(Adds details, background)
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, Jan 27 (Reuters) - A review of TransCanada Corp’s proposed Energy East pipeline will start again from the beginning, Canada’s energy regulator said on Friday, a move that could delay the project by several years.
The National Energy Board’s announcement also looks set to spare the Liberal government from making a politically charged decision on the pipeline’s future before the next federal election in October 2019.
Approving the project would anger the progressive base that helped Prime Minister Justin Trudeau win power in late 2015, while turning it down could alienate voters in Canada’s energy-rich West.
However, Energy East’s importance has diminished for TransCanada. U.S. President Donald Trump this week signed an order reviving the company’s Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Alberta’s oil sands to U.S. refineries.
Environmentalists and aboriginal activists strongly oppose Energy East, which would take crude oil from Alberta to the Atlantic coast.
The project was originally slated to begin in 2017, but construction now cannot start until 2019 at the earliest and could be pushed back even further.
The previous NEB panel examining the project stepped down last year after it was revealed that members had met privately with a TransCanada consultant.
The NEB said in a statement that the new panel examining the project would decide how to proceed. It will first have to decide whether TransCanada’s application was complete.
NEB spokeswoman Sarah Kiley said there was no deadline for a decision.
If the panel decides to restart the hearings, it has 21 months to complete the process. After that, the federal government has another six months to decide whether the pipeline can be built. (Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)