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TransCanada President and CEO Russ Girling (2nd L) announces the new Energy East Pipeline during a news conference in Calgary, Alberta, August 1, 2013.TODD KOROL/Reuters

Environmentalists are turning their sites on TransCanada Corp.'s $12-billion Energy East project, with a new report that argues the cross-country pipeline will contribute to soaring greenhouse gas emissions in the oil sands.

In a report to be released Thursday, Calgary-based Pembina Institute urges the federal government to consider the pipeline's effect on carbon emissions when the National Energy Board conducts its environmental assessment, expected later this year.

TransCanada plans to file an application with the national regulator by midyear, kicking off an 18-month review that would look at the benefits and consequences of the pipeline, but would not assess the GHG emissions that would result for producing the crude to fill the pipeline.

The Pembina Institute report signals a new front in the ongoing battle between industry – backed by federal and provincial governments – and environmentalist critics over construction of the infrastructure necessary to access new markets for booming oil sands production, which is expected to triple between 2012 and 2030.

The study concludes the production of 1.1 million barrels per day of crude needed to fill the Energy East pipeline would result in up to 32 million tonnes per year of additional greenhouse gas emissions – the equivalent to seven million cars.

Oil sands production resulted in 34 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in 2005, and is expected to grow to 100 million by 2020, according to Environment Canada.

"The increase [from the oil sands] is large enough to cancel out all emissions reductions that other parts of Canada's economy are projected to make over the same period," the Pembina study said.

It also urges the Harper government to impose tough emission regulations on the oil and gas sector, something Ottawa appears reluctant to do in the absence of a similar move by the United States.

The group's climate director, Clare Demerse, said the federal government should be assessing the effect of pipeline construction on oil sands' growth and climate-related emissions.

"We should start looking at pipelines not just as being the physical pipe, but what goes inside it," Ms. Demerse said. "The environmental impacts of the crude that will be carried are, we think, quite significant and should be part of that conversation."

The recent State Department report on Keystone XL did look at the project's upstream effects on carbon pollution, and concluded it would have none because the crude would be produced regardless of whether the pipeline was built or not.

In its Northern Gateway review, the National Energy Board did not consider the upstream carbon emissions from the production of crude that would flow through that pipeline. And environmental groups are challenging the NEB's assessment in federal courts over its failure to do so.

The federal government does examine climate effects when it reviews applications for construction of oil sands projects, but it has recently shifted responsibility for much of that assessment to the Alberta government. Pembina argues the provincial review is insufficient.

Ontario is doing its own review of the Energy East project and has promised to consider upstream climate effects, though it has no power to act on its findings other than making submissions to the NEB and exerting political pressure on Ottawa.

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

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