Beluga whales, a northern species cherished by Canadians have won a reprieve from risks of being run over by tankers or fouled by oil leaks as a result of an eastern Quebec pipeline design decision.

TransCanada Corp. dropped plans for an export port at Cacouna — a Beluga sanctuary where Atlantic and St. Lawrence River waters mingle — from the Energy East proposal for partial conversion of its natural gas Mainline to oil service.

Other Quebec locations will be sought where ships would not conflict with the white, toothed whales, TransCanada said. The C$12 billion (US$9.6 billion) project would have capacity for 1.1 million b/d of oil, far exceeding Canadian requirements and intended for overseas exports.

In the Arctic, Belugas are hunted every year as a staple of the Aboriginal diet in Mackenzie Delta communities along the Beaufort Sea coast. Although small by whale standards, they grow larger than porpoises and are prized for yielding dark, rich red meat in volumes that last families through entire winters. Raw bits of blubber and muscle from the tips of fins and tail flukes of freshly caught Belugas are treasured as “Eskimo candy.” But elsewhere in Canada, Belugas are being considered for protection as an endangered species.

TransCanada cited stakeholder input in its decision-making process.

“We have listened and our decision reflects that,” said TransCanada president Russ Girling, acknowledging public opinion expressed at eastern Quebec community meetings and consultations on Energy East.

“Our goal has been to strike a balance between TransCanada’s commitment to minimizing environmental impacts and the imperative to build modern infrastructure,” Girling said.

Revised export port plans are scheduled for completion by the end of this year. TransCanada hopes to put the new pipeline network into service in 2020.

The company also pledged to accelerate development of pipeline emergency response plans as a result of public demand expressed during the Energy East community consultations.