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15th of November 2018


US judge blocks construction of Keystone oil pipeline

A US federal judge has blocked construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline connecting Canada’s oil sands to American refineries, saying that the US government had not completed a full environmental analysis.

The project, which became a target of campaigners and was rejected by Barack Obama’s administration after years of deliberations about whether to proceed, was approved by President Donald Trump.

The ruling on Thursday is a victory for environmental and indigenous rights groups who have campaigned against crude extraction from oil sands because of its impact on local landscapes and greenhouse gas emissions.

By not allowing work to proceed, it again puts the president, who has repeatedly expressed scepticism about climate change and withdrawn the US from the Paris climate deal, at loggerheads with environment advocates.

Mr Trump on Friday criticised the judge’s ruling, telling reporters it was politically motivated. “It’s a disgrace,” he said.

The decision also deals a major setback for TransCanada, which may again have to delay the construction of the $8bn pipeline, which stretches almost 2,000km from Alberta to Nebraska. From there it would be connected to refinery hubs and export terminals.

Keystone XL was blocked in 2015 by Mr Obama who said it would undermine US attempts to address the threat of global warming caused by emissions from fossil fuels.

But in January last year Mr Trump signed an order to advance the project during his first week in office. Nebraska regulators approved construction of the pipeline in November, one of the final hurdles for Keystone XL.

Judge Brian Morris, of the US District Court for Montana, on Thursday overturned Mr Trump’s permit following a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against the US government.

He said the administration’s analysis “fell short of a hard look” at the impact of greenhouse gas emissions and oil spills from the project, as well as the viability of Keystone XL given current oil prices.

The judge said that a proper justification for the government’s switch from rejecting the pipeline in 2015 to approving it two years later under Mr Trump was not given. Comprehensive analysis related to the impact of climate change was “omitted” from any new study, he said.

The Trump administration “discarded prior factual findings related to climate change to support its course reversal,” he added. “An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations.”

The pipeline, long sought by US Republicans, was expected to open a new export route from western Canada. Mr Trump said it would create jobs, lower fuel prices and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

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