Indigenous Monitors enhance CER activities

The Canada Energy Regulator’s (CER) Indigenous Monitoring program has come a long way in the past four years, from modest beginnings of just one inspection in 2017 to more than 125 joint inspections on four different pipeline projects to date.

Inspection officers oversee pipeline construction.

Having Indigenous Monitors with us in the field on these inspections has enhanced the inspection work we already do. It’s helping us to look beyond safety and environmental protection to incorporate traditional land use, sacred sites and historical knowledge. It’s a more holistic approach to regulation – enhancing our awareness and understanding of the diversity of Indigenous traditional and cultural worldviews, while at the same time keeping energy infrastructure safe and protecting people and the environment.

“Being involved in the Indigenous Monitoring program over the past four years has been a real honor,” says Chris Loewen, Vice President of Field Operations for the CER. “The guidance and input we have received from our Indigenous partners has enabled us to build something that really changes the way energy projects are regulated in Canada – for the better.”

These inspections, also known as ‘compliance verification activities,’ have taken place on Enbridge Line 3, the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, the recently terminated Keystone XL project, and Nova Gas Transmission’s (NGTL) gas transmission system in Alberta and parts of Northeastern B.C.

Indigenous Monitoring & Advisory Committees

The CER’s Indigenous Monitor programs for Enbridge Line 3 and the Trans Mountain Expansion project are tied in with our work and partnership with the Indigenous Advisory & Monitoring Committees (IAMCs). These two projects are the furthest along, with the first joint inspections beginning in 2017 after implementing a rigorous training and orientation program.

During a joint inspection, two Indigenous Monitors and two CER Inspection Officers work side by side forming one inspection team. All four are allowed the same access to site and information, signaling the partnership and importance of the Monitors. Last year, Indigenous Monitors took on a leadership role in the scoping and execution of three compliance verification activities, enhancing the level of Indigenous oversight and signaling a key milestone in the development between Indigenous Monitors and inspection officers. Additionally, Indigenous Monitors and took part in numerous full-scale emergency response exercises, drills and more informal exercises not held out in the field.

CER’s Indigenous Monitoring Program

As part of the CER's commitment to Reconciliation, we established a separate Indigenous monitoring program for the Keystone XL project before it was cancelled in June, 2021. Building on the success of the other programs, we have begun work on a new program to employ indigenous monitors on the current NOVA Gas Transmission Ltd.’s (NGTL) projects. Like KXL, NGTL does not have an IAMC associated with it, so we decided to develop another program that will include best practices and lessons learned from what we have already been doing. Using the framework created for KXL, the CER was able to quickly get agreements in place with Indigenous Monitoring businesses located in the communities impacted by NGTL projects.

Inspection officers and an Indigenous Monitor mark an area on a pipeline right of way.

“IMs bring a different perspective and contribution to the team. Everyone has a part to play or a role,” says Cebo Tom, an Indigenous Monitor with the Trans Mountain IAMC.

“IMs bring the cultural side and a better understanding to what that is and the history we want to protect. At the end of the day we are all here for the same job. So, if you can stack your team to come out ahead to have a win/win why would you not want to do that?”

The NGTL model involves direct agreements between the CER and Indigenous businesses from communities who are impacted by the NGTL 2021 project and who have experienced Indigenous Monitors. This allowed us to build on previous programs and have monitors participate in the first four inspections and two compliance meetings conducted for the NGTL 2021 project.

Indigenous Monitors have defined roles and responsibilities, including working as part of a team, identifying key concerns impacting the communities they represent and potential non-compliances, while also writing observations to the CER, other regulators, and Indigenous Nations when appropriate.

Many Indigenous Monitors go further, sharing knowledge and experiences with their Inspection Officer colleagues, speaking with Elders or community members before and after inspections and providing advice to CER leadership. For example, some of the IAMC TMX Indigenous Monitors have taken on leadership roles within their Indigenous Monitoring program. These leaders have formed a mentorship group and are now leading the development of a new standard of Indigenous Monitoring. Holding space for this kind of capacity building and organic development that use an Indigenous approach to leadership is benefitting the CER and Indigenous communities alike.

Training for Indigenous Monitors and CER Inspectors

We’ve also held recent training sessions for the new Indigenous Monitors and CER Inspection Officers (IO) who will be conducting inspections on the NGTL system. This training was held over 4-10 days and covered the role of the regulator, the process of conducting CVAs, best practices in the field, and information unique to each pipeline.

The CER is also working on a program to create a clear path for Indigenous Monitors to become CER employees of various disciplines and/or Inspection Officers. While still in the development stage, this program is expected to offer monitors opportunities to work in partnership with the environmental protection, safety and emergency management programs. Training to work towards their Inspection Officer designation will also be made available.

Sites of Indigenous Significance

As the program evolves, one of the biggest areas of focus is on Sites of Indigenous Significance along pipeline routes. These can be spiritually alive, culturally essential, and are all deserving of respect. They can be an identifiable natural or culturally modified features, a site or series of sites or even a territory or area encompassing sites.  With each site being unique, there is no simple formula that can be applied.

Recognizing the diversity of sites and the wide variety of options to provide each site with respect and appropriate protection, the CER is working on improving the processes that may impact Sites of Indigenous Significance in partnership with the Indigenous Monitoring programs and pipeline companies. We are working together to create better understanding and develop the relationships essential to conducting such specialized work.

This important work will ensure the CER continues to regulate pipelines to the highest safety and environmental standards possible.  The CER is committed to continuing to strengthen our relationships with the Indigenous peoples of Canada. These relationships have been built on many levels throughout our organization and require continued support and flexibility as we move forward together. The Indigenous Monitoring Program and the CER have come a long way in four years, and we look forward to continuing our work to advance this important program as a team.

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