A day after announcing new safety measures for tankers, the federal government has introduced tougher regulations for pipelines, taking a "big step" toward meeting British Columbia's requirements for approving projects to the West Coast.
Under the changes, the National Energy Board will be given increased regulatory control over the 73,000 kilometres of pipeline that transport more than $100-billion worth of oil, gas and petroleum products across Canada each year.
The new regulations, announced Wednesday by Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford and Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, require the NEB to increase the number of oil and gas pipeline inspections by 50 per cent annually and to double the number of yearly safety audits.
The government will also establish absolute liability for pipeline companies by making them responsible for cleanups, whether or not they are to blame for the accidents.
Mr. Rickford announced that all major pipeline companies would need to keep $1-billion on hand to deal with potential oil spills. The proposed legislation would also provide the National Energy Board with clear authority to ensure cleanups are properly managed.
Mr. Rickford also said his government will move to involve First Nations in safety planning and spill response, saying they must play a "key, integral, absolutely critical role" in energy development.
He denied the announcements over the past two days are aimed at Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway project, which is currently before cabinet awaiting a decision on whether it can proceed.
"This is not tied to a specific project," Mr. Rickford said.
However, taken together with the new tanker safety regulations announced Tuesday, the measures are clearly aimed at satisfying some of the five requirements B.C. has set for pipeline approval.
B.C. has said any new pipelines must successfully complete an environmental review; must meet "world-leading" standards for both marine and land oil-spill response and prevention; must address First Nations concerns and must give B.C. "a fair share" of the economic benefits.
There are currently two oil pipeline projects proposed in B.C. In addition to the Enbridge proposal, Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain project would twin an existing pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby.
B.C. Transport Minister Todd Stone, who attended the Vancouver news conference, described the federal government's announcement as "very important," but he stopped short of saying provincial requirements have been met.
In Victoria, Premier Christy Clark said the announcement is evidence the rest of Canada is starting to understand B.C.'s concerns about heavy oil pipeline development.
"I think having world-leading national standards is a big step," she said, but added that Ottawa will need to ensure that the regulatory details are put in place. "There are a lot more steps that need to be taken. You can set a national standard but whether an individual project meets that standard is a completely different question."
She said the announcement is a response to B.C.'s concerns.
"It has been a process of education," Ms. Clark said. "British Columbia is a long way from Ottawa and it has taken a little bit of time to make sure everybody in the country understood why in British Columbia we are so concerned about protecting our coastline and our land base."
Alberta Premier Dave Hancock applauded the federal announcement, saying the actions "build on the principles of prevention, liability and preparedness, and also recognize that meaningful aboriginal participation in pipeline safety discussions is imperative."
With a report from Shawn McCarthy in Ottawa