(Adds comment from indigenous group)
WINNIPEG, Manitoba/OTTAWA, July 2 (Reuters) - Canada’s Supreme Court removed an obstacle to expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline on Thursday, dismissing an appeal of a lower court decision that had backed Ottawa’s approval of the project.
The top court posted the decision online without elaborating.
The pipeline has put Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, which bought it in 2018 to ensure the expansion overcame legal and regulatory hurdles, in a political quandary. He has promised to reduce Canadian emissions and improve indigenous relations, but faced pressure to help the slumping oil industry critical to the national economy.
The ruling ends seven years of legal challenges, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said, adding that most Canadians, including many indigenous communities, want to share Trans Mountain’s economic benefits.
The corporation that runs the pipeline is still finalizing the route with landowners and needs permits, however.
Expansion of the 67-year-old pipeline, which runs from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, is underway. It would nearly triple capacity to 890,000 barrels per day.
The Federal Court of Appeal dismissed challenges in February to Ottawa’s second project approval. They were based on concerns from British Columbia indigenous groups that Ottawa had not meaningfully consulted them.
The groups who sought to appeal are “extremely disappointed,” said Tsleil-Waututh Nation Chief Leah George-Wilson.
“This case is about more than a risky pipeline and tanker project; it is a major setback for reconciliation,” she said, referring to indigenous relations with the rest of Canada.
Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan welcomed the ruling, saying expansion would allow Canadian oil to reach new markets.
Most Canadian crude moves to U.S. refineries and expanding Trans Mountain may allow more to go to Asia.
Expansion is scheduled for completion in late 2022.
Canadian pipelines have long been congested, but this year, space opened up as producers curtailed production. (Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Bernadette Baum and Tom Brown)
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