Kinder Morgan pressed ahead with its final argument for the Trans Mountain oil pipeline twinning before regulators Thursday, even though the project is now cloaked in uncertainty with a new federal Liberal government intent on reforming the review process.
Trans Mountain lawyer Shawn Denstedt argued the 150 draft conditions for the project can address all environmental concerns, and he stressed the strong economic benefits to Canada from getting world prices for Alberta oil.
"We cannot accept that our resources will be forever held hostage and sold at a discount," Denstedt told the National Energy Board. "Real and important benefits for all Canadians should not be cast aside based on improbable risks."
The company hopes the NEB will recommend approval by a May 20 decision deadline – following arguments by interveners in the new year – and the federal cabinet will give the $6.8-billion project the green light.
But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking Thursday in Vancouver, reiterated the need for changes to restore public trust and ensure such projects have social licence to proceed.
Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson said federal ministers have indicated projects like Trans Mountain that are already under review will continue and "not go back to any restart or square one review."
But he said they've also been told there will be some sort of "transition treatment" for all projects, even those under review.
"We don't know what that means yet," Anderson said. "We don't know what that will do to our process."
The addition of a second pipeline would nearly triple Trans Mountain's capacity to 890,000 barrels per day, increasing oil tanker traffic from five to 34 each month.
Anderson said shippers that have contracted to use the pipeline have not wavered from their firm commitments to 707,000 barrels per day of capacity. The rest is to be sold on the spot market.
If approvals are issued on schedule, he said, construction could begin by the end of 2016 and the twinning would be finished by mid-2019.
"It's the most highly scrutinized pipeline project by the NEB in history," Anderson added.
He said the project would bring major improvements to marine spill response capabilities along the shipping route from Vancouver past Sooke, with more than $100 million invested and 100 jobs created at five new bases.
Anderson stressed Trans Mountain's 60-year history of operations and the fact the second pipeline largely follows the existing one or other brownfield corridors.
Next month, project opponents will respond.
The NEB will hear intervener oral arguments Jan. 19 in Burnaby. The City of Surrey will be the first intervener.