Kinder Morgan Canada has cleared one hurdle on the way to building a proposed second pipeline to carry Alberta oil sands crude through B.C. to Burrard Inlet.
The National Energy Board has approved the company's commercial tolling application, the rate structure it intends to charge oil companies to use the expanded Trans Mountain pipeline.
It's not an approval to begin construction.
A formal proposal to build the pipeline is expected to be filed by Kinder Morgan later this year, triggering public hearings similar to those still underway on Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
"The decision reinforces the market support for our expansion plans and it provides us the necessary economic certainty to proceed," Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson said in a statement.
"As we continue the process, we look forward to working with the new B.C. government and will remain committed to listening to questions and concerns as we develop our application to file with the NEB later this year."
The NEB decision ruled Kinder Morgan's rates are just and reasonable, rejecting complaints of oil firms that argued the pipeline company would reap excessive profits.
A second decision is also expected soon from the NEB on an application by Chevron for priority access to oil from the pipeline to supply its Burnaby refinery.
The $5.4-billion Trans Mountain twinning project would boost the flow of petroleum products from 300,000 barrels per day now to 890,000, bringing about 400 tankers a year to the Burnaby terminal.
Burnaby NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, who opposes the pipeline project, said the NEB missed an opportunity with the tolling application to order a surcharge on each barrel of oil to help fund environmental protection and spill response initiatives in B.C.
He said the federal Conservative government has drastically clamped down on the public hearing process, and predicted Kinder Morgan hearings will be far less inclusive than the Enbridge hearings.
"There's now a 10-page application form before anybody will be allowed to speak so the community is just about shut out of these processes," Stewart said.
"It's almost an industry love-in now – corporate lawyers talking to corporate lawyers. I guess that's what you do when you want to ram oil pipelines through to the west coast."