CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada's energy regulator bolstered environmentalists' hopes on Thursday for a more intensive review of Enbridge Inc's (ENB.TO) plans to reverse the flow of an Eastern oil pipeline by inviting more comments on the project.
The National Energy Board extended a comment period for Enbridge's Phase 1 Line 9 reversal plan to October 14 after Enbridge ran into troubles getting information packages to affected landowners in time for them to respond.
The previous deadline was September 20, but Enbridge had written to the board on that date saying that members of group called the Ontario Pipeline Landowners Association had informed it they had not received its material on the project.
The line reversal is attracting some controversy as green groups opposed to oil sands development target pipeline projects that would allow producers to access new markets, including Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline to the West Coast and TransCanada Corp's (TRP.TO) Keystone XL Line to Texas.
Enbridge has applied to reverse the flow of its Montreal-Sarnia pipeline, starting with a C$17 million ($16.5 million) first phase that would result in Western Canadian oil moving to its Westover, Ontario, station from Sarnia, Ontario.
The company wants the project vetted under a section of the NEB Act that allows for a less intensive regulatory process, arguing the plan requires very little land disturbance and would cause no adverse environmental or socioeconomic impact.
Green groups, led by Environmental Defense, want the NEB to deny the exemption from a full review, saying they believe the project is just the beginning of a bigger, longer-term effort to export oil sands-derived crude from Eastern Seaboard ports.
Gillian McEachern, climate and energy program manager for Environmental Defense, said the group hopes a higher volume of comments will persuade the board to force the project into a larger review.
She pointed out a recent comment letter from an Ontario native group, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, whose land is crossed by the line's right-of-way.
The council questions the safety of the pipeline, built in 1975, as it changes over to shipping oil sands crude, which it says can be more corrosive than conventional oil. That is a hot topic of debate in the Keystone XL case.
McEachern said the environmental groups hope that letters from aboriginal groups will add enough clout to lead the board to a more complex process.
However, the NEB will take all factors and comments into account when it makes its decision, spokeswoman Carole Leger-Kubeczek said.
"Following the comment period, the board will determine and communicate the next steps, including the manner in which it will consider the application," she said.
Reporting by Jeffrey Jones; editing by Rob Wilson