Canada's arms-length oil and gas industry regulator called for tougher marine monitoring and protections standards if the government wants to proceed with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The National Energy Board made the combination of demands and recommendations on Thursday as part of an ongoing hearing to reconsider the project, after the federal government's initial approval was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal in August.
The recommendations appear to be a reversal of the NEB's initial assessment of the project, later quashed by the court. In its August ruling, the court said that the NEB made a "critical error" when it decided not to include tanker traffic as part of its initial review. The court said that this is what sparked a chain reaction of “unacceptable deficiencies" that tainted the regulator’s final report, submitted to the Trudeau government in 2016.
The Trudeau government asked the NEB in September to restart its review of the project to address the flaws identified by the court. The government gave the regulator until the end of February 2019 to complete its review and deliver a new report.
The new draft conditions are intended to reduce or eliminate the environmental effects of increased oil tanker traffic in the Salish Sea as a result of the tripled pipeline capacity. Conditions imposed in the 2016 report also still apply to the overall project, which the Canadian government bought from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion in May.
The new terms include a commitment to suitable tugboat escorts for tankers nominated to load at the Westridge terminal.
The NEB also issued 13 recommendations for Ottawa to mitigate the effects of the project's shipping that are within the federal government's authority but beyond the scope of the board’s purview, consistent with the Court of Appeal ruling in Tsleil-Waututh Nation v. Canada (Attorney General), which overturned the project’s approval on August 30.
The requests include that the government create a plan that take into account the cumulative effects of human activity on the Salish Sea and its fish stock, marine birds and other species.
It recommends a suite of measures to protect Southern resident orcas and other species from increased underwater noise and strike risk, including speed limits in various parts of the shipping route.
Trans Mountain is expected to file a reply argument by Jan. 25, before the NEB issues a final report in February.