Environmentalists are not proclaiming the fight over Enbridge's pipeline a game-changer yet, but the recent flurry of demos signals an uphill battle for the company
Environmental activists interrupted work at a large Enbridge Line 9 work site in G. Ross Lord Dam and Park near Dufferin and Finch at sunrise on Monday, August 11. Police eventually showed up mid-afternoon with a court injunction to remove the protesters belonging to Citizens’ Response Unit for Decontaminating Our Environment (CRUDE).
The action was one of several in the last week along the Sarnia-to-Montreal stretch of the pipeline, where Enbridge has begun so-called integrity digs to uncover and repair cracks, fractures and suspected weak spots. Another protest in Innerkip, near Woodstock, held up work for six days and ended with five people being arrested for trespassing.
Environmentalists are not yet proclaiming the fight over Line 9 a game-changer akin to the massive resistance to Enbridge’s high-profile Northern Gateway pipeline out west. But this flurry of recent activist actions signals an uphill battle for the company.
Enbridge received approval from the National Energy Board in March to reverse the pipe’s flow and start pumping Alberta tar sands crude to the tune of 300,000 barrels a day to refineries in the east.
But before Enbridge can do that, it must satisfy a number of the NEB’s conditions to demonstrate that the 40-year-old pipe – which was originally built to move natural gas – is safe enough to withstand the high-pressure transport of the coarser and heated diluted bitumen.
Activists are not convinced. A coalition of environmental groups and First Nations continues to press the province to order an environmental assessment, but the Liberal government has refused, saying the project falls within federal jurisdiction.
Opponents of Line 9 worry about a repeat of the eco-disaster caused by the rupture of Enbridge’s Line 6B in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2010.
But despite a legal challenge to the NEB’s conditional approval by the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, Enbridge work crews have been racing since spring to finish work on Line 9 by early 2015.
Sizable sections of the line, which runs through residential areas roughly along the Finch corridor in the northern part of Toronto, may have to be replaced, but the extent of that work is unclear.
Enbridge spokesperson Graham White isn’t sharing the addresses or number of those digs when I email him about the subject a few weeks back.
“Exact numbers and locations are not determined,” he writes. Apparently, the public are not the only ones being kept in the dark.
One condition the NEB imposed was that Enbridge make ongoing efforts to inform the public before the company applies for leave to open (LTO) the pipeline and let the crude flow.
But Councillor Anthony Perruzza, whose North York ward includes G. Ross Lord Dam and Park and a good chunk of the pipeline route, says neither he nor, to his knowledge, the city was notified of Enbridge’s dig last week.
“I thought it was part of the agreement that they would be letting us know whenever they did anything,” says Perruzza. “They’re supposed to provide us with detailed plans on what they’re going to do and what the reasons are for it and let us know what their findings are.”
Enbridge is also supposed to let the city know about its emergency preparedness plans in the event of a spill.
Willowdale Councillor David Shiner says he’s expecting an update from Enbridge in time for council’s last meeting before the October election, August 25 and 26. He expressed frustration with the lack of information from the company so far.
“If there is an emergency today or a break in the pipeline, there are no forces or a team in place in Ontario that can manage it, and that’s quite disturbing,” he says. “The pipeline has been there for all these years.”
But whether the city has the political will, never mind the expertise, to hold Enbridge accountable is debatable.
“They’ve [city staff] been given a vague political direction from council to go through the regulatory process, which we know is broken,” is how one environmentalist put it to me.
Along the pipeline route across the hydro corridor, which is also a well-used green space, there’s a mix of ambivalence and concern over Enbridge’s plan.
Most of the dog walkers and joggers I spoke to along the corridor in the spring are unaware of Line 9.
Peter Davies, who’s drinking coffee on his porch about 100 metres from the line, says, “They [Enbridge] seem to have their bases covered. Not being knowledgeable in that field, I have to rely on their expertise.
“Of course I’m concerned about spills,” he says. “But I’m also concerned about getting cheaper fuel.”
On Bishop, where Line 9 runs under a community garden, playground, bike path and hydro towers, I count two Stop Line 9 signs on front lawns. One of them is in front of the home of Allison and Craig Stewart and their daughters, seven-year-old Tegan and five-year-old Devon.
Two years ago, the couple noticed that the creek that runs nearby was covered by something that looked like an oil slick. They reported it to Enbridge but never heard back.
“It’s not a matter of if a spill is going to happen it’s a matter of when,” says Craig Stewart.
Enbridge fought efforts by environmental groups to conduct hydrostatic testing to check for weaknesses along the pipeline.
The company argued the tests could actually cause damage to the line, “including the potential to induce or grow cracks that do not fail during the test but may continue to grow in-service.”
Dave Core of the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations (CAEPLA), a pro-development landowners’ rights group, says, “Line 9 should be taken out of the ground and a new pipe put in. That is all there is to it.”
He mentions problems with other Enbridge lines of Line 9’s vintage in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where he says the company has had to conduct “thousands of integrity digs” to check for “bad spots.”
But the problem with pipeline safety runs deeper.
Core says the current regulatory framework at the NEB is too geared to protecting oil and gas interests.
“There’s a revolving door. The NEB was not created in the public interest. It was created to cover up bad decisions.”
At the National Energy Board hearings in October 2013, Amanda Lickers, from Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, warned the regulators that “this application is an invitation to social conflict.”
It’s too late on that front.
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