A main issue at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry Monday morning was public versus private information, with engineer Stephen Bruneau saying there was no public information refuting the possibility of using natural gas to meet domestic power needs before the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project was approved.
If there is private, close-hold, “commercially sensitive” information in the hands of the government, he said, that’s another story.
Bruneau previously testified at the inquiry on Oct. 5, saying natural gas wasn’t properly explored. His cross-examination and re-direct was delayed at the request of lawyers for the parties with standing, who said he had introduced new criticisms of government consultants and commentary not previously introduced that required review.
The delay didn’t change Bruneau’s position. Back on the stand, he repeated his commentary that the province had not forced oil companies active offshore to determine options for local delivery of natural gas.
“(Consultants with Ziff Energy) received no indication from anyone that any discussions have taken place. Nor have I seen any, and nor has the (2007) Energy Plan provoked one,” Bruneau said, while acknowledging he didn’t go through the Ziff report in detail until the last couple of months.
The report, used in the lead-up to the sanctioning of Muskrat Falls, did state liquified natural gas would be prohibitively expensive to serve as a local power supply.
And: “Notwithstanding any future policy objective to develop Grand Banks natural gas, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador cannot compel operators to produce and sell gas to the island power generation market, nor can it mandate a price that the operator(s) must accept for their gas.”
Bruneau was asked if he had any knowledge of the back and forth that might not be contained in the public reports.
“Of course I don’t know all of the emails and conversations that may have taken place, but I’m dealing with facts, documents with the evidence. And the evidence that’s before us in these exhibits and on websites and the provincial government’s documentation, I have thoroughly analyzed and there is nothing there,” he said.
The 2007 Energy Plan explicitly stated the provincial government would, as a matter of policy, “request that all companies provide a detailed assessment of the feasibility and provincial benefits of landing gas in Newfoundland and Labrador prior to submitting a development plan.”
It stated the submissions on feasibility of landing gas would give the province the ability to ensure that all options had been assessed by the oil companies regarding the local market. It didn’t state those submissions would be made public.
A spokeswoman for the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) confirmed for The Telegram the approach by legislation, from the board’s point of view, has been to deal with the development plan for an oil project when proposed, with the option for companies to file a separate “development plan amendment” down the line if they opted to produce natural gas, addressing whether or not it can be provided locally.
Bruneau suggested the province has failed to take the step of demanding natural gas development options be submitted to the government up front, before development plans are submitted to the CNLOPB.