The Ontario Energy Board has decided that greenhouse gas emissions linked to a new fracked gas pipeline across Hamilton are not part of its mandate. In a decision released very late on Friday afternoon, the OEB also snubbed the city and the Hamilton Conservation Authority requests to put ecological studies of the Enbridge pipeline route ahead of an approval decision.
The OEB has agreed to hold an oral hearing instead of the written one sought by Enbridge but no date has been set and it remains uncertain if it will be held in Hamilton as the city requested. The Board’s interpretations of the scope of the issues it will allow may crack open a door for various issues related to climate impacts that some registered intervenors want examined.
City council and the conservation authority had asked that detailed ecological studies and an independent peer review precede the hearings about the proposed pipeline which crosses the Beverly Swamp, Spencer Creek, Bronte Creek and numerous other environmentally significant lands and wetlands of rural Flamborough. And both wanted examination of the greenhouse gas emissions from fracking the gas in Pennsylvania and of burning it in its expected destinations in Ontario and the US eastern seaboard.
The city also wanted Enbridge to explain how its pipeline can be compatible with Hamilton’s commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050. While the OEB document responds to specific requests it received from other registered intervenors, it ignored this one and also doesn’t mention the city asking that the hearings on the pipeline be held in Hamilton.
Other intervenors who wanted climate change implications examined may have obtained some concessions in that direction. For example, the hearings will consider “whether conservation or efficiency are viable alternatives” to the pipeline. And the Board has agreed with the Schools Energy Coalition that “consideration of the risk that the project will become a stranded asset due to uncertainty of the demand forecast [be] part of the assessment of need for the project.”
In response to the Green Energy Coalition (representing Hamilton 350) the OEB accepted “that the impact of government policy on future gas utilization is a factor that may be relevant to the demand for natural gas and therefore the need for the project.” This is a key question that comes down to whether Ontario will replace nuclear facilities with fossil fuels supplied by Enbridge, or alternatively with clean water power from Quebec.
The OEB statement also noted the contention of the several intervenors that the climate crisis means “that an investment in infrastructure with a 30 to 40 year payback increases the risk of stranded assets” and it ruled the “risk of forecast demand not being realized is inherent to forecast modelling and therefore included in the need for the project (issue #1) and in costs and rate impact (issue #5).”
The Board acknowledged that it “received numerous letters of comment [nearly 150 so far] from individual citizens and citizen groups and organizations” and that “most of the comments voiced concerns regarding environmental impacts and were opposed to the construction of the proposed project.”
But its key conclusion states: “The OEB has concluded that issues related to impacts associated with the extraction and production of natural gas to be delivered, as well as the effects of the consumption of that natural gas in the context of overall national and globally–focused environmental policies, are out of scope.”
The timelines set out in the OEB statement require intervenors to file questions with Enbridge by March 27 and Enbridge to reply by April 20. That certainly means there won’t be a Board decision by Enbridge’s “deadline” of April 30. V