01/24/2012 02:51 EST | Updated 03/25/2012 05:12 EDT

Gateway pipeline hearings land in Edmonton

The Northern Gateway pipeline hearing landed Tuesday in Edmonton, the capital of the province relying on the project to open new markets for its vast reserves of oilsands bitumen.

A handful of aboriginal and environmental protestors greeted media shortly before the hearing began at a west Edmonton hotel Tuesday morning.

The hearing opened with a presentation from the Samson Cree First Nation which worries about the wild berries that band members harvest on traditional lands a few kilometres from the pipeline route.

About 50 people were in attendance, far from the hundreds that packed the hearings along the proposed pipeline route in B.C.

Enbridge is hoping to build a $5.5-billion pipeline to move bitumen to Kitimat in northwest B.C., where huge tanker ships would transport it to Asian markets.

While the Alberta and federal governments describe the pipeline as crucial, environmental, aboriginal and social action groups say the risks of a pipeline rupture or oil tanker spill are too great.

The Alberta government isn't making a presentation at the hearings, but supports the plan.

Premier Alison Redford said Monday she wasn't concerned what effect detractors may have on the process.

"People are certainly free to express their opinion," she said. "I expect nothing new tomorrow except the fact that there will be a group of people together saying it to each other and that's democracy."

The hearings started in B.C. earlier this month and will wrap up in Edmonton on Jan. 31.

The panel will return to Alberta for three days in Grande Prairie starting March 26.

Once the hearings are complete, the panel will make a recommendation to the Government of Canada on whether the pipeline should be built.