The National Energy Board held its first open house about the proposed Energy East pipeline in Saint John Monday night, but a local group discovered that adding its voice to the debate won't be as easy as hoped.

Saint John's Canaport Crude Receiving Terminal, located beside Canaport LNG, will be the last stop for the TransCanada Corp's pipeline if it's approved.

The estimated $12-billion pipeline would carry more than a million barrels of crude oil every day across the country.

People in the area came to the meeting looking for more information about what the project would mean locally.

Whitney Punchak

The purpose of the Energy East Pipeline meetings is to help people who want to be involved in the review process, says National Energy Board spokeswoman Whitney Punchak. (CBC)

But the National Energy Board doesn't have those answers yet.

Before the project can be approved, it has to go through an extensive review process.

The open house is simply a chance to help anyone who wants to be involved in the review, says board spokeswoman Whitney Punchak.

"We are waiting for an application for Energy East from TransCanada," said Punchak.

"Once we receive that, the National Energy Board will look over the application and will be sending out a hearing order. And in that hearing order, we will outline how people can participate. Typically, there are two different options, you can either be an intervener or write a letter of comment. "

'Onerous' process

Gordon Dalzell, head of the Saint John Citizens' Coalition for Clean Air, is hoping to be approved for intervener status. Formal interveners can present evidence and ask questions of others involved, including TransCanada.

Gordon Dalzell

Gordon Dalzell, the head of the Saint John Citizens Coalition for Clean Air, says the National Energy Board's intervenor application process is time consuming and difficult. (CBC)

Dalzell says he's discouraged by the board's process.

"It's going to be an onerous and a very time consuming and a difficult process for just an ordinary community group who is interested in the environment to participate in," said Dalzell.

Dalzell will not only have to apply to be accepted as an intervener, but he'll also need to apply for funding.

Punchak says the board provides these sessions and online resources to walk people through the steps.

Two more open houses will take place this week, in Hampton and Edmundston.

TransCanada is proposing to convert roughly 3,000 kilometres of natural gas pipeline on its existing Canadian Mainline route to carry crude oil. The company would also construct 1,400 kilometres of new pipeline to carry crude oil into Saint John.

Energy East

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