A Texas judge has temporarily halted the construction of the southern leg of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline after a landowner in the state filed a lawsuit against TransCanada claiming the company had lied about the nature of the project.
Landowner Michael Bishop won a two-week restraining order against TransCanada that forces the pipeline giant to stop working on the section of the pipeline that crosses his property in Nacogdoches County, Texas, located about 100 miles north-east of Houston.
Texas County Court at Law Judge Jack Sinz signed the order on Friday. It will halt work until a hearing set for 19 December.
Bishop had granted TransCanada permission to build the line on his property based on the company's stated plan to transport crude oil through it. Bishop claims TranCanada will instead transport diluted bitumen produced in the oil sands of Alberta, which he says would violate his agreement with the pipeline operator.
He told the Associated Press that oil-sands bitumen does not meet the state and federal definition of crude oil.
Crude is defined as “liquid hydrocarbons extracted from the earth at atmospheric temperatures”, he told the news wire, adding that oil-sands hydrocarbons comes out nearly solid and must "be heated and diluted in order to even be transmitted”.
“They lied to the American people,” Bishop told AP.
The restraining order signed by Sinz says Bishop “has been defrauded and denied his constitutional rights”, according to Bloomberg.
TransCanada spokesman David Dodson said courts have already ruled that bitumen from oil sands is a form of crude oil and was confident the injunction would not delay the project.
The lawsuit is the latest speed bump in a project that has been fraught with controversy.
Once completed, the 2151-mile Keystone XL line would carry oil produced in Alberta and the Bakken area of North Dakota to refineries on the Gulf Coast. But environmentalists have resisted the pipeline's constructions, saying the development of the oil sands will cause irreversible harm to climate and natural habitats.
The Obama administration is still mulling approval of the pipeline, which is required because the line would cross an international boundary. President Barack Obama has given his blessing for TransCanada to build the southern portion running from Oklahoma to Texas in order to ease bottlenecks at the Cushing refining hub.
TransCanada can continue contruction on other sections of the line as it waits out the Texas restraining order, according to Bloomberg.
The news wire said the company's lawyer said they are trying to get a hearing this week that would dissolve the order.
Bishop has also filed a separate lawsuit in state court against the Texas Railroad Commission regulatory body, challenging Keystone’s certification as a common carrier under state law, Bloomberg said.