The provincial government must decide soon if it wants to have a say at a hearing that could influence Kinder Morgan's plans to twin its Trans Mountain crude oil pipeline through the Lower Mainland.
The province has secured intervenor status in one National Energy Board (NEB) hearing starting Jan. 15 in Calgary, where Chevron Canada will argue its Burnaby refinery should get priority access to oil flowing through the pipeline in order to keep operating.
But another deadline is looming Oct. 15 for potential intervenors in a separate NEB hearing starting Feb. 13 into the rates Kinder Morgan would charge its pipeline customers.
Environment Minister Terry Lake said in July the province would consider taking part in that regulatory hearing.
It's been suggested B.C. could argue at the commercial rates hearing for the imposition of a per-barrel levy on oil flowing through the pipeline to help fund an improved spill prevention and response system.
But a ministry spokesperson said Tuesday no decision has been made on whether to apply as an intervenor in the February hearing.
"We are reviewing the application now to determine how it might affect B.C.’s interest," he said.
Officials note Kinder Morgan's formal project application to twin the pipeline is not expected until 2014, launching an environmental assessment and a third round of NEB hearings that will be the main arena for project scrutiny.
The $4-billion expansion would more than double Trans Mountain's capacity to 750,000 barrels per day and bring 300 tankers per year to Burrard Inlet to take on oil for export, with more of it expected to be diluted bitumen from Alberta's oil sands.
The province isn't the only player that could pipe up at the initial two hearings.
NDP MP Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby-Douglas) and Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan have also been named intervenors at the Chevron hearing.
Stewart said he's backing Chevron's application, adding the loss of B.C.'s only major refinery could drive up local gas prices.
"It does supply a third of the gasoline for the Lower Mainland and about 400 jobs," he said.
He added he also wants to press Chevron on whether the firm will improve environmental standards at the Burnaby refinery.
Chevron has resorted to shipping some oil from Alberta by rail to Langley and then by truck to Burnaby because of its inability to get enough crude via the oversubscribed pipeline.
Kinder Morgan has indicated it will not oppose Chevron, but at least one U.S. oil firm with a refinery in Washington State is expected to argue against priority for the B.C. refinery, on grounds that would violate free trade agreements.
Stewart is also seeking standing at the rates hearing and argues the province should be there too.
"Because they're talking about the prices they would charge per barrel of oil coming down the pipeline this is a perfect opportunity to discuss what other moneys might be charged," Stewart said.
"The premier has said no pipeline without more benefits. Well, this is exactly the place they could talk about this issue with the Kinder Morgan pipeline."
The provincial government has been criticized for not seeking a formal role much earlier at the NEB hearings underway into Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat.
A government spokesperson said the province has notified Kinder Morgan it is subject to the same requirements B.C. has laid down in response to Enbridge's plans.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated B.C. had not sought intervenor status in the Chevron hearing.