Letter to the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Julie Gelfand                                                                                                                                            
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development                                                                
Office of the Auditor General of Canada                                                                                                               
240 Sparks Street                                                                                                                                                
Ottawa, Ontario                                                                                                                                                        
K1A 0G6

Dear Ms. Gelfand:

The National Energy Board (NEB) has made significant and meaningful strides toward transformation since the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development issued its fall 2015 Audit of Pipeline Oversight.

We wish to notify all Canadians, through your Office, that the NEB has already completed 18 of the 22 audit recommendations, with the remaining four scheduled for completion by 31 December 2016. Less than one year since the Audit was tabled, the NEB has exceeded commitments submitted in our Corrective Action Plan.

Our Progress

As you know, oversight of company compliance with conditions following project approval, and overall monitoring of pipeline regulatory compliance are a cornerstone of the NEB’s mandate. We take our responsibility seriously and have updated our processes for monitoring, tracking and systematically documenting company compliance with conditions.

The Audit spoke to the need of making information on condition compliance and on pipeline regulatory compliance available to Canadians in a user-friendly manner.  We agree, and much of our recent work has focused on making this a reality.  Below are some highlights of our efforts.

Highlights: NEB Audit Response and Transformation

  • A table of company conditions and their respective status was posted on our website less than one month after the Audit report was tabled. Later this month, this table will be updated to include a ‘search’ function to assist Canadians with finding specific information.
  • A gap analysis of documents related to conditions in our table was conducted and we are updating the information in our electronic system.
  • We have increased public access to non-compliances found by our field inspectors, and we are posting inspection reports and associated non-compliances on-line.  NEB Inspection Reports have been publicly available online in both official languages since September 2015. 
  • We launched a new system, and equipped our inspectors with new technology to better enable collection, extraction and reporting of information on our website more efficiently.
  • We initiated work on an extensive overhaul of our electronic systems related to compliance oversight work that will facilitate efficient collection, analysis and external reporting of a wide range of compliance information.
  • We updated our Strategic Emergency Management Plan (SEMP), and consolidated our risk assessment activities to prepare for implementation of the Pipeline Safety Act (June 2016). This was reviewed and well received by the Public Safety Canada.
  • We hired 18 additional technical staff and will continue to build this capacity. 

Auditors noted that our online regulatory document index was very complex and difficult to navigate.  We have begun a project to greatly simplify and improve Canadian’s ability to find regulatory documents for each project proposal that we assess, including detailed filing related to the status of the project conditions and compliance. This work was added to our action plan and will be completed by the end of December 2016.

Your Audit has provided valuable input to the NEB’s transformation efforts and has helped us enhance how we compile data and report back to Canadians on company compliance with standards, applicable federal laws and NEB regulations.

We are not satisfied with simply implementing the commitments in our Corrective Action Plan (CAP).  The NEB has considered the spirit and intent of the Audit and has initiated a series of complex change initiatives to enhance regulatory practices in exceedance of our CAP commitments. For example, in April the NEB issued Board Order MO-006-2016 that required NEB-regulated pipeline companies to publish emergency procedures manuals online for public viewing by September 30, 2016. This initiative is unprecedented in North America.

Additional improvements of the NEB’s service to Canadians that extend beyond the audit observations include:

  • The NEB has notified our regulated companies of our intent to issue a Board Order requiring them to provide Emergency Management Program information on their websites. A 30 day public comment period will allow industry and Canadians to provide us further feedback. This is in addition to the emergency procedures manuals which will be online by 30 September 2016.
  • By 31 December 2016 all company emergency procedures manuals will be reviewed by the NEB. Follow-up on any identified gaps will be undertaken in subsequent months.
  • We have simplified and clarified access for whistleblowers to contact the NEB by developing a world-class Confidential Disclosure program and policy.
  • The NEB has internally re-organized to sharply focus on company and system-wide data trending and analysis.

Our transformational efforts are ongoing and more improvements are forthcoming.  The NEB is committed to adapting to emerging technology and scientific advancements and we will continue to strive toward regulatory excellence in everything we do. I trust that your future public communication about this Audit chapter, and about the NEB generally, will reflect the significant efforts and progress we have made. We thank you for your contributions to regulatory enhancement.

Yours sincerely,

C. Peter Watson, P. Eng., FCAE
Chair and CEO 

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