CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A coalition of environmental groups on Friday launched a legal challenge to the preliminary approval last month for Enbridge Inc's C$7.9 billion ($7.21 billion) Northern Gateway pipeline project, filing suit to prevent Canada's government from using the approval in its final decision on the line.
The groups are objecting to the approval granted Northern Gateway last month by the Joint Review Panel. The panel, which held 18 months of hearings into Northern Gateway, concluded the project posed little risk to the environment provided Enbridge complied with 209 conditions attached to the approval.
The final decision on whether the project can go ahead rests with the cabinet of Canada's Conservative government. The groups' suit, filed in Federal Court on Friday, says the panel did not adequately consider the effects of the project on humpback whales or caribou and that its conclusions were based on insufficient evidence.
"The JRP did not have enough evidence to support its conclusion that the Northern Gateway pipeline would not have significant adverse effects on certain aspects of the environment," Karen Campbell, a lawyer for Ecojustice, which filed the suit in Federal Court on behalf of ForestEthics Advocacy, the Living Oceans Society and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, said in a statement.
Starting near Edmonton, Alberta, Northern Gateway would run 1,177 km (730 miles) - mostly through the pristine wilderness of northern British Columbia - to Kitimat, a deepwater port on the Pacific Coast.
The controversial pipeline would have the capacity to ship 525,000 barrels of oil sands crude per day. A second line would return 193,000 barrels per day of condensate, used to blend into tar-like oil sands bitumen so it can flow in pipelines.
Cabinet is expected to rule on the project before the end of June. Melissa Lantsman, spokeswoman for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, declined comment on the suit.
"We will thoroughly review the report, consult with affected First Nations, and then make our decision," Lantsman said in an email. "Our government will continue to take action to improve the transportation safety of energy products across Canada." ($1 = 1.0951 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Scott Haggett and David Ljunggren; Editing by James Dalgleish)