By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta, March 2 (Reuters) - The government of Canada's main crude-producing province Alberta plans to wade into the looming court battle over Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion by seeking intervener status on legal challenges to the project.
The move, flagged by the government in a speech reopening the Alberta legislature's spring session, comes as the Federal Court of Appeal tries to consolidate the lawsuits against the project into one. Eleven groups are suing to block the project because of environmental concerns.
Getting new crude oil pipelines built is a priority for the Alberta government, which wants to secure new markets for its oil sands output after a bruising two-year slump in crude prices.
Without new pipelines, energy industry supporters say, oil sands production will get bottlenecked in Alberta, driving the discount on Canadian barrels deeper and costing producers and the government billions of dollars in lost revenue.
"Your government will defend our province and its key industry in court, seeking intervener status on legal challenges to the Trans Mountain pipeline," Lois Mitchell, the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta said in the so-called 'Throne Speech'.
Lawyers in Calgary said it would not be out of place for the provincial governments to seek intervener status on the lawsuits.
In November the Canadian government approved Kinder Morgan's plan to nearly triple its crude oil pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, British Columbia, to 890,000 barrels per day despite fierce environmental, municipal and aboriginal opposition.
The green light from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet came after a National Energy Board review process that critics said fell short.
So far 11 separate parties, including the City of Vancouver and the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation have filed lawsuits challenging the cabinet decision, the NEB review, or both.
Dyna Tuytel, a lawyer for Ecojustice representing the Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation in their lawsuit, said the court was currently taking submissions on the draft order setting out the logistics of the consolidation.
"It means that everyone will get less court time but it makes sense," Tuytel said. "There's a degree of overlap in the facts if nothing else."
The Federal Court of Appeal also consolidated legal challenges to Enbridge Inc's Northern Gateway pipeline in 2015, which resulted in the court overturning government approval for that project.
(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by David Gregorio)