Tensions surrounding the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline are expected to bubble over this week when public hearings on the embattled project begin.

Discussions will kick off on Tuesday in Kitimat, B.C., site of the project's proposed oil tanker port.

More than 4,300 individuals and groups are slated to speak at the regulatory hearings, which will stretch out over the next 18 months across British Columbia and Alberta.

Stakeholders will weigh the environmental and economic benefits of the project which calls for Alberta bitumen to be transported to B.C. for eventual export to Asia.

The anticipated $5.5 billion project has been lauded for its potential to generate more than 3,000 jobs, loads of revenue and a new market for Canadian crude.

However, much like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline which has divided both Canadian and U.S. lawmakers, concerns abound about the safety of Northern Gateway.

About 60 aboriginal groups in B.C. have vowed to oppose the pipeline, which is slated to run through some ecologically fragile First Nations land.

"It's our traditional territories, it's our land, it's our resources that are at risk," said Terry Teegee, vice-tribal chief of the Sekani Tribal Council (CSTC).

On Sunday, he told CTV's Question Period that aboriginal groups conducted a study in 2005 which concluded the proposed twin pipeline's potential environmental risks outweighed its benefits.

Not all First Nations groups, however, have vetoed the project. Some have inked deals with Enbridge for a financial stake.

In Kathryn Marshall's eyes, it's a fair business deal. As a spokesperson for EthicalOil.org, she argues that opposing Northern Gateway could push oil production to countries with looser environmental standards.

"If you care about ethics then support places like Canada that have environmental laws, have human rights protections, have workers rights protections," she said.

She said the project would allow Canada to export to countries who could, in turn, reduce their dependency on so-called conflict oil.

But Eric Swanson of Dogwood Initiative, which opposes oil tankers on the West Coast, said the project poses both domestic and international threats.

He takes issue with the proposed pipeline shipping Alberta bitumen through First Nations land and onto supertankers, which he said are "bigger than the Exxon Valdez."

Speaking from a Victoria studio, he warned of a potential environmental disaster.

"We don't think that's in Canada's best interests and I'm wondering what is ethical about that," he said in a veiled jab at Marshall's comments.

The Northern Gateway twin pipeline has been called the largest private infrastructure project in B.C.'s history.