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Enbridge says its Line 9 pipeline was offline for about 90 minutes after three activists locked themselves to a valve site east of Sarnia, Ont., on Dec. 21.HO/The Canadian Press

A group opposing TransCanada Corp.'s Energy East pipeline project has asked the National Energy Board to delay its review, pending promised federal changes to the environmental assessment process.

In a letter filed with the board, Transition Initiative Kenora said the board should not start an official hearing, given that it may have to alter course significantly once the Liberal government has determined how it will meet a campaign promise to enhance the rights of intervenors and to assess what impact the pipeline project would have on greenhouse-gas emissions in the oil industry.

TransCanada last week filed an amended pipeline plan that raised the construction costs by a third to $15.7-billion and made 700 changes in the 4,500-kilometre route from Alberta to Saint John, N.B. Energy East is widely seen by the oil industry as a crucial link for moving landlocked Alberta crude to global markets, especially after U.S. President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada's $8-billion (U.S.) Keystone XL pipeline last month.

The federal regulator is now reviewing the company's filing and will determine whether it is complete – or more information is required – before issuing a hearing order, which then kicks off a 15-month environmental assessment.

Transition Initiative Kenora "believes the board should refrain from making any completeness determination until it is certain whether [Ottawa's planned] pipeline hearing amendments will apply to Energy East," Charles Hatt, the group's lawyer from Toronto-based Ecojustice, said in a letter submitted to the NEB on Friday.

Should the board agree with the request, the Energy East assessment could be delayed for many months. It's unclear how quickly National Resources Minister Jim Carr and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna will produce proposed changes to the various legislation that covers pipeline reviews.

Mr. Carr has told the industry he doesn't expect existing project proponents to start at "square one" but that the government will find ways to apply greater accountability to projects now under review.

A spokeswoman for Natural Resources Canada said the government will soon release details of how it will treat projects currently in the system.

The Liberal government "is committed to regaining public trust by ensuring projects undergo credible and robust environmental assessments and regulatory reviews," she said.

The board is in the late stages of reviewing Kinder Morgan Inc.'s proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain oil pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver Harbour, with concluding arguments due in January.

Based in the Northwestern Ontario city along the pipeline route, Transition Initiative Kenora has applied for intervenor status but has not heard whether it's been accepted. Under legislation passed by the former Conservative government to expedite hearings, the board can only grant such status to groups that are "directly affected" by a project.

It would make no sense to commence a hearing now, only to have the rules changed in the coming months, the group's executive director, Teika Newton, said in an interview on Monday.

NEB spokeswoman Katherine Murphy said the board would review the letter, but in the meantime, it will continue its assessment. She noted it has already held 14 oral sessions with aboriginal intervenors.

"If and once an application is found to be sufficiently complete, the NEB will issue a hearing order, which will provide more details on the hearing process," Ms. Murphy said in an e-mail.

Protesters force Line 9 shutdown

Enbridge says its Line 9 pipeline was offline for about 90 minutes Monday morning after three activists locked themselves to a valve site east of Sarnia, Ont.

Spokesman Graham White says the line was shut down remotely from Enbridge's control centre as a safety precaution shortly after the protest began.

He says the pipeline is back up and running now, and deliveries of crude have not been affected.

Lindsay Gray, speaking on behalf of the trio of "land defenders" who staged the protest, says it was easy to get into the fenced-in valve site.

She says the protesters phoned Enbridge from the scene and company representatives and police arrived shortly thereafter; she says the three were taken into custody.

Ms. Gray says First Nations along the route were not properly consulted about the project, which she says poses an environmental danger.

Line 9, which runs between Southwestern Ontario and Montreal, has been in operation for about four decades. It originally flowed from west to east, but then in the late 1990s, its flow was reversed to bring imported oil inland.

Enbridge recently finished up a controversial project to restore Line 9 to its original configuration and boost its capacity, enabling it to supply Alberta crude to Suncor Energy's Montreal refinery.

"The fact that line 9 is currently in operation really just adds to the urgency for people to act," protester Stone Stewart said in a statement. "I'm here because the negative impacts of the oil industry are taking place right now, every day."

Follow Shawn McCarthy on Twitter: @smccarthy55Opens in a new window

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