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TransCanada CEO Russ Girling (second from left) announces the new Energy East pipeline.TODD KOROL/Reuters

TransCanada Corp. faces an imminent deadline to prevent regulators from halting the review of its Energy East pipeline.

Calgary-based TransCanada has said it would file amendments to its existing application for the $12-billion pipeline in the fourth quarter this year to reflect last month's decision to abandon a planned marine terminal at Cacouna, Que. over potential risks to beluga whale habitat.

The National Energy Board says it needs more detail on the "significance and potential impacts" of any changes before determining whether TransCanada's application is complete – a necessary step prior to commencing public hearings on the contentious pipeline.

"The board cannot determine that the application is complete until after the future amendments are added to the record and assessed," board secretary Sheri Young said in a notice filed with the regulator last week. It has asked for clarification by May 20 "in order to continue its consideration of the application," according to the notice.

The request follows a decision by TransCanada to postpone the planned start date for the pipeline by at least a year, to early 2020, while it studies alternative sites for a possible export facility in Quebec. The company has said that work should not preclude a determination of completeness.

"We are working to gather the information the NEB has requested, and do not see any indication in that request that there will be an additional delay in the project review process," TransCanada spokesman Tim Duboyce said in an email.

Green groups accuse the company of submitting a half-baked application and have pressed the national regulator to halt the review process, which they say is flawed because it does not weigh the impacts of climate change against the project's economic benefits.

The NEB has long insisted its mandate does not include assessing impacts of oil sands development, among Canada's fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

"What's troubling is that the National Energy Board opened up TransCanada's application to participants before the application was complete, while ignoring the many tens of thousands of Canadians who consider climate change pollution essential to determining if these projects are in the national interest," Steven Guilbeault of Quebec-based Équiterre, said in a statement.

Energy East, designed to funnel up to 1.1-million barrels a day to eastern markets, is touted by supporters as key to expanding markets for Alberta's landlocked crude. Incoming Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has voiced support for the plan while also calling for more stringent environmental rules in the oil sands.

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