Listening and building better relationships with Canadians

On August 8, the National Energy Board (NEB) will hold its first public hearing session on the proposed Energy East pipeline project in Saint John, New Brunswick. The entire hearing will take about 21 months to complete and it will be the most innovative hearing in the history of the NEB.

The hearing is a benchmark for the NEB as it signals a significant change in the way we conduct our work inside the hearing room, it also coincides with a time of change in the work we do outside of the hearing room - how we listen to Canadians and engage with them on matters ranging from pipeline safety to environmental protection.

The job of Canada’s National Energy Board is to help ensure that federally regulated oil and gas pipelines are operated safely, that pipeline hearings are fair, and energy infrastructure development takes place in a manner that is responsible and in the public interest.

Over the past two years, the NEB has been asking Canadians if they had ideas on how the Board could better do its work and conduct its hearings. This process began because the Board had clearly heard that Canadians believed it needed to change the way it worked. Board officials then travelled across the country, met with Canadians in their communities, asked them what they thought of the NEB, and then the NEB wrote a report on what it learned.

The conclusion it came to did not only involve the hearing room or the hearing process. It had to do with listening to people and building better relationships with Canadians. We heard that Canadians want to be better informed about - and engaged in - the NEB and its plans on pipeline operations, especially at a regional level.

The report was part of a larger re-think on how the NEB can be a modern twenty-first century energy regulator. We looked at issues ranging from how the NEB can better ensure that pipelines are safe, how we can operate within our current legislation, and how best can we engage with Canadians both inside and outside of our pipeline hearings.

We thought long and hard on how to significantly improve our hearing process, specifically the Energy East hearing, and the end result is what we believe is the most innovative hearing in the NEB’s history.

The NEB panel sessions on Energy East are unique for a number of reasons.  For the first time, the NEB surveyed hearing participants for their advice on how the hearing should be held. And because of that feedback, intervenors will be able to present up to three times to the hearing panel.

The hearing will also be innovative in that it will give members of the public the opportunity to share their thoughts on the pipeline and for intervenors to orally question the pipeline project.

In addition to the panel sessions, several other Board Members will travel along the pipeline route to gather public comments and input. The public comments and input shared during this initiative will be included in a report to be submitted as evidence in the hearing.

Another unique feature of the review process is that an assessment of the upstream greenhouse gas emissions associated with the project will be conducted by the Government of Canada.

The hearing will also listen to Oral Traditional Evidence from Aboriginal participants in conjunction with the panel sessions. This information will make up an important component of the evidence the NEB will consider as it decides whether to recommend approving the project.

Canadians should also be confident that the Board is completely focused on upping its game and doing much more engagement with stakeholders from Coast to Coast to Coast throughout the full lifecycle of pipeline projects. Why? First, it’s the right thing to do. Second, Canadians want to be engaged on the work of the NEB. Third, the NEB is building its public engagement approach to reflect the best practices of leading international agencies, such as the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development and the World Bank because the engagement work of the NEB needs to be more systematic and results-focused.

The progress that the Board has made on engagement would not have been accomplished without the contribution of the hundreds of Canadians who told us what they thought of the NEB, both positive and negative. Your opinions have been invaluable to us, and for that, the National Energy Board thanks you.

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