Workers placing pipe for the TransMountain expansion line. (TM-Canada)

Major setback for pipeline project

Court rules original approval deeply flawed.

Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal had dealt a major blow to the Trans Mountain Pipeline project.

Long opposed by several Indigenous groups and environmentalists, the company had planned to build a second pipeline to twin an existing line from the Alberta oil sands to the a west coast terminal near Vancouver.

The estimated $7.4-billion project would have tripled capacity.

One of many in the years of protests against the line,  Here a protester holds a photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau covered in oil during a protest against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Opponents were concerned not only about the environmental damage from the construction itself but more so about the potential for pipeline spills and even more so about potential accidents and spills from the vastly increased tanker traffic in the sensitive marine environment in the tricky and crowded waters along the coast.

When legal challenges stalled the partially completed project, the Liberal government used public funds to buy it, vowing to complete it.

The existing pipeline route and the proposed expansion line route. (NEB hearings)

Kinder-Morgan shareholders almost unanimously approved the sale today which happened right after news spread about the court ruling. This means that the government, which paid $4.5 billion of taxpayers money, now pending final closure, owns a 65-year-old existing pipeline and a partially built new line for which the future is in even greater doubt and confusion.

In the decision the court noted that although Canada had proceeded in good faith, the original National Energy Board approval was so flawed, the government should not have relied upon it in making its decision to approve the project.  The court also said the NEB failed in its obligation to hold meaningful consultation with Indigenous groups, saying the framework for consultation was reasonable but that the manner it which it was carried out was not.

Steel pipe to be used in the oil pipeline construction of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion project sit on rail cars at a stockpile site in Kamloops, B.C. On Thursday, the Federal Court of Appeal quashed Ottawa’s approvals to build the expansion project which now casts further doubt on the project, KM shareholders voted 99% to approve sale to the Canadian government after learning of the court ruling.. (Dennis Owen/Reuters)

The court decision means the National Energy Board will have to repeat the 2016 third phase of the consultation process even as questions arise again about the scope of its regulatory authority. It did not take the implications of the increase in marine shipping into account saying that was beyond its regulatory authority.

There are two more challenges to the pipeline. One from Indigenous groups in Washington supported by that state, over the potential threat of marine traffic to orcas, and another from the British Columbia provincial government.

The court ruling also sets out conditions for the government as to how it may go about meeting its legal consultation and other obligations. A reaction from the Trudeau government is expected later today.

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