Environmental activists are puzzled by the Quebec government's last-minute decision to pull out of National Energy Board (NEB) hearings over Enbridge's plan to reverse the flow of a pipeline between Sarnia, Ont. and Montreal.

Radio-Canada, CBC’s French-language service, has learned that the decision to pull out came after four separate Quebec ministries produced reports to share the government's concerns over the safety, environmental and economic risks of the proposed plan.

Citizens and environmental groups across eastern Canada have sounded the alarm over Enbridge’s proposal to reverse the flow of a portion of its Line 9 pipeline toward Montreal.

They are worried about issues such as the possible contamination of agricultural land and drinking water in the event of an oil spill.

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The Parti Québécois government, which has stated that a pipeline reversal would bring economic benefits to Quebec, said it would prefer to discuss the project at its own consultation instead of before the NEB.

Even though Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet declined to speak before the NEB, other ministers did file requests last spring to participate.

However, Radio-Canada says just before the hearings this fall, Quebec pulled out.

BAPE hearings may be postponed

The last-minute about-face has left environmental activists surprised and puzzled.

The co-founder and executive director of Équiterre, Sidney Ribaux, told Radio-Canada in his view, it was the government’s duty to intervene.

He said while Quebec might raise its objections in the future, the federal government might later say that Quebec had its chance to intervene at the NEB hearings and failed to.

Blanchet said provincial hearings before the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (BAPE) are planned.

However, with rumours of a provincial election looming later this fall, a date for those consultations is now uncertain.