Huge oil tankers can safely travel in and out of the port of Kitimat, B.C., says a Transport Canada review of Enbridge Inc.'s controversial Northern Gateway project.

The department filed its report on Thursday to the regulatory panel weighing the $5.5-billion proposal, which would see Alberta crude shipped to the West Coast by pipeline and exported to Asian markets via a marine terminal at Kitimat.

"There will always be residual risk in any project," says the TERMPOL -- Technical Review Process of Marine Terminal Systems and Transhipment Sites -- report.

But "no regulatory concerns have been identified for the vessels, vessel operations, the proposed routes, navigability, other waterway users and the marine terminal operations associated with vessels supporting the Northern Gateway project."

Northern Gateway has attracted fierce opposition from First Nations, environmental and other groups who fear an oil spill from the pipeline itself or from tankers sailing through narrow coastal channels could cause grave ecological harm.

"The proposed shipping routes are appropriate for the oil tankers that will be used at the proposed terminal," said the report, adding "there are no charted obstructions that would pose a safety hazard to fully loaded oil tankers.

It does point out there are some narrow areas where extra caution is needed for two-way traffic.

And it said there may be an increased threat to marine mammals, such as whales, along the shipping route, and encourages Enbridge to take steps to minimize harm.

The project would see an additional 250 oil tankers arriving at Kitimat each year, which means Transport Canada would have to step up its monitoring, the report said.

Janet Holder, Enbridge's executive vice-president of western access, called the report "a very positive step forward in the public review of the project."

"It is important for the public, particularly B.C. residents, to know that we've done our homework and that our marine plan has been thoroughly reviewed," Holder said in a release.

"I think the TERMPOL report underlines that what we are proposing is well planned and safe -- and indeed would enhance safety for all shipping on B.C.'s north coast."

Northern Gateway consists of twin pipelines -- one that would carry 525,000 barrels per day of oilsands crude westward for export, and one that would bring 193,000 barrels per day of imported condensates inland for use in the oilsands.

The company has been asked repeatedly why it didn't instead opt to end the pipeline at Prince Rupert, which has a shorter trip out to open ocean than does Kitimat.

On Enbridge's most recent quarterly conference call, CEO Pat Daniel said the company would look at other options, but that it's convinced its route to Kitimat is the safest one.

To get to Prince Rupert, the pipe would have to run parallel to the Skeena River along a very narrow path, Daniel said.

The goal of Northern Gateway is to diversify Canada's customer base for crude exports beyond the only current customer, the United States. Northern Gateway would enable Asian countries to buy Canadian crude, ensuring the product gets a better price.

Enbridge says the pipeline will bring jobs and economic development to northern B.C. communities. But many of those groups say it's simply not worth it to endanger their way of life.

Community hearings into the proposal are underway, with thousands of people registered to speak.

The Joint Review Panel had been expected make a recommendation to the federal cabinet on the pipeline by the end of 2012, but a decision is now expected a year later due to the sheer volume of comments it must hear.