Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Gaétan Caron, the Chairman of the National Energy Board, extends his apologies to the committee. He was unable to be here today as he is attending to duties associated with the evaluation of the Mackenzie Gas project application.
I am not in a position to comment on the content of the application, as it is an ongoing proceeding before the Board. However, I can update you on the remaining process for consideration of this application. The NEB's oral hearings are scheduled to resume this coming March 29 to deal with updated evidence. The NEB panel will hear final arguments beginning mid-April. The NEB expects to release its regulatory decision in the fall of 2010.
The NEB is an independent federal agency that regulates several aspects of Canada's energy industry.
Our purpose is to promote safety and security, environmental protection and efficient energy infrastructure and markets in the Canadian public interest within the mandate set by Parliament for the regulation of pipelines, energy development, and trade.
Of particular note for this committee would be that NEB regulates all oil and gas exploration and production on non-accord frontier lands; for example, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut and certain offshore areas. The NEB reports to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources. The NEB has regulatory responsibilities under the National Energy Board Act, Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act, known as COGOA, and Canada Petroleum Resources Act, known as CPRA, relating to environmental protection, safety and conservation of the resource.
It also has responsibility for conducting environmental assessments under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. Indeed, the National Energy Board has been considering the environment in its decisions since its inception in 1959, and under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act since 1995.
The NEB has developed a strong capability with respect to environmental assessment, with about 45 environmental, socio-economic, and stakeholder engagement specialists on staff. Currently, the NEB conducts about 20 to 30 screening and comprehensive study types of assessments per year.
The National Energy Board is active and effective in Canada's pursuit of a sustainable energy future. This requires us to consider the economic, social, and environmental aspects of all facilities applications when we make a decision about whether the proposed project is in the public interest.
The board believes in a goal-oriented approach, where regulatory expectations are clear and companies determine the means to achieve the objectives. Recently, the regulations for drilling and production under COGOA were updated to reflect this regulatory best practice. The board also believes in regulatory accountability and has committed to service standards for all of its applications processes
The board believes that regulatory processes should result in better outcomes, such as the best evidence possible from a broad base of parties when an application is being considered and better environmental protection throughout the life cycle of all approved projects. The board does not believe that process for the sake of process adds value to Canadian society.
I've spoken briefly about the Mackenzie gas project to the extent I can in terms of timelines. I would just note that in following those timelines, we will meet all the obligations that we set out and signed for in the 2002 cooperation plan.
Other activities that we're preparing for in the north include getting ready for exploration drilling in the Beaufort Sea in the 2013 to 2017 timeframe. In order to be ready for that, we are in the process of conducting a review of our policy on same-season relief well capability. Part of this review will include a technical conference in Inuvik. The policy will guide applicants on the board's expectations regarding the capabilities an applicant would need to demonstrate in the event a well goes out of control.
As part of the Government of Canada's commitment to the Inuvialuit under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, the NEB is working with a number of government departments, the Inuvialuit, and the regulated companies to demonstrate preparedness in the unlikely event of a spill from regulated oil and gas activities.
There are a number of companies planning to conduct marine programs in the Beaufort Sea, Lancaster Sound, Baffin Bay, and Davis Strait.
The NEB also anticipates dealing with an Alaska gas pipeline proposal in the future, either as an application to the NEB for the proposed Denali Alaska gas pipeline, which is in partnership of ConocoPhillips and BP, or in a support role to the Northern Pipeline Agency in the case of a proposal for an Alaska gas pipeline by TransCanada and ExxonMobil.
You asked us to talk about barriers and solutions, and we've identified two barriers from our regulatory perspective. I've talked about COGOA and CPRA. They were both designed in a different era of oil and gas development for large-scale offshore projects like Hibernia, and we're finding that they're not well suited for the increasing variety of and smaller scale projects now being contemplated in the north. The NEB is responsible for the oil and gas development components of these acts. However, the acts themselves are administered by INAC.
The second aspect we wanted to bring to your attention was the shared mandates of various assessment and regulatory bodies in the north, which result in regulatory complexity and uncertainty for potential investors.
Moving forward to solutions, I want to talk to you about some of the current solutions we're working on now, as well as a suggestion for a future solution. Our current solutions speak to the second barrier I identified of regulatory uncertainty. We have spent a lot of time and effort in the past and present, and anticipate doing so in the future, working with northerners to find holistic solutions to northern energy matters.
One of the ways we do this is through a very active participation in the Northwest Territories board forum, in which our chair, supported by staff, is very engaged. This group of regulators is developing strategies to achieve regulatory efficiencies without compromising effectiveness or jurisdiction.
This work has been very helpful for the board. As a result of it, we've developed a number of partnerships that we formalized in memorandums of understanding to align and coordinate processes. We have an existing MOU with the Mackenzie Valley environmental impact review board on a cooperative framework, as well as one with the Northwest Territories water board on cooperation with respect to downhole injection. We're in the process of discussing other potential MOUs, including ones with the environmental impact screening committee, the environmental impact review board, and INAC.
In our process of working with northerners, we have learned much from northerners. As a result of some of those learnings, we've modified some of our processes in both northern and southern Canada to increase the ability of aboriginal groups and stakeholders to participate in our proceedings.
We have an aboriginal engagement program through which we go out and visit communities in advance of any application being considered. We inform them as to what the National Energy Board is, what our processes and mandates are, and how parties might be able to ensure that they are ready to participate in any process that we have that might come to their community.
We've also been told, both in northern and southern Canada, that our hearings tend to be intimidating and are too formal. Through the lessons we've been learning through northern Canada, we've been adapting our hearings while maintaining the natural justice principles that we need to, yet striving to make our hearings less formal and less intimidating so that we can hear from as broad a variety of parties as possible on the applications.
The NEB is striving, in close collaboration with northern boards, aboriginal groups, and stakeholders, to develop environmental and socio-economic assessment and regulatory processes in the north that are responsive to the aspirations of northerners for a sustainable future, are clear and well understood, have predictable timelines, are coordinated, and minimize duplication.
I spoke to the fact that I was going to leave you with a suggestion from our perspective about a future solution. I have mentioned the potential to modernize COGOA and CPRA. One suggestion we'd like to leave with you today is that in considering any potential modernization of those two acts, it would be a good idea to allow for participant funding programs to be developed, creating the possibility of substitution under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. This approach was recently announced in the budget speech for projects regulated under the National Energy Board Act.
Thank you very much for your attention. Those are my remarks.