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Lawsuit Filed to Block Pipeline Project

by John Lorinc

Less than two weeks after the State Department gave the go-ahead for a major new 36-inch diameter pipeline to carry Alberta oil sands crude into the United States, a network of environmental and Native American groups filed a lawsuit in a San Francisco court on Thursday, accusing President Barack Obama's administration of significantly accelerating the importation of "dirty oil" from Alberta.

(flickr photo by someones.life) "This seems to be a step backwards," said Sarah Burt, an attorney for Oakland-based Earthjustice, one of the groups named in the suit. Citing the administration's push to promote clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Ms. Burt said the new pipeline infrastructure will "lock in" American consumption of bitumen for another fifty years.

In 2006, the United States imported 1.6 billion barrels of Canadian crude, not all of which is bitumen from Alberta. The supply of bitumen has been limited by a shortage of specialized refining and pipeline capacity on either side of the border.

The Alberta Clipper project, from the pipeline giant Enbridge, Ms. Burt said, will stoke demand and thus push up the heavy emission levels associated with oil sands mining and processing.

The coalition's lawyers argue that by granting the permit, the American government breached the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to "take a hard look" at the Alberta Clipper's purpose or to comprehensively assess a related project's environmental impact, especially in terms of air and water pollution in the Midwest.

The Enbridge pipeline will be twinned with a north-bound line known as Southern Lights, carrying diluents up to Alberta refineries to help refine the bitumen.

The groups also state that the $8 billion project will inflict short and long-term damage on forests, wetlands and water bodies in the path of the pipeline.

With a daily capacity of 450,000 barrels of bitumen, the Alberta Clipper will extend over 990 miles between Hardisty, Alberta, to a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, where it joins a pipeline to Chicago. The Southern Lights pipeline will travel about 700 miles north from Illinois, where it will join with another line heading to Alberta.

News of the suit comes on the same day as construction crews broke ground on the first leg of the Clipper project, near Duluth, Minnesota.

"More than 3,000 construction workers, many of them skilled union tradesmen, will be on the job over the next year, including welders making more than 40,000 pipe connections," reported the Duluth News Tribune notes on Thursday.

"The new Minnesota Twins stadium, by comparison," the article added, "had about the same number of workers but is about one-third the cost of the pipeline."
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