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Canada’s NEB Taps New Blood to Weigh TransCanada Mainline Conversion

The National Energy Board (NEB) reached out to Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick for new judges to render the verdict on TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East proposal for partial conversion of its natural gas Mainline to oil service.

A former New Brunswick deputy health minister, Don Ferguson, has been named chairman of the revived project review panel. Other members will be Toronto finance executive Carole Malo and Montreal environmental lawyer Marc Paquin.

The appointments mark a fresh start on formal hearings that stalled last September on the C$15.7 billion (US$12 billion) plan to create 1.1 million b/d of oil delivery capacity with a 4,050-kilometer (2,700-mile) pipeline conversion and extension across Canada from Alberta to a New Brunswick tanker terminal.

Environmental and aboriginal groups hotly contest the project as a conduit for growing production from the northern Alberta oilsands. Protesters forced the first Energy East tribunal to resign last fall by accusing two members -- NEB chairman Peter Watson and vice-chair Lyne Mercier -- of showing pro-TransCanada bias in private Quebec meetings.

The new panel will determine whether the project’s opponents are right to claim that the entire regulatory review process has to start over from scratch, and lay out a schedule for the complicated case. Issues include replacing converted natural gas delivery capacity as well as environmental and aboriginal grievances against the petroleum industry.

No deadline was set for reviving the formal proceedings. But preliminary work has been under way quietly since last October, when the Liberal government in Ottawa gave NEB appointments to four aboriginal affairs experts and commissioned them to serve as roving board ambassadors along the Energy East route.

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