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TransCanada confirms it won't be building Energy East terminal at Cacouna, Que.

TransCanada Corp. has called off plans to build a marine terminal at Cacouna, Que., as part of its Energy East pipeline project while also pushing back the project’s expected completion date by nearly two years.

The Calgary-based company said Thursday that it decided to relocate the terminal in part because of concern for beluga whales near the site, which was to include storage tanks and a marine port for loading oil on ships.

“This decision is the result of the recommended change in status of the beluga whales to endangered and ongoing discussions we have had with communities and key stakeholders,” president and chief executive Russ Girling said in a statement.

TransCanada (TSX:TRP) is looking for potential alternatives in the province.

The company also said the proposed $12-billion project — a 4,600-kilometre pipeline from Hardisty, Alta., to the Atlantic — will be in service by 2020, about two years later than the previous target of late 2018.

The pipeline has faced opposition, with activists citing concerns that oil spills could affect water quality in the province and that the project will facilitate expansion of the oilsands.

In January, about a dozen protesters staged a rally in Halifax as the National Energy Board met with groups during closed-door meetings to discuss the project.

Keith Stewart, head of the energy campaign at Greenpeace Canada, said he applauds the cancellation of the Cacouna terminal, but is still opposed to the project as a whole.

“This project represents all risk no reward for places likes Quebec,” Stewart said. “The pipeline’s going to go through Quebec, there’s not a lot of job (creation) there. It’s creating enormous ecological risks and it’s also going to make it impossible for Canada to take serious action on climate change.”

TransCanada said its revised proposal responds to community feedback by speeding up development of an emergency response plan, which normally wouldn’t be prepared until after a project receives regulatory approval.

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford applauded TransCanada for revising its proposal.

“I’d like to recognize and appreciate TransCanada’s decision in regards to listening to the consultations that were coming from that process,” Rickford said in Calgary on Thursday.

TransCanada said it still expects to link the pipeline to two refineries in Quebec and one in New Brunswick.

The company suspended construction of the Cacouna port last fall after a Quebec Superior Court judge issued an injunction against seismic work in the St. Lawrence estuary to protect threatened beluga calving grounds.

Late last year, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard suggested TransCanada should consider a new location for its port given that the beluga whale is a candidate for the endangered species list.

Belugas have seen their numbers dwindle to about 1,000, according to a federal wildlife committee’s report.

—With files from Bill Graveland