10/28/2011 09:04 EDT | Updated 12/28/2011 05:12 EST

Enbridge Pipeline Plans Under the Microscope

AFP/Getty Images

Right about now, oil pipeline company Enbridge may be realizing that getting approval for its pipeline plans isn't going to be a walk in park.

This week, the National Energy Board (NEB) responded to concerns from landowners, First Nations and environmental groups to Enbridge's proposed reversal of its Line 9 oil pipeline in Ontario by asking the company to come clean on the full extent of the project.

Enbridge's message is a confusing one -- it's asking for permission to reverse only a portion of the pipeline, yet media reports have shown that the real project is much bigger than being put forward to the NEB and could mean reversing the pipeline through Ontario, Quebec and all the way down to Portland, Maine. By splitting the project into smaller pieces for regulatory approval, the full environmental and social impacts aren't taken into account, such as bringing tar sands oil into Quebec and Maine for the first time, according to environmental groups, and possibly sending oil from Maine to the Gulf refineries via supertankers.

Now, the NEB has asked Enbridge to clarify the scope of the project, which we hope will lead to greater transparency and scrutiny of Enbridge's plans before any approval is handed over.

And, on the other side of the continent, a record-breaking 4,000 individuals and organizations have signed up to have their voices heard at the upcoming hearings on Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline. Given that each person is allowed 10 minutes to voice their opinions, that means 650 hours of public hearings on top of the testimony by expert witnesses on the more technical aspects of the pipeline (which, given the engineering challenges with building a pipeline through sheer mountains, is bound to also take a while).

This shows that the public wants to have a say in Canada's energy future. Decisions that get made now about pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure risk locking us into several more decades of oil dependence at a time when other countries are making the investments needed to rapidly embrace clean energy and scientists are clearer than ever that we need to act now to avoid catastrophic climate change.