The port wants to build a three-berth, marine-container facility next to the existing Deltaport and Westshore terminals that can handle an additional 2.4 million units every year at Roberts Bank. Current capacity is 1.8 million units.
Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq says the panel will have 14 months to submit a report to the minister, who will have five months to make a decision.
She says she made the decision because of concerns raised by the public and First Nations and after considering the terminal's potential for significant adverse environmental effects.
With files from The Canadian Press