After months of protests from environmentalists and the urging of Quebec's premier, TransCanada has confirmed it will not build a port in Cacouna, Que. to serve the Energy East pipeline. 

The company is "altering the scope" of the project and is still reviewing alternative options in Quebec, according to a news release issued Thursday.

The move means the project won't be completed until 2020. 

The company wanted to build the terminal in Cacouna as part of its 4,600-kilometre, $12-billion pipeline, which would carry 1.1 million barrels per day of oilsands crude from Alberta to refineries on the east coast for export overseas.

Russ Girling, president and CEO of TransCanada, said the decision to drop the Cacouna terminal came following a government recommendation to recognize beluga whales as an endangered species.


The original pipeline plan would have seen the port built right in the middle of an at-risk beluga population habitat. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Ongoing discussions with the authorities and other parties also contributed, he said. 

"Our goal has been to strike a balance between TransCanada's commitment to minimizing environmental impacts and the imperative to build modern infrastructure to safely transport the energy Canadians need and consume every day," he said in the news release.

A federal government wildlife committee concluded late last year that the beluga population had dwindled to 1,000 from a high of 10,000.

In December, Quebec premier Philippe Couillard urged TransCanada to abandon its Cacouna plans in light of the committee findings. He said it would be difficult to sell the project at environmental hearings in Quebec.

The Quebec government imposed various conditions on TransCanada last fall for Energy East to be accepted.

The government told TransCanada it had to ensure the project was socially acceptable, conduct an environmental assessment and provide a plan that would guarantee emergency measures of a high standard.

It also wanted the company to assume full economic and environmental responsibility in the case of any leak.

There was also a stipulation the project had to generate economic benefits for Quebec, as a whole as well as respecting agreements with First Nations.

On Thursday, Environment Minister David Heurtel said the province was still open to discussion.

"They're looking at maybe other options in Quebec," Heurtel said. 

"So we'll see with the final project what are the economic impacts, but we still need to see the full extent of the project before we can evaluate the economic impact of the project."

TransCanada has long argued the project would help support thousands of jobs across the country and generate billions of dollars in government tax revenues.

with files from Canadian Press