Quebec's environmental hearings into the Energy East Pipeline got off to a difficult start Monday evening, as protesters chanted and disrupted proceedings seconds after the project's vice-president began speaking.

Joseph Zayed, with Quebec's environmental regulation agency, was forced to temporarily suspend the hearings as protesters snuck into the audience room, unfurled a banner denouncing the pipeline and sang songs to try and silence the presenter.

The room was brought under control after roughly 15 minutes and Louis Bergeron, Energy East's vice-president for New Brunswick and Quebec, was able to start again.

TransCanada makes its case

Earlier, Bergeron had said participating in the hearings was necessary if TransCanada was to reach the "level of social acceptability" the company wanted for its Energy East project.

''The Energy East project will bring a major reduction of foreign imports of oil into refineries in Eastern Canada.' - Louis Bergeron, Energy East's vice-president

In his presentation, Bergeron outined the broad strokes of the project to the agency's three commission members as well as to those gathered in the audience room in Lévis, across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City.

"The Energy East project will bring a major reduction of foreign imports of oil into refineries in Eastern Canada," Bergeron told audience members.

Canada's oil sands are currently landlocked and TransCanada says an export pipeline to the Atlantic Ocean would open international markets and grow the country's GDP, benefiting all Canadians.

"Pipelines are a way to transport oil that is safe, reliable and efficient," Bergeron said.

Map of Energy East

TransCanada Corp.'s proposed pipeline project, which would carry 1.1 million barrels a day from Alberta through Quebec to an export terminal in Saint John, N.B. (Canadian Press)

After TransCanada's presentation Monday evening, Canada's National Energy Board gave a brief presentation about its role in reviewing energy project proposals. 

A question-and-answer period was scheduled with members of the public after Monday night's presentations.

​The hearings are being held by Quebec's environmental review agency, known as the Bureau des audiences publiques sur l'environment (BAPE) and are slated to last nine days.

Battle of injunctions 

Énergie Est protest in Sorel

Opponents of the Energy Est pipeline project protested outside a refinery in Sorel-Tracy on Sunday. (Karine Morin/Radio-Canada)

Environmental groups upset that TransCanada won't have to offer an impact study as part of the hearings had tried to get them halted by seeking an emergency injunction last month.

But a Quebec Superior Court judge threw out the motion on Friday, allowing the BAPE hearings to go ahead.

The Quebec government has filed a separate injunction that would force TransCanada to submit an impact study and undergo an evaluation.

It is unclear when a judge will hear that motion. Some Western politicians — including Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall — accused Quebec of trying to sabotage a project that would benefit their economies.

'Generic BAPE'

The hearings are being held under a section of Quebec's Environmental Quality Act that is less demanding on companies considering environmentally sensitive projects. These are known as "generic BAPE" hearings.

A more demanding series of BAPE hearings can be held, under a different section of the law, when a company has formally submitted a notice of application.

Despite requests by the Quebec government, TransCanada has yet to submit such a notice. The injunction filed by Environment Minister David Heurtel last week would force them to do so.

If a judge sides with Quebec, that could require a second, more detailed, series of BAPE hearings to be held.

​TransCanada says the documentation it has filed with the BAPE for the generic hearings is "equivalent" to what is required of an impact study.

With files from The Canadian Press