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Enbridge president and chief executive officer Patrick Daniel

MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS

Enbridge Inc. , a diversified Calgary-based oil pipeline operator and gas distributor, reported its net earnings in the first quarter fell 39 per cent to $342-million.

The company said Wednesday it earned 93 cents a share for the January-March period. That compares with net profits of $558-million or $1.54 a share last year, when the company booked gains from an asset disposal.

Excluding one-time gains and losses, adjusted earnings rose to $318-million from $268-million.

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Chief executive officer Pat Daniel said Enbridge expects double-digit growth across its liquids pipelines, natural gas transportation and green energy businesses through the middle of this decade.

"Enbridge's favourable first quarter results reflect the continuing success of our growth strategy," Mr. Daniel said in a release before its annual meeting.

"Earnings growth drivers include the crude oil pipeline system and Enbridge Energy Partners, in which Enbridge holds a 27 per cent, both of which are benefiting from the investments made in the last several years."

Analysts were on average expecting earnings of 79 cents per share, according to estimates compiled by Thomson Reuters.

Enbridge is about to file a regulatory application for its controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, which would connect oil sands crude to the West Coast port of Kitimat, B.C. A parallel pipeline would transport refined products imported into Kitimat eastward toward Alberta.

The pipeline would allow Alberta crude producers to sell their product in lucrative Asian markets, reducing their reliance on the United States, where climate change regulations will likely become more stringent.

Northern Gateway is targeted to start up in 2016, but risks being held back by fierce opposition to the project.

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Aboriginal and environmental groups have vowed to fight Northern Gateway tooth-and-nail. They worry an oil spill could severely damage rivers and lakes throughout the B.C. interior and the pristine coastal waters, where the crude would be loaded onto tankers for export.

Enbridge recently began filling another major pipeline, Alberta Clipper, with oil sands crude. Alberta Clipper stretches 1,600 kilometres from Alberta to Wisconsin, with a capacity of 450,000 barrels per day. It was originally supposed to start up in July, but Enbridge said in January it would come into service ahead of schedule.

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