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Irving Oil's refinery near Saint John is shown on Aug. 27, 2013. TransCanada executives have been touring the country to promote the proposed Energy East project, which would reconfigure part of its cross-Canada natural gas mainline to carry oil from Alberta to Saint John.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/The Globe and Mail

TransCanada's $12-billion, 4,500 km pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick will open in phases over the next few years with delivery of crude oil to Quebec expected by the end of 2017 and to the refinery in Saint John by the end of 2018.

Steve Pohlod, the president of the Energy East Pipeline project, outlined the time lines and massive scope of the project at the Maritimes Energy Association dinner Wednesday in Halifax, noting that the company is now preparing its regulatory application.

The company is expecting regulatory approval will be granted by the National Energy Board at the end of 2015.

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That means construction will begin in 2016, said Mr. Pohlod. The pipeline is to carry 1.1 million barrels of crude oil daily from Alberta and Bakken production from Saskatchewan and Manitoba to refineries in Quebec and Saint John.

"It is certainly the largest infrastructure project that we have on the go as a company," Mr. Pohlod told his audience. "It is a project that has drawn comparisons by some to something the equivalent of building a railway across the country."

Since it was announced last August, Mr. Pohlod says the company has held 62 open houses in about 600 communities across the country; spoken to 185 First Nations groups and 6,000 landowners with whom it is negotiating easements and land access.

About 50 open houses are planned for this year, beginning in the spring.

It is a project that is drawing criticism, however. Mr. Pohlod's comments came as the Pembina Institute released a report raising concerns that the pipeline will contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

Although he did not mention the Pembina report, Mr. Pohlod acknowledged there will be obstacles.

"We are going to face opposition from environmental groups and we are going to face opposition from other interest groups as we move this project forward," he said. "And many of these groups are out there to effectively oppose all energy infrastructure projects. They are the ones that often get the press. They are the ones that make the most noise."

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He urged supporters of the pipeline – provincial governments and the federal government are supportive – to be vocal to drown out the voices of the opposition. "We can't just let opponents of these types of projects be the ones that get the press and get noticed," he said.

Against this background, here is how the project is proceeding:

The stats:

Seventy per cent – 3,000 km – of the pipeline already exists. It is a natural gas pipeline that is being converted. Of the 1,500 km of new pipeline that will be built, 275 km will be built in Alberta, 100 km in Ontario, 650 km in Quebec and 400 km in New Brunswick. The company also needs to build 72 pump stations, which will each take up about 20 to 30 acres of land; four tank terminals – in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec and New Brunswick – and two marine ports.

Safety:

The tragedy at Lac Mégantic last summer highlights concerns about the safety of transporting crude oil by rail. "When it comes to safety, I think we all know that pipelines are the safest way to transport crude oil," Mr. Pohlod claimed. He says the Energy East project will use advanced pipeline technology, including thicker walls in the segments that go under waterways, road crossings and rail crossings. He said the monitoring system will be such that it will be "capable of being shut down within minutes" if any drop in pressure or leak is detected.

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Production:

Mr. Pohlud argues that there is not enough pipeline capacity to get crude oil to market – and the pressure will continue over the next few years. He says that production is expected to increase to 6 million barrels from 3.5 million barrels a day by 2025 to 2030. He is often asked, he says, if the Keystone XL project is approved whether his project would be necessary: "The answer is a resounding 'yes'."

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