Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. faces new legal hurdles for its $3.3-billion Alberta Clipper oil sands pipeline as U.S. environmental groups prepare to launch a legal challenge to the State Department's permit to proceed.
The groups, led by Oakland, Calif.-based Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, plan to launch a suit next week in federal court in California that will argue that the State Department failed to conduct a proper environmental review before issuing the permit last week.
Under U.S. law, government agencies must conduct a full assessment of the environmental effect of the projects they are assessing, said Sarah Burt, legal counsel for Earthjustice.
"The review didn't fully take into account all the indirect and cumulative impacts [of the pipeline] including the cumulative greenhouse gas impacts and refining impacts," she said.
Ms. Burt said it failed to consider the climate change effect of oil sands production, including the construction of other pipelines that will be shipping raw bitumen to the U.S. for processing and refining.
Ms. Burt said the groups will seek an injunction to delay construction of the pipeline until their appeal can be heard.
The State Department approval came as the Obama administration backs climate change legislation in Congress that would dramatically increase the cost of refining carbon-intensive oil sands bitumen in the United States. But the decision was welcomed in Alberta as a clear sign that, despite commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, Washington considers Canadian oil sands development to be in the U.S. national interest.
In its decision last week, the State Department, which governs international pipelines, said the 450,000-barrel-a-day line would reduce reliance on the politically unstable Middle East.
The State Department said it considered climate change effects of the pipeline, but that regulation of greenhouse gases is best addressed through legislation in the United States and Canada, and through international treaties.
Enbridge, which hopes to have the 1,600-kilometre pipeline running by mid-2010, began construction on the line last Friday, the day after it received U.S. federal approval, spokeswoman Denise Hamsher said.
She noted that the same groups had challenged a state of Minnesota permit, to no avail. Environmental groups are also fighting a State Department permit that was issued to TransCanada Corp. for the construction of its Keystone pipeline project.
"We do not expect that this [court challenge]would create any delays for the project," Ms. Hamsher said.