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Oil pipeline operator urges Canada court to dismiss indigenous court action

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Trans Mountain Corp, the operator of Canada’s state-owned oil pipeline, asked a court on Wednesday to dismiss a legal application by four indigenous groups to overturn government approval for expansion.

A three-day Federal Court of Appeal hearing began in Vancouver on Monday to hear the groups’ concerns that the government did not adequately consult them, the latest obstacle to tripling capacity on the Alberta-to-British Columbia pipeline, which the Canadian oil industry says is badly needed.

The indigenous groups “did not negotiate in good faith, or at all,” Trans Mountain lawyer Maureen Killoran said. Effectively, the groups are attempting to hold a veto over the C$10 billion project despite the government’s best attempts to address their concerns, she said.

“This was not a drive-by consultation,” Killoran said.

Earlier this week, the indigenous groups alleged that the Canadian government shared key reports on the project’s impact late, or even after the consultation period, and revised documents. Their concerns include oil spills and a threat to the endangered southern resident killer whales.

Ottawa bought the pipeline last year in an attempt to ensure expansion proceeded, offering a lifeline to Alberta’s struggling oil patch. Congested pipelines have forced the Alberta provincial government to curtail production.

A court ruled in August 2018 that Ottawa had failed to properly consult indigenous people, prompting the government to redo the process before reapproving the expansion in June. But in September, the Court of Appeal agreed to hear fresh concerns from four groups that the government fell short again in consulting them.

The appeals court is scheduled to hear from the oil-producing provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan on Wednesday afternoon before final arguments.

It is unclear whether the court will then announce a decision or reserve it for a future date. (Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; writing by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)