(Adds details from conference call)
By Ethan Lou
CALGARY, Alberta, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has seen construction delays and its December 2019 operational start date could be pushed back, the company said on Wednesday as it released earnings that slightly missed analyst forecasts.
The announcement adds to headwinds for the embattled C$7.4 billion ($5.9 billion) expansion, as North American energy projects face increasing opposition from activists concerned about carbon emissions and possible oil spills.
In a statement announcing a more than two-fold rise in third-quarter earnings that fell shy of expectations, Kinder Morgan Canada said the delay was due to the time necessary to secure regulatory permits, and that the company would spend less money on capex this year as a result.
Kinder Morgan Canada President Ian Anderson said on a conference call the company had obtained "hundreds" of the more than 1,000 permits it needs from British Columbia and continues to obtain more.
The newly elected government of the British Columbia province, through which Trans Mountain passes, also opposes the expansion and had joined the judicial review against it even though the federal government has approved the expansion.
The company, a unit of Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc , said it was working with contractors to speed up some construction to ensure the date for shipping oil on the expansion remained as previously announced.
"Absent this mitigation, project completion could be delayed by up to nine months," the company said.
The proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline from Canada's oil-rich Alberta province to the west coast would nearly triple its capacity to 890,000 barrels per day and significantly increase crude tanker traffic off the west coast.
Canadian oil producers, whose landlocked product trades at a discount to the West Texas Intermediate benchmark, say they need additional pipeline capacity to fetch better prices.
The project has faced mounting opposition from environmental and aboriginal groups, who have filed for a judicial review to overturn its federal approval.
Kinder Morgan Canada reported a net income of C$42.4 million, or 11 cents per share, in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, up from C$20.3 million for the same period last year. It was below analysts' expectations of 13 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company has not seen any evidence that the anti-Trans Mountain British Columbia government has tried to interfere with the process of granting permits, which is done by the apolitical civil service, Anderson said.
In another hurdle, Canada's federal energy regulator last month barred Kinder Morgan from installing mats that deter fish births along the pipeline route, a move the company said could affect the expansion's operational date. ($1 = 1.2455 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Ethan Lou; Editing by Leslie Adler and Andrew Hay)