As the National Energy Board prepares to evaluate TransCanada Corp.'s proposal for a pipeline to carry crude oil from Alberta to Saint John, New Brunswick, an energy researcher predicts controversy over the next two years or more of hearings.

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Warren Mabee, executive director of the Queen's Institute of Energy and Environmental Policy, says the Energy East pipeline hearings will give the public an opportunity to provide further input. (Cement 2020)

The company submitted a project description this week and says it plans to make an official application later this year.

The project description is like a notice of intent to the NEB. The board will now appoint a three-member panel to review the submission and establish a hearing process. Following that, the board's decision whether to recommend approval or not, is forwarded to the federal government.

Any controversy that arises the process will have little to do with the project specifics, says Warren Mabee, associate director of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy.

"I think that many people feel out of control and the pipelines and the hearing process around pipelines is a way to get their voice heard."

Canadians and Americans have become "increasingly uncomfortable" with the rate of oil development, he said.

The company has already hosted public meetings in communities along the proposed route.              

Many have yet to voice their support and there will be many more opportunities for input, which could veer the timeline off track at any point, said Mabee.

But TransCanada has already done a lot of homework and is already pretty confident the project can move forward, says Maybee.

Energy East

The proposed Energy East pipeline would see Alberta crude transported to a refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick. (TransCanada Corp.)

"You know, they've looked at it from the economic point of view. They've considered the environmental side and the social side. They feel pretty confident and that's why we're moving forward at this point towards a full application," said Maybee.

The biggest hurdle for the Energy East project has nothing to do with TransCanada or their management of the pipeline - it's the product that flows through it, says Mabee.

One part of TransCanada's approach that Mabee finds interesting is that it is going to work with the Quebec government on an independent environmental assessment, a step that wasn't mandatory.

He also says the company has a good record on how they handle spills and has been open about how they plan to deal with these problems in the future.