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CALGARY — An environmental group says the National Energy Board is rushing the process for the Energy East pipeline by gathering oral traditional evidence from aboriginal bands before it has received a complete application.

Adam Scott, with Environmental Defence, took the NEB to task in a letter this week, asking why the regulator couldn't wait a few months for pipeline builder TransCanada to finish its work.

He calls the process sloppy and confusing and says it would appear to work in favour of the Calgary-based firm proposing the $12-billion, cross-Canada oil pipeline.

TransCanada (TSX:TRP) filed an application for Energy East just under a year ago, but the filing needs to be amended to reflect its planned export terminal in Cacouna, Que., is being scrapped.

NEB spokeswoman Katherine Murphy says the oral traditional evidence hearings — which may include testimony on sacred and ceremonial sites, for example — are just one way aboriginal groups can have their say on the project and there will be further opportunities in 2016.

Sessions are scheduled in November and December at locations between Alberta and northwestern Ontario — areas that are not expected to be affected to any changes TransCanada would make to its application.

"At this point, it's really about early, continued engagement with aboriginal peoples to understand their perspectives," said Murphy.

Scott said he's still baffled by the NEB's move.

"I want a clear answer on why they're rushing ahead. What is the need from the NEB's perspective to get ahead on this?"

Energy East spokesman Tim Duboyce said the company is doing what's required under the NEB process, in addition to extensive aboriginal engagement of its own.

"We have already held more than 1,700 meetings with more than 180 aboriginal communities since the launch of the Energy East Pipeline project in 2013. To date we have more than 30 capacity engagement funding agreements in place, to help communities assess the potential impacts of the project in an independent manner which suits their individual needs and requirements."

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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