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CALGARY — The regulator weighing the Energy East pipeline proposal is being criticized for seeking oral evidence from aboriginal groups when an application for the controversial project is not yet complete.

Adam Scott with Environmental Defence takes the National Energy Board to task in a letter, saying there's widespread confusion about the process among those wanting to have their say.

Scott says there are serious questions about how concerned parties can participate in the process before all the facts are known about the more than $12-billion cross-Canada project.

Earlier this year, pipeline builder TransCanada decided to scrap a planned export terminal in Cacouna, Que., because of concerns over beluga whale habitat.

The change of plans requires TransCanada to update the 30,000-page application it filed just under a year ago, something expected to be complete by year end.

Last week, the NEB said it would begin holding oral hearings starting Nov. 9 to gather evidence from aboriginal communities. In its Oct. 1 letter to aboriginal interveners, the NEB said even though some aspects of the project may change, the majority is expected to be unaffected by any revisions TransCanada makes.

"With regards to the content and nature of oral traditional evidence, these sessions are intended to gather traditional knowledge and stories that aboriginal interveners already possess," the board said, noting that includes testimony about sacred and ceremonial sites, traditional uses of land and water and how those areas may be affected."

The NEB's rationale doesn't wash with Scott.

"The board continues to act and press forward a process on a project application which is not complete. The responsibility to file a complete project application lies with TransCanada," he said.

"The NEB should not rush ahead with an incomplete application to advantage a proponent that is unable to meet basic process criteria. Should any potential interveners file evidence to the board late, I am not confident the board would grant them similar flexibility."

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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