Canada loves its natural resources. And it also loves exporting them and earning some cash in the process, which makes the current Enbridge pipeline debate all that more interesting.

While debates rage Stateside on building a pipeline that cross the Canada-U.S. border to the south, folks in Alberta and British Columbia have their own ongoing debate over a $5.5 billion Northern Gateway pipeline proposal that would transport oil from Alberta’s oilsands region to shipping ports—with ships bound for Asia waiting at the docks—in British Columbia.

The country’s National Energy Board says not to expect an announcement issuing its findings until late 2013, but a hearing on the proposal starts Tuesday in Kitimat, B.C. (also the home of the proposed port). And with over 4,000 individuals and groups signed up to voice their opinions, it is no wonder it will take the three-person board over a year to wade through the opinions, fact and plenty of other murky information (including plenty of political rhetoric) to render a ruling on the pipeline.

As I have reported on in the past for ENR, the 727-mile pipeline was actually introduced in 2005 and Calgary, Alberta,-based Enbridge Inc. hopes to transport 525,000 barrels per day of petroleum in the 36-inch west-moving pipeline and 193,000 barrels of condensate per day in the 20-inch east-moving line.

The project will be constructed in stages, with the bulk of the work across the two Canadian provinces being available for bid. The plan consists of dividing the work into 12 construction spreads to break up the pipeline into manageable sizes for the winter and summer construction periods. Each spread will range in length between 70 and 190 kilometers using mainly Canadian-made steel pipe manufactured to Enbridge's specifications.

The pipeline will be buried three feet underground over much of the terrain, except for water passages. To receive the petroleum from Alberta's oilsands for shipment to Asia, a new Kitimat Marine Terminal, operated by Enbridge, will be built to include two ship berths and storage tanks.

But the plan has obvious detractors. The main opposition falls within three main groups: those against the marine terminal for fear of oil spills, those associated with the Native tribes who are against a pipeline crossing their land, and the general public concerned with potential environmental damage.

On the other side, the economic benefits of the pipeline aren’t hard to spot and everyone from business leaders to politicians have lined up to lend support to the country’s great commodity getting moved via pipeline, especially as Canada continues to work to increase its relations with Asian markets, markets also eager to dip their hands into resource-rich Canada.

Experts say the economic benefits of the pipeline will be felt swiftly, including from the 1,150 jobs created in Canada simply for the manufacturing of equipment for the pipeline and then later with the 400 direct and indirect permanent jobs along the route, totaling about $68 million in labor income each year. Also, with royalties, taxes (in the billions) and profits—some First Nations groups will be part owners—money is to be made, that much is for certain. 

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