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B.C. band asks court to force federal government to reject pipeline expansion

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VANCOUVER - A First Nation from British Columbia's southern Interior is taking the federal government and an oil company to court over plans to almost triple the capacity of an oil pipeline that crosses its reserve.

Documents filed in Federal Court by the Coldwater Indian Band argue the minister of Indian affairs is ready to consent to a plan that would see Kinder Morgan increase the amount of oil in the Trans Mountain pipeline near Merritt, B.C.

The band is requesting a judicial review and wants the court to set aside any approval the minister may give to the company, stating the minister has the legal obligation to act in the best interests of the band.

However, the company is standing firm, saying while it prefers to have respectful one-to-one discussions with the band, it's prepared to have issues related to its legal agreements, known as indentures, that permit the pipeline to cross the band's reserve settled in court.

"Trans Mountain has been, and continues to be, open to discussing and resolving outstanding issues with Coldwater or other First Nations as it relates to the indenture or other matters of concern," said Andrew Galarnyk, the company's director of external relations, in an email to The Canadian Press.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, formerly known as the department of Indian affairs and northern development, declined to comment on the court application on Tuesday.

According to the court document, the government approved the original 61-centimetre pipeline and 18-metre right-of-way that runs through the band's reserve in the 1950s.

The current 1,150-kilometre pipeline runs from Edmonton to the Westridge Terminal in Burnaby, B.C., and carries 300,000 barrels a day, but Kinder Morgan wants to expand that to 890,000 barrels per day.

The new pipeline would transport heavier oils and diluted bitumen, a molasses-like hydrocarbon, while the existing pipeline would transport refined products, such as synthetic crude oils and light crude oils.

The band states it's concerned about the twin pipeline's risk and potential adverse effects on the health and safety of its people, while also stating that the minister can't impose such risks against group's will.

The First Nation also wants the court to declare the government legally obligated to consult and share information with the band and follow its instructions.

Galarnyk said the Coldwater are arguing the indentures that permit the pipeline to cross the band's reserve are invalid because the Trans Mountain pipeline was transferred to a new corporate entity in 2007 and because of subsequent corporate name changes and transfers since.

Galarnyk said the band is also arguing the indentures are invalid because minister did not consent to the transfer and because Coldwater was not consulted.

"As all of the name changes and transfers of the assets were done legally, and the National Energy Board and Canada gave consent to the transfer of assets, Trans Mountain strongly disagrees with the view that the indentures are invalid," said Galarnyk.

Last week, the federal government announced changes to improve oil-tanker safety in a bid to boost support for both the proposed Kinder Morgan and Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines.

The changes would include annual tanker inspections, increased aerial surveillance and tough measures for pollution prevention.

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