TransCanada Corp. promises to engage with First Nations and other communities as its $12-billion west-east pipeline project moves through the regulatory approval process.

The Calgary-based company announced plans on Thursday to move ahead with its Energy East pipeline project, which will expand an existing pipeline network to enter Quebec and end in New Brunswick.

TransCanada is expected to file its regulatory application with the National Energy Board by the end of the year. It anticipates it will take 24 months to move through the process.

"Key is understanding stakeholders concerns along the route and make sure that we are very sensitive where we put the route and put the terminals," said Russ Girling, chief executive officer of TransCanada Corp.

"Once we get through that, then I think obviously the environmental review process will be the longest length process."

TransCanada proposes to convert roughly 3,000 kilometres of natural gas pipeline on its existing Canadian Mainline route so it can carry crude oil.

It says it would also construct 1,400 kilometres of new pipeline to carry crude oil into Saint John, where it will end at the Canaport LNG terminal.

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TransCanada Corp.'s Energy East pipeline proposal is expected to cost $12 billion. (CBC)

The pipeline would be capable of sending 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from Western Canada to refineries and export terminals in Eastern Canada.

If the pipeline project is approved, it is expected thousands of jobs would be created during its 24- to 30-month construction period.

Premier David Alward said on Thursday that TransCanada will need to move forward under one of the "most robust regulatory" regimes in the world.

"We have full confidence that the pipeline that is built will provide access to Canadian resources to Eastern Canada but at the same time provide safety and meet the concerns that people have across our country as well," Alward said.

First Nations talks ‘absolutely critical’

Along with the regulatory hurdles in front of the company, Girling said TransCanada views talks with First Nations communities as "absolutely critical."

"These are folks we do business with on an ongoing basis and their input is going to be critical on how we site and how we actually go about building this pipeline," he said.

The Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs in New Brunswick issued a statement on Thursday saying the pipeline must satisfy their concerns before it moves ahead.

The association said the pipeline must ensure:

  • Full protection of the environment.
  • Full protection of the ability to exercise aboriginal and treaty rights.
  • Meaningful participation of First Nations’ in the management of any pipeline and all benefits arising from it.

Taxpayers not at risk

Girling said Canadian taxpayers do not need to worry about public money being put into the project.

He said the Energy East proposal is "100 per cent privately funded." He also said any incidents would be covered by the company.

"There is no cost to the taxpayers of this," he said.

"Hopefully there will be a large benefit to taxpayers in the form of property tax along this system and income tax that is generated by the business and economic prosperity that will ensue as we will build it and put it into operation."

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The Irving Oil Ltd. refinery in Saint John will process crude oil from Western Canada when the proposed pipeline is completed. (CBC)

TransCanada and Irving Oil Ltd. also announced on Thursday that the companies had formed a joint venture to build and operate a new $300-million deep water marine terminal.

Paul Browning, president and chief executive officer of Irving Oil Ltd., said the Saint John-based company is still studying the possible business opportunities that the pipeline could provide.

Browning said, however, it was too early to discuss possible upgrades or expansions to its oil refinery.

"We need a bit of time to absorb the news that we got from TransCanada and what it means for us going forward," he said.