Enbridge’s proposed fracked gas pipeline across rural Hamilton is facing unexpected challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and from the huge number of letters submitted to the Ontario Energy Board by individuals and organization opposed to the project. The process will now stretch at least into the summer.
During the “interrogatory” stage of the OEB hearings now underway, registered intervenors get to ask written questions of Enbridge. The company is required to respond – although it may argue some questions are illegitimate. Below we cite some of the more interesting questions facing the company.
As for the OEB schedule, it is going far later than the April 30 decision date demanded by Enbridge. An order issued by the OEB this week extends the question and answer period until the end of June, with hearings (which may still be oral) taking place sometime after that. The OEB decision responds to time extension requests filed by the Green Energy Coalition and Environmental Defence who are expected to file written evidence by a May 25 deadline. That will then be subject to questions by Enbridge as well as other intervenors. The OEB has ruled that answers to those queries can now be filed as late as June 29.
In addition to ecological and climatic concerns about the proposed pipeline, intervenors are pressing for explanations of why Enbridge has ruled out “demand-side management” measures (DSM) such as helping gas consumers to use less by improving efficiency and conservation.
For example, the Buildings Owners and Managers Association has asked “why did Enbridge not investigate specific DSM measures, tailored to the market to be served by the proposed pipeline, that would reduce demand/capacity in that market, and thereby offset some of the need for the proposed pipeline?”
The Consumers Council of Canada has noted that “hundreds of comments from stakeholders opposed to the Project have been filed with the OEB and can be found in the web drawer. How does Enbridge Gas Inc plan to address this input? How is this consistent with the evidence which states that EGI has not identified any strong opposition to the Project?” The OEB staff have also noted the public opposition and want to know what plans Enbridge has to address this for individuals, interest groups and municipalities including the City of Hamilton.
Several intervenors are demanding further explanations from Enbridge about its sale of gas to the New England states, why Ontario gas customers should be subsidizing this, and if the proposed Hamilton pipeline would be necessary if Enbridge was only providing for Ontario customers. The Power Producers Association wants Enbridge to “please explain why Ontario ratepayers should bear the risks associated with expanding the Canadian gas transportation system for the benefit of US Northeast and other export customers.”
OEB staff are also asking “whether the decline in oil prices is expected to impact the financial viability of oil and gas producers in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions,” and “please indicate if Enbridge Gas has considered deferring the consideration of the expansion project in light of the significant uncertainty in the recent economic outlook for Canada and the U.S.” Similar questions about the impact of COVID-19 have been filed by several other intervenors including the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the Building Owners and Managers Association, and the Association of Power Producers of Ontario.
And while the OEB has decided that climate change is not part of its mandate, there are questions related to how greenhouse gas emission policies will affect the viability of the pipeline. The Green Energy Coalition, for example is asking Enbridge to explain their “understanding of state and provincial commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and how those commitments would affect continued growth in gas shipments”, and whether the company expects “that California’s efforts to reduce natural gas use will provide a model for New York, New England and eastern Canada.” Some California municipalities have banned the installation of gas pipes into new homes.