March 1, 2016 / 2:55 PM / in 4 years

Quebec seeks injunction to force Energy East pipeline review

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Quebec on Tuesday filed a motion for an injunction to ensure TransCanada Corp’s proposed Energy East oil pipeline complies with the Canadian province’s environmental laws, another potential setback for the project.

People walk past a restaurant in Vieux-Port (Old Port) in Montreal, Quebec March 31, 2009. REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh

TransCanada has said the pipeline is subject to federal regulations, not those of Quebec. Energy East would carry up to 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to Canada’s east coast.

The project is opposed by environmentalists concerned about the risk of spills and likelihood the pipeline would spur development of Alberta’s carbon-intensive oil sands.

Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel said the province had not taken a stance on the merits of the project, which is opposed by some aboriginal groups.

“It (the motion) signifies that anyone who seeks to build a project in Quebec must comply with all Quebec laws,” he told reporters.

Heurtel said Quebec acted after TransCanada ignored two letters in 2014 requesting it submit to a provincial environmental evaluation.

TransCanada spokesman Tim Duboyce said the company was “a little bit perplexed”, given that Heurtel had ordered a separate provincial environmental study of the pipeline last June. TransCanada would participate in the study, the public hearing portion of which starts next week, he said by phone.

About 700 kilometers (430 miles) of the line’s 4,600-km route would run through Quebec.

Alberta premier Rachel Notley spoke to Quebec officials on Tuesday and expressed confidence the injunction would not impose a new regulatory burden on the pipeline.

“In the meantime I will simply keep my holster close at hand and who knows, maybe we’ll see those guns blazing,” she told reporters.

But Quebec’s motion is likely to exacerbate already tense relations with the western energy-producing province of Saskatchewan, which says the lack of pipeline capacity to the east coast causes crude to trade at big discounts.

“Here’s a shovel-ready project that doesn’t take any federal dollars, and we have Quebec opposing it,” Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told reporters.

Wall is due to meet Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard at climate change talks in Vancouver this Thursday.

Heurtel dismissed the idea the injunction could generate a backlash in the western provinces.

“This is not the west against the east. This is about respecting our laws,” he said.

He cited a January 2016 court decision in British Columbia that said that even in the case of energy projects regulated by Ottawa, provincial environmental laws also applied.

Writing by David Ljunggren in Ottawa. Additional reporting by Euan Rocha in Toronto and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; editing by W Simon, Steve Orlofsky and David Gregorio

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