VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Dec 16 (Reuters) - A Canadian court began hearing arguments on Monday from Indigenous groups who oppose the federal government’s plan to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline, a project aimed at easing the country’s severe oil transport bottlenecks.
A three-day hearing was scheduled for Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver, which agreed in September to hear concerns from the Coldwater Indian band, the Squamish Nation, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and others that the government’s consultation with them this year was “window-dressing, box-ticking and nice-sounding words.”
The legal challenge is the latest setback for Trans Mountain, whose previous owners first proposed the expansion in 2013. It is one of several stalled pipeline expansion projects proposed to ease congested export channels.
The Alberta government has curtailed production by the province’s biggest producers to prevent oil stocks from building up.
“Again First Nations have to go back to court in Canada to make them listen to us,” said Chief Lee Spahan of the Coldwater Indian Band, using the term commonly applied to Canadian indigenous communities.
The biggest concern of Coldwater, a First Nation located near Merritt, British Columbia, is potential contamination of its drinking water, Spahan said, speaking at a press conference ahead of the hearing.
Other indigenous groups cited a lack of research into the impact of spills and threats to killer whales.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Natural Resources ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Trans Mountain expansion, referred to as TMX, would nearly triple the pipeline’s capacity to move 890,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to a port terminal near Vancouver, where it can be shipped to U.S. West Coast and Asian refiners.
Work has continued on the project since late summer despite the court challenge.
In Ottawa, Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the government hopes to eventually sell Trans Mountain back to the private sector and is open to indigenous groups being involved in ownership.
“Our objective overall is to make sure the indigenous people along the route can be engaged, (and) that there could be benefits ... for indigenous people more broadly.”
Ottawa bought the pipeline in 2018 from Kinder Morgan Inc’s Canadian unit when it appeared the Houston-based company might abandon the expansion. (Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; writing by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by David Gregorio)