190619 Trudeau
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference about the government's decision on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, June 18, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

Ottawa: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday approved a controversial expansion of a pipeline to move crude oil to the Pacific coast for shipping overseas.

“Today, I am announcing that our government has approved the Trans Mountain expansion project going forward,” he told a press conference in Ottawa, adding: “The company plans to have shovels in the ground this construction season.”

Officials at an earlier briefing said construction might resume within months, but could not say when the first shipments of oil would go through it.

The project will expand an existing pipeline to move 890,000 barrels of oil a day from landlocked Alberta more than 1,150 kilometres to the Pacific coast, replacing a smaller crumbling conduit built in 1953.

Trudeau’s government had approved it in 2016, saying it was in the “national interest” to ease Canada’s reliance on the US market, boost local production and get a better price for its crude oil.

But its construction was delayed by protests and legal challenges. Environmentalists and indigenous tribes worry that increased shipping from a marine terminal in Vancouver could impede the recovery of local killer whale populations.

Last August, the Trudeau government purchased the pipeline for 4.4 billion Canadian dollars (Dh12 billion) from Kinder Morgan to salvage the troubled expansion project.

On the same day, a federal court ordered Ottawa to take a second look at the project, taking greater care to consult with coastal indigenous tribes and consider marine traffic impacts.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the pipeline would eventually be sold once it becomes commercially viable, and all profits would be rolled into renewable energy projects.