VICTORIA - Uniformed police officers stood guard over two Victoria area hotels Friday to ensure orderly public hearings on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project, but protesters called the sequestered hearing process undemocratic and alienating.

Almost 250 people have officially registered to present oral evidence at the Victoria hearings of the federal joint review panel, which is examining the environmental viability of the proposed $6 billion twin pipeline project.

Hearings have been underway in British Columbia and Alberta for the past year on the proposed Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB) plan to pipe Alberta oilsands bitumen to northwest B.C. for shipping on tankers to Asia.

But recently elected federal New Democrat MP Murray Rankin was shut out of the hearings.

Rankin, who won the Victoria riding in November's federal byelection, was told he did not officially register in time to present to the review panel.

Rankin, an environmental law expert, helped build the B.C. NDP's legal plans to oppose the proposed Northern Gateway project.

Victoria resident Heather Tufts said watching the oral presentations from a hotel conference room located about three kilometres away from the official hearing site felt undemocratic, but she endured because she wanted to hear what people have to say about the project.

"It feels really remote from the process," she said. "So much of our democracy is being eroded, but at least with these processes we thought there would be public input and community essence to it, and I think they've really lost that."

Tufts said she will continue to attend the hearings at the separate site, "but I don't like it."

Ken Roueche of Victoria said he would have been at the official Victoria hearing site at the Delta Ocean Pointe Hotel to hear evidence but was relegated to the conference room at the Ramada Inn.

"I'm concerned about this project," he said. "These kinds of projects are probably as important as building the Canadian Pacific Railway to Canada. It's going to have a huge impact on the Canadian economy. We've got to do it right."

Roueche was one of seven people who were in the separate hearing room at the Ramada. There were 90 seats in the room.

"It seems a little undemocratic," said Roueche who described the separate hearing site as a "dark and dreary room."

Sheila Leggett, chairwoman of the federal joint review panel conducting an environmental assessment of the proposed project, said she wanted an orderly and respectful hearing process.

So far, the Victoria hearings, which conclude Jan. 11, and Vancouver hearings, which are set to run Jan. 14 to 18 and Jan. 30 to Feb. 1., are the only locations with separate hearing sites for presenters and observers.

Last April, the three-person panel cancelled a scheduled hearing day in Bella Bella on B.C.'s central coast after being met with a large community turnout at the local airport.

The panel spent the cancelled day reviewing security arrangements even though local RCMP said there were no official reported incidents.

The Bella Bella hearings resumed after a one-day delay.

Victoria-area resident Bill Eisenhauer told the review panel Friday he rejects the Enbridge plan, saying the Alberta-based pipeline company has a poor environmental record.

He said one oil spill will create a black eye for B.C.'s tourism industry.

"Let me paint a picture: Who's going to want to go sport fishing when you have a bigger chance of hooking a dead, oil-soaked seal than catching a sockeye (salmon)?" said Eisenhauer.

About 150 protesters gathered near the official hearing site at the Delta Ocean Pointe vowing to keep up vigils throughout the Victoria hearings.

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    The oil and gas industries accounted for around $65 billion of economic activity in Canada annually in recent years, or slightly less than 5 per cent of GDP. Source: <a href="http://www.ceri.ca/docs/2010-10-05CERIOilandGasReport.pdf" target="_hplink">Canada Energy Research Institute</a>

  • 9. Oil Exports Have Grown Tenfold Since 1980

    Canada exported some 12,000 cubic metres of oil per day in 1980. By 2010, that number had grown to 112,000 cubic metres daily. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=9&SheetID=224" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 8. Refining Didn't Grow At All As Exports Boomed

    Canada refined 300,000 cubic metres daily in 1980; in 2010, that number was slightly down, to 291,000, even though exports of oil had grown tenfold in that time. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=7&SheetID=104" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 7. 97 Per Cent Of Oil Exports Go To The U.S.

    Despite talk by the federal government that it wants to open Asian markets to Canadian oil, the vast majority of exports still go to the United States -- 97 per cent as of 2009. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 6. Canada Has World's 2nd-Largest Proven Oil Reserves

    Canada's proven reserves of 175 billion barrels of oil -- the vast majority of it trapped in the oil sands -- is the second-largest oil stash in the world, after Saudi Arabia's 267 billion. Source: <a href="http://www.ogj.com/index.html" target="_hplink">Oil & Gas Journal</a>

  • 5. Two-Thirds Of Oil Sands Bitumen Goes To U.S.

    One-third of Canada's oil sands bitumen stays in the country, and is refined into gasoline, heating oil and diesel. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 4. Alberta Is Two-Thirds Of The Industry

    Despite its reputation as the undisputed centre of Canada's oil industry, Alberta accounts for only two-thirds of energy production. British Columbia and Saskatchewan are the second and third-largest producers. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 3. Alberta Will Reap $1.2 Trillion From Oil Sands

    Alberta' government <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/27/alberta-oil-sands-royalties-ceri_n_1382640.html" target="_hplink">will reap $1.2 trillion in royalties from the oil sands over the next 35 years</a>, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute.

  • 2. Canadian Oil Consumption Has Stayed Flat

    Thanks to improvements in energy efficiency, and a weakening of the country's manufacturing base, oil consumption in Canada has had virtually no net change in 30 years. Consumption went from 287,000 cubic metres daily in 1980 to 260,000 cubic metres daily in 2010. Source: Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=6&SheetID=99" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 1. 250,000 Jobs.. Plus Many More?

    The National Energy Board says oil and gas employs 257,000 people in Canada, not including gas station employees. And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says the oil sands alone <a href="http://www.capp.ca/aboutUs/mediaCentre/NewsReleases/Pages/OilsandsaCanadianjobcreator.aspx" target="_hplink">will grow from 75,000 jobs to 905,000 jobs by 2035</a> -- assuming, of course, the price of oil holds up.