Premier Christy Clark says Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is now "very close" to winning B.C. government support.
But she stopped short of outright endorsing the controversial pipeline a day after it won approval from the federal government.
"Almost all of the conditions have been met and significant progress has been made on all of them," Clark told reporters Wednesday, referring to B.C.'s five conditions to support a new heavy oil pipeline.
Asked which conditions have been met, she said more detail is needed from Ottawa on how its new Ocean Protection Plan will ensure world-class marine spill prevention and response, not just with regard to oil tankers but all marine vessel traffic.
And more work is needed to determine a "fair share" of the project benefits and jobs for B.C. – the province's fifth condition.
"Those would be the two areas where there's still some work to do. In terms of the other areas, that work is done," Clark said.
Her declaration that B.C.'s other three pipeline conditions have been met drew criticism and did not acknowledge a point made Tuesday by Environment Minister Mary Polak, who noted B.C. still awaits the outcome of the provincial environmental assessment. Successful receipt of all regulatory approvals is B.C.'s first condition.
First Nations opposed to the project also took issue with the implication that the project will address legal requirements on aboriginal and treaty rights and give First Nations opportunities to benefit – the fourth condition.
The other condition Clark indicated is met is to ensure world-leading spill prevention, response and recovery systems on land.
Clark said she her position on the project hasn't changed "one iota" since B.C. spelled out its conditions, insisting they helped push the federal government to commit to much better marine protection.
VIDEO: Pipeline approval protested and praised
She is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to defend his decision to approve the project on the ground in B.C.
"When I spoke to the prime minister yesterday I told him I very much look forward to him coming to British Columbia to share his thinking behind the decision he and his cabinet have made," Clark said. "Come to British Columbia, our province, and talk to the people here about why he believes that this project is indeed in the national interest."
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley indicated she will visit B.C. as early as next week to make the case for the pipeline expansion.
NDP critic George Heyman said no world-class spill response is available for heavy oil, regardless of what Clark suggests.
"It's hard to see how the premier can say her conditions are being met," he said.
Heyman said B.C.'s assessment is only taking place because of a court decision that it's required to address aboriginal consultation requirements, adding the province's equivalency agreement with Ottawa means B.C. accepts the federal NEB review in all other respects.
On B.C.'s fair share, there has been speculation as to whether it could involve a toll on each barrel of oil moved to fund environmental protection, or even a deal with Alberta to buy B.C. electricity once the Site C hydroelectric project is finished.
"She may be negotiating with Alberta. She may be negotiating with Kinder Morgan. Whatever it is is happening behind closed doors."
Federal green light just one milestone: Kinder Morgan CEO
Trans Mountain pipeline construction is slated to begin for 2017, Kinder Morgan president Ian Anderson said following the federal government’s approval of the project.
However, he noted that the federal government’s approval of the project is just one stage.
“Yesterday was a very important milestone for us but it is just that, a milestone – the journey isn’t over and we’ve still got lots of hard work to do.”
Part of that is waiting for the B.C. government’s environmental approval.
“I’m not sure when we will get that certificate. We’ve provided them with lots of information and met their needs. I hope to get it soon but I don’t have any timeline,” said Anderson.
Kinder Morgan is working with the province on the five conditions they’ve outline for the project, Anderson said, including the fifth one that says B.C. must get a share of benefits in line with the risk it bears.
"I echo the words of Premier Christy Clark in that we’re making progress on all conditions, including condition five.”
Anderson said that despite legal challenges from First Nations and protests that show no sign of shrinking, he’s confident that the project will go ahead as planned.
"I don’t think I’d be sitting here today saying what I was saying if I didn’t believe we could continue on the path of building and executing this project."
Costs for the Trans Mountain pipeline remain at $6.8 billion for now but the company is reviewing all costs and will be providing their shippers with an updated estimate early next year.
– with files from Katya Slepian