Activists have stepped up efforts to block an expanded pipeline from reaching Canada's West Coast, preparing for "resistance" if court challenges fail.
While oil companies in the world's sixth-largest producer count on the courts' support, environmental and indigenous activists are prepared for the worst: that the permit to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline will be upheld.
Greenpeace held a "pipeline resistance camp" on using kayaks to block massive oil tankers from navigating local waters off the heavily-forested, rainswept region sacred to indigenous peoples.
Activist Tzeporah Berman pointed to the thousands of Canadians who have said "we'll do whatever it takes to stop this pipeline."
Kayaker Lois Canright said she is prepared to "float in front of these tankers and say 'No... you've put enough tankers on these waters."
At a rally in downtown Vancouver after a federal court hearing last week, several hundred people chanted: "I pledge to stop the pipeline in the courts, on land, and in the water."
"I've never done civil disobedience in my life, but I will stand against Kinder Morgan," the pipeline operator, said Vancouver city councilor Adrianne Carr after making the pledge.
Canada's National Energy Board in May recommended approving twinning of the 1,150 kilometer (715 mile) Trans Mountain project, with 157 conditions.
But numerous parties have challenged the project in court.
Eventual rulings on the Trans Mountain pipeline to Vancouver are expected to have a major impact on Canada's oil industry -- in particular on its ability to dramatically boost exports to Asian markets.
"These court challenges are the greatest threat to the Trans Mountain project," said George Hoberg, professor of environmental and natural resource policy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
"If the Federal Court of Appeal strikes down the permit authorizing the project, that's likely to kill the pipeline," he told AFP in an email.
The industry faces volatile global oil prices as well as national political and environmental disputes.
This fall, TransCanada Corporation cancelled the Can$15.7-billion (US$12.5 billion) Energy East pipeline project from Alberta to the Atlantic coast, citing low oil prices. The project was also affected by a new federal government requirement to factor carbon emissions into project environmental reviews.
- Orcas and oil spills -
The legal issue now dogging the western project is the way governments approved Texas energy giant Kinder Morgan's plan to nearly triple capacity on its 1,150-kilometer (715-mile) Trans Mountain pipeline.
If expanded, the line would carry 890,000 barrels of bitumen per day from the Alberta oil sands through rugged British Columbia. In metro Vancouver the product would be loaded onto tankers, then shipped to Asia.
Proponents argued in a federal court hearing that ended October 13 that the project is in Canada's national interest -- a key criterion for assessing major projects -- and meets environmental standards.
But opponents that include several municipal governments, British Columbia's ruling coalition of leftist and environmental parties, as well as environmental groups and indigenous tribes, said an increase in tankers in local waters would harm an already-endangered population of orcas.
They also cited risk of an oil spill that could not be cleaned.
Their lawyers further argued that the pipeline's downstream carbon emissions -- now a factor in any new reviews -- should be re-considered for Trans Mountain, especially as Canada promised reductions in the Paris climate accord.
The foes and supporters also disagree on whether the assessment had sufficiently consulted indigenous people, as is required by a series of landmark rulings by Canada's top court.
Canadian pipelines fall mostly under federal court jurisdiction, but next week the British Columbia Supreme Court will hear another challenge of provincial environmental permits given to Kinder Morgan by the previous conservative government, which was ousted in a May general election.
The Squamish Nation, an indigenous group, will ask the British Columbia court to quash or review the permits on the grounds the Squamish were not consulted, said chief Ian Campbell.
Both the federal and British Columbia courts are expected to take months to issue their decisions.
Experts say that whatever the rulings, they're likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
And if the courts okay the project, environmental and aboriginal groups have vowed to continue fighting construction of the pipeline.
Hoberg predicted: "If the pipeline survives judicial challenge, there will be an intense period of on-the-ground conflict much like the one that occurred at Standing Rock in the United States."
© 2017 AFP