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Canadian regulator sees January start for hearings on Trans Mountain oil project

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Canadian regulator sees January start for hearings on Trans Mountain oil project

The National Energy Board will hold detailed route hearings starting in January 2018 for one of the most contested segments of Kinder Morgan Inc.'s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The NEB did not offer a specific date or duration for the hearings in Burnaby, British Columbia. The hearings will determine the exact placement of pipeline in the right of way for Segment 7, the final leg of the expansion that would almost triple the capacity of the pipeline network that links the oil sands region in Alberta with a marine terminal in British Columbia's populous lower mainland. Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd., the Houston-based company's Canadian unit, is developing the project.

The C$7.4 billion expansion, which was approved by Canada's government in 2016, has been divided into seven pipeline segments for the purpose of setting the exact placement of the pipe within the 150-meter-wide corridor. While placement hearings are not unusual in NEB-overseen projects, the regulator said it received 452 statements of opposition to the Trans Mountain expansion's route, making it necessary to hold hearings for every segment. Of the total objections, 135 relate to Section 7, which goes through Burnaby to Kinder Morgan's Westridge Marine Terminal.

"The detailed route hearing process is a very important part of the NEB's regulatory oversight role," board Chairman Peter Watson said in an Oct. 4 statement. "It focuses on the specific concerns of landowners or affected persons directly impacted by the proposed route. By listening to their concerns, the NEB can ensure that the pipeline is placed in the best possible location."

Burnaby's local government has been vocal in its opposition to the Trans Mountain expansion, which would see the line's capacity boosted from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 bbl/d. It passed bylaws to prevent the expansion within its boundaries that were later overturned by Canadian courts. Preliminary engineering work on a planned tunnel that would carry the line under Burnaby Mountain was carried out behind barricades to protect workers from protesters.

Kinder Morgan also filed a letter with the regulator prior to the final pipeline-placement hearings, withdrawing its request to continue laying mats in waterways that are meant to deter fish from spawning. The NEB had ordered the company to remove mats that had already been installed, a move the company said could delay construction by as much as a year. In its Oct. 6 letter, Kinder Morgan said the timing window to install the mats safely and effectively had passed.

A board panel expects to begin hearings on the first two segments on the line's placement this fall but has not disclosed when those hearings will begin.