those concerns - are forthcoming."
The Institute will have no further chance to question witnesses, although its experts will be on the stand later in the Prince George hearings. The group will also submit something at final arguments next year.
Other options that the group has to get answers is to file motions with the panel in order to compel Northern Gateway to provide more information.
Prince Rupert city councillor Joy Thorkelson posed questions on behalf of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union during the afternoon session, asking about probabilities of a leak as well as the risk landslides pose to the pipeline's integrity.
Thorkelson cited several landslides which have occurred in northern B.C. and asked if any of them would have the potential to sever the pipe. Northern Gateway engineering manager Ray Doering said the pipeline's route as well as mitigative measure like more ground cover significantly reduces the risk.
The discussions were just as frosty in the afternoon, with Leggett repeatedly asking Thorkelson to be more direct with her questions and Thorkelson expressing frustration with the lack of direct answers.
"I'm going to move on from this line of questioning, because it seems fruitless," she said late in the day.
The union has two more representatives who will ask questions of the witnesses on Friday.
The JRP also ruled Thursday to grant the federal government two more weeks to submit a report on tsunamis. It's now expected to be filed on or around Nov. 16.