Keystone XL pipeline: judge rules government 'jumped the gun' and orders halt

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United States District Court Judge Brian Morris issued an injunction Thursday preventing either Calgary-based TransCanada or the USA federal government "from engaging in any activity in furtherance of the construction or operation" of the Keystone XL pipeline.

TransCanada Corp.'s long-troubled Keystone XL oil pipeline project hit another roadblock as a U.S. District Court in Montana ruled it must wait for a further environmental review.

Thursday's decision does not permanently block a federal permit for Keystone XL, a project of the Calgary-based firm TransCanada. "We remain committed to building this important energy infrastructure project".

The judge ordered TransCanada, the company behind the project, to halt work on Keystone while the U.S. government conducts a more thorough review of its impact.

"An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past, any more than it can ignore inconvenient facts when it writes on a blank slate".

Then came policy shifts in the Trump administration. "The courts showed the Trump administration and their corporate polluter friends that they can not bully rural landowners, farmers, environmentalists, and Native communities".

The court's ruling comes a little more than a month after TransCanada said that construction of the pipeline could begin as soon as next year.

Western Canadian Select crude oil is selling at about $18 a barrel as its discount to US benchmark West Texas Intermediate as a lack of pipeline capacity bottlenecks production in Alberta.

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Part of the reason behind the court's ruling was the Trump administration's willingness to ignore the pipeline's impact on climate change, which the Obama administration found "provided a significant basis for denying" the pipeline permit.

TransCanada said in a statement to BNN Bloomberg that the company is reviewing the USA judge's ruling on Keystone XL. It has become the focal point of a decade-long dispute that pits Democrats, environmental groups and Native American tribes who warn of pollution and increased greenhouse gas emissions against business groups and Republicans who cheer the project's jobs and potential energy production. "And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership", he said.

A federal judge has blocked construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

If built, it would transport around 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta, Canada, and the Bakken Shale Formation in Montana to facilities near Steele City, Neb.

Morris previously ruled against the State Department in August, saying it was obligated to "analyze new information relevant to the environmental impacts of its decision".

Other plaintiffs in the suit included The Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Bold Nebraska.

Stephan Volker, an attorney for the complainants', called Morris' ruling "a landmark".

"Approval of this project was always about a race against time", said Keith Benes, a former senior State Department lawyer who oversaw the project's environmental review under the last administration.