HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas judge has ordered TransCanada to temporarily halt work on a private property where it is building part of an oil pipeline designed to carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, the latest legal battle to plague a project that has encountered numerous obstacles nationwide.
Texas landowner Michael Bishop, who is defending himself in his legal battle against the oil giant, filed his lawsuit in the Nacogdoches County courthouse, arguing that TransCanada lied to Texans when it said it would be using the Keystone XL pipeline to transport crude oil.
Tar sands oil — or diluted bitumen — does not meet the definition as outlined in Texas and federal statutory codes which define crude oil as "liquid hydrocarbons extracted from the earth at atmospheric temperatures," Bishop said. When tar sands are extracted in Alberta, Canada, the material is almost a solid and "has to be heated and diluted in order to even be transmitted," he told The Associated Press exclusively.
"They lied to the American people," Bishop said.
Texas County Court at Law Judge Jack Sinz signed a temporary restraining order and injunction Friday, saying there was sufficient cause to halt work until a hearing Dec. 19. The two-week injunction went into effect Tuesday after Bishop posted bond.
TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said later in a statement that the judge had agreed to push the hearing up to Thursday, Dec. 13.
David Dodson, a spokesman for TransCanada, has said courts have already ruled that tar sands are a form of crude oil. The company said in a statement emailed Tuesday that work on Bishop's property is underway and that the injunction will not have an effect on construction.
"We are on track to bring this pipeline into operation in late 2013," the statement said.
Environmentalists are concerned that if the pipeline leaks or a spill occurs, the heavy tar sands will contaminate water and land. The tar sands, they argue, are more difficult to clean than regular crude, and U.S. pipeline regulations are not suited to transport the product. They also say refining the product will further pollute the air in the Texas Gulf Coast. The state already leads the nation in greenhouse gas emissions and industrial pollution.
In February, another judge briefly halted work on the pipeline in northeast Texas due to archaeological artifacts on the property. The judge later ruled the work could resume. The pipeline is being built, although the landowner is fighting the condemnation of her land.