FAQs on Environmental Assessments

The safety of Canadians and protection of the environment are the NEB’s top priorities. Environmental Assessments are one of the tools that we use to hold regulated companies accountable for environmental protection in the development of pipelines and other energy infrastructure. Below, you will find information designed to help explain some of the changes.

What is an environmental assessment?

An environmental assessment (EA) is a review of the environmental effects likely to be associated with an energy project. This assessment is completed before the NEB makes a decision or recommendation on whether or not to approve a project.

What types of projects require the NEB to conduct an environmental assessment?

The NEB assesses and considers environmental impacts of all facility projects, as well as projects north of 60 such as geophysical and drilling applications. Major pipeline projects will have a public hearing, where the Board will hear comments on impacts to the environment, as well as other impacts or benefits of a project. This input by people directly affected by a major pipeline project helps inform the Board’s recommendation to the Governor in Council (GIC).

The proposed location and scope of a project determines which other EA processes are used when conducting the assessment. An EA may also be required by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 (CEAA 2012), the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, the Inuvialuit Final Agreement or the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. For example, if an EA under CEAA 2012 is required, the NEB and its staff would carry out the assessment for the purpose of meeting that Act’s requirements.

What factors does the NEB consider during an environmental assessment?

The NEB conducts an EA as part of its review of applications for projects under its jurisdiction. Regardless of the legislation under which the NEB is conducting the EA (e.g. the NEB Act, COGOA or the CEAA 2012), the NEB considers many factors, including:

  • physical and meteorological environment
  • soil, soil productivity and vegetation
  • wetlands, water quality and quantity
  • fish, wildlife, and their habitat
  • species at risk or species of special status and related habitat
  • heritage resources
  • traditional land and resource use
  • human health, aesthetics and noise

The EA considers the likely environmental effects, the adequacy of proposed mitigation measures to protect the environment, and the significance of effects after mitigation measures would be implemented. The Board commonly imposes additional conditions on most projects to ensure environmental protection measures will be implemented and will be sufficient.

Once an EA has been conducted, the NEB makes a decision or recommendation under the National Energy Board Act (NEB Act) or the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act (COGOA). Its decision or recommendation may include additional environmental considerations that are broader than those required to be considered under legislation but that the NEB deems important.

Does the NEB have the expertise required to conduct environmental assessments?

The NEB has decades of experience in considering potential environmental effects when making its regulatory decisions. Environmental aspects have been considered in Board decisions under the National Energy Board Act since the early 1970’s. In addition, the Board has been conducting EAs under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act since it first came into force in 1995.

The NEB has approximately 65 Environment, Socio-economic, Lands and Engagement Specialists deployed to teams throughout the organization. These specialists deliver environmental and socio-economic assessments, environmental inspections, audits of environmental management systems, lands administration, and landowner complaint resolution.

What kind of environmental information must the company provide to the NEB?

Companies are required to file information explaining how the proposed project will affect the environment and what measures they will take to avoid causing harm to the environment. Information about preferred and alternate routes must be provided.

All project-related documents, including environmental reports submitted by applicants, are available for public viewing on our website and in the NEB library.

To view a complete list of what the NEB requires from its regulated companies regarding EAs for proposed projects, you can view our Filing Manual.

What is the environmental assessment process for projects north of 60?

As part of its environmental protection responsibilities, the NEB must ensure that an environmental assessment is conducted for proposed activities in areas north of 60, including the Arctic offshore. The NEB coordinates EAs with Northern boards and agencies for proposed oil and gas projects. The proposed project location determines which process is used in conducting the assessment. An EA must be completed before a COGOA authorization can be granted.

An EA may be required under federal legislation such as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012, the Inuvialuit Final Agreement (IFA) section 11, or the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) Article 12. A project proposed under the NEB Act or COGOA cannot be authorized until the screening or review under those Agreements has been satisfactorily concluded.

An applicant is encouraged to provide a project description as early as possible in the project planning phase. The project description includes detailed information on: the project development; potential impacts to the environment, including potential impacts from accidents and malfunctions; consultation with Aboriginal groups and the affected persons; socio-economic impacts arising from environmental effects; and mitigation measures to protect the environment.

A project description helps the NEB to efficiently coordinate the EA with Northern boards and agencies, if required. For drilling projects requiring a COGOA authorization from the NEB, the NEB will also conduct its own EA as part of the overall decision the Board must make under the COGOA. In this part of the assessment, the applicant must submit an Environmental Protection Plan (EPP), which includes provisions for management of waste. The applicant must also submit a Safety Plan and a Contingency Plan, which includes emergency response procedures. The NEB expects applicants to agree to make those plans public.

Additional information is available from the NEB’s Review of offshore drilling in the Canadian Arctic

What is the relationship between the CEAA 2012 and NEB project EAs?

Some major NEB-regulated projects trigger the CEAA 2012. The EA process used by the NEB for NEB Act EAs fully complies with the CEAA 2012.  For projects not identified by the CEAA 2012, the NEB will continue to conduct federal EAs as a part of its public interest mandate under the National Energy Board Act.

Changes to the Fisheries Act, the NEB Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act (COGOA), once in effect, give the NEB responsibilities for the oversight of navigable waters and fish related to pipeline and international power line crossings. As these impacts were already considered during the NEB’s EA process, these changes also reduce unnecessary duplication.

The NEB will continue to conduct a fair and independent EA and regulatory review process for projects under its jurisdiction. We will continue to impose or recommend terms and conditions related to our priorities of protecting the safety of Canadians and environment.

How do other federal departments provide input into environmental assessments for major pipeline and electrical transmission projects?

Federal Departments may apply to participate in NEB public hearings for major facilities projects as interveners or by way of writing a letter of comment.

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