The economic impact of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline will be significant - except when it's not.
Intervener Brenda Gouglas of the Fort St. James Sustainabilty Group wanted to know why Northern Gateway used the term "significant" when describing the project in local print advertisements but "not significant" in its official environmental assessment.
"Shouldn't the messaging Northern Gateway puts out in its application and in ads be the same?" Gouglas asked during cross-examination at National Energy Board hearings on Friday.
Witness John Thompson said despite the seemingly contradictory terms, the messaging from Northern Gateway was in fact consistent. He said the phrase "not significant" was used in the documentation provided to the Joint Review Panel (JRP) because it has a precise meaning in Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency legislation. In that case the company had to look at what the project would contribute to the overall gross domestic product of British Columbia and in that context it's a small percentage.
In the print ads, which appeared in local newspapers including the Citizen, the company was talking about what the project will mean to the provincial economy in a more general sense.
"There is certainly going to be good economic opportunity for British Columbia, particularly at the regional level," Thompson said, pointing to the jobs which will be created during construction and operations as well as the taxes the company will pay to municipal governments. "How [the word significant] is used for the assessment and how it's used for [ads] like this, can be very different."
The word came up again later when Kandace Kerr of the Fort St. James group was asking about the perception by some members of her community that a spill could have a significant impact.
Northern Gateway environment director Paul Anderson said although the company considers the risk not significant - due to the small chance it believes a spill will occur - he understands the confusion in the verbiage as it relates to its use in formal documents compared to everyday parlance
"Significant in plain, day-to-day language could mean 'substantial,' " he said, agreeing with Kerr people in Fort St. James would view the impact of a spill in that light.
Kerr also took issue with the company's contention that land would be returned to its original state after construction.
"How can it be in its original state, if before there was no pipeline and now there is a pipeline [underground]?" she asked.
Anderson said the company would consider it returned to its original state so long as it had its "previous capacity" and compensation would be provided if that wasn't the case.
Finally Kerr and Northern Gateway witnesses agreed that there should be further discussions about the location of the Fort St. James pump station and its potential impact.
"The door is never closed to these types of discussions," Northern Gateway engineering manager Ray Doering said, adding it might be beneficial for community members to see a pump station in operation somewhere else along the Enbridge network.
Friday's session ended the current set of hearings, but the JRP will return to Prince George for a third block of dates on Nov. 22. Most of the third session will be taken up by Northern Gateway cross-examining interveners and interveners cross-examining federal government witnesses.