OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government's review of TransCanada Corp's proposed Energy East pipeline is deeply flawed, Quebec aboriginal leaders said on Thursday, signaling they could line up with opponents of the C$12 billion ($9.43 billion) project.
In a letter sent to Canada's natural resources minister and distributed to the media on Thursday, Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, criticized the federal government for failing to consult aboriginal communities on the scope of the review.
Many Canadian aboriginal communities and groups have opposed crude oil pipelines passing through their traditional territory, in some cases threatening to turn to the courts to block approval.
The Canadian government previously approved Enbridge Inc's Northern Gateway pipeline linking oil-rich Alberta to the Pacific coast in 2014. But that project has stalled, facing rising costs related to more than 200 conditions imposed by the government as well as fierce opposition from environmentalists and many aboriginal groups along the proposed route.
If approved, Energy East would carry up to 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta's oil sands to the Atlantic coast, along a 4,200 km (2,850-mile) route.
Canada's energy regulator, the National Energy Board, is leading the Energy East review process, but has not yet started formal hearings.
The letter from Picard said the project review leaves out issues such as the climate change impacts from related oil industry expansion. He also expressed concerns that the government was not providing the funding needed to allow aboriginal groups to do research and fully participate in the process.
"All these failings signify that if adjustments and corrections are not made to the review process of the Energy East project, such a process risks being tainted from the start and devoid of legitimacy," wrote Picard.
A Canadian government spokesman said that anyone directly affected by the project, including aboriginal groups, would be consulted. TransCanada said in a statement that it participates in consultations with aboriginal leaders with the goal of obtaining consent.
Serge Simon, grand chief of the Mohawks of Kanesatake near Montreal, said his community was prepared to use blockades to stop the project, which it fears could pollute land and water.
"Blockades have been a very useful tool in the past, and despite the threat of being locked up for life, I don't think that's going to stop us," he said in an interview.
Reporting by Mike De Souza; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Richard Chang