04/11/2013 09:59 EDT | Updated 06/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Natural Resources Minister backs proposal to send crude east

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver says Montreal's Suncor refinery is ideally situated to help Canada sell oil to new markets outside the United States.

Oliver was in Montreal Thursday to tour the plant — the last refinery left on the island.

The Suncor refinery could get busier if Enbridge's proposal to reverse the flow of a pipeline in Ontario to bring crude oil east gets regulatory approval.

"It's important we maintain these quality jobs and help create even more," Oliver told reporters today as he toured the east end refinery.

A move in the wrong direction, environmentalists warn

The New Democratic Party agrees a west-to-east pipeline could bring more jobs to Montreal and reduce Eastern Canada's dependence on Middle East oil, but its energy and natural resources critic says that plan must be carefully assessed.

"The problem is the Conservative government has taken that away from the public," said Peter Julian. "They've shown with their changes to the National Energy Board and their changes in the last budget that that they are not going to subject these projects to the appropriate environmental evaluations, and they are trying to restrict any real public consultation."

Environmentalists are wary, saying reversing the pipeline's flow would be a move in the wrong direction.

They're worried about spills, pointing to a recent one in Arkansas where 10,000 barrels of Canadian crude gushed from a ruptured pipeline.

2 million barrels a day could flow east

The Transcanada Corporation also wants to convert an existing natural gas pipeline to carry oil from Alberta to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick.

Between the two projects, up to a million barrels a day would flow from west to east across the country.

"You can't just look at the pipeline without actually looking at where the oil is going, where it's coming from and the overall impact of the entire system," said Karel Maynard, executive-director of the David Suzuki Foundation. "It's like you would build a bridge, but we would not consider the road and the cars that go on the bridge."

Environmental activists are planning a protest against the pipeline project in Montreal on April 21.