The National Energy Board will let more than three quarters of the 2,100 individuals and organizations that applied participate to some degree in upcoming hearings into the proposed twinning of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain oil pipeline.
But critics say most participants will be limited to a written statement and denied the chance to speak directly to the board when oral hearings begin in early 2015.
Several municipalities are among the 400 applicants granted intervenor status.
The other 1,250 approved by the NEB have only commenter status, which is limited to a written statement. Another 450 were excluded altogether.
"A lot of people's applications were downgraded," said Burnaby-Douglas NDP MP Kennedy Stewart. "They're cutting people out of the process."
The Conservative federal government altered the NEB hearing process after the lengthy Northern Gateway pipeline hearings, eliminating the option for commenters to speak and requiring applicants demonstrate they're directly impacted by the project or hold relevant expertise.
"It’s a sad day for democracy in Canada, when nearly a thousand people who stepped up to take part in a complex regulatory process to have their say about a project of national significance are shut out of the hearings," said Christianne Wilhelmson of the Georgia Strait Alliance, which was granted intervenor status.
The $5.4-billion project would twin the 60-year-old oil pipeline that runs from northern Alberta to Burnaby, nearly tripling capacity to 890,000 barrels per day, and resulting in a five-fold jump in the number of oil tankers passing through Vancouver harbour. The second 1,150-kilometre line would carry mainly diluted bitumen for export to Asia.
The municipalities of Victoria, Vancouver, West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, Port Moody, Belcarra, Coquitlam, New Westminster, Richmond, Surrey, White Rock, Langley Township, Abbotsford and Hope were all approved as intervenors, along with the Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley regional districts.
Other intervenors include the federal NDP, Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver, numerous First Nations and environmental groups, oil companies, Enbridge's Northern Gateway project, unions, and the B.C. and Alberta governments.
There will be 12 topics up for discussion at the hearings, including potential environmental and social effects of the project, cumulative environmental effects, the potential impact of tanker shipping, aboriginal impacts, contingency planning for spills, accidents and malfunctions and the economic feasibility of the project.
Off limits are discussions about the impacts of exploiting Alberta's oil sands as well as climate change impacts from eventually burning the oil.
The full oral hearings begin next January, but aboriginal traditional evidence will first be heard this August and September.
The NEB also on Wednesday declared Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion application to be complete.
Stewart called that "a joke" because the route is not finalized and the existence of alternate corridor options in key areas has sowed public confusion over where the pipeline will ultimately go.
He predicts many people who thought they weren't affected will ultimately discover the pipeline goes near their homes, possibly resulting in expropriation.
A report by the NEB on the project, along with recommendations to the government, is required by July of 2015.
A final decision is up to the federal cabinet but the provincial government maintains the project will also be subject to its five conditions for new heavy oil pipelines.
B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said the province's aim is to ensure the highest environmental protection if the project proceeds and that B.C. is protected from financial and environmental risk.
“We will not pre-judge the project," Polak said, adding the province has been reviewing Kinder Morgan's application and will submit requests for further information. "We will actively represent the interests of the people of B.C."