Evan Vucci / CP Photo
Tar sands pipelines are a continental hazard and require a continental movement to defeat them.
The anti-Keystone XL folks dragged an inflatable pipeline to the White House last weekend - just the latest salvo against the mushrooming number of proposals for lines conveying Alberta tar sands bitumen.
But get ready, because anti-pipeline politics are snaking across the continent all the way to Finch Avenue in Toronto. On Saturday, November 17, 350 activists packed a conference at U of T to strategize against the west-to-east reversal of Enbridge's Line 9 - a stretch of pipe from Sarnia to Hamilton and beyond.
It's a game of connect-the-dots. Tar sands oil already flows to a refinery in Sarnia, and Ontario activists believe Line 9 is a tiny yet critical piece in the ultimate plan to create a network that would transport tar sands crude from Alberta to Portland, Maine, for export. An earlier version was called Trailbreaker, though Enbridge fervently insists that's dead in the water.
In July, Canada's National Energy Board okayed reversing the Sarnia-Hamilton line, and Enbridge has announced it will seek further approval for a second phase through Toronto, running north of Finch to Montreal. The next step, Environmental Defence believes, is Montreal to the U.S. East Coast.
"This is a huge risk for us, and we get absolutely nothing out of it," says the group's Adam Scott. "There's very significant local environmental impact from pipelines, but you also have the climate impact."
ED worries about the corrosive character of the mixture needed to move tar sands oil and has described getting it through pipelines as akin to "moving hot liquid sandpaper." Older pipelines weren't built with tar sands in mind, the group says, and if this one fractures it would compromise the drinking water of millions of people in southern Ontario.
At Saturday's meeting in Toronto, the Council of Canadians' Maude Barlow urged activists to collaborate with each other, whether in British Columbia, Texas or Toronto, and turn their attention not just to specific lines but to the ever-increasing pipeline network.
"The pipelines are the bloodlines of the tar sands," Barlow tells me afterwards. "If we can keep these arteries from being built, then they can't expand the tar sands. This isn't just a fight against one pipeline. It's a fight against the proposed 14,000 kilometres of new pipelines."
This is exactly what I concluded after a recent trip to the Lone Star State, where, as I write this, some East Texas activists have locked themselves to machinery to stop Keystone construction while others have suspended themselves from 50-foot pines with their lines attached to construction equipment.
In the Winnsboro area, just east of Dallas, Rita Beving, a campaigner with Public Citizen, took me on a tour. The fact is, only the fate of the Alberta-to-Oklahoma portion of Keystone XL is in the hands of the U.S. president. The line's southern end to the Gulf of Mexico is a done deal and already under way, to the dismay of landowners who've been told to accept tar sands pipelines or surrender their property at sub-market rates.
Even 70-something Eleanor Fairchild, whose late husband was a Hunt Oil executive, is resisting. Pipe is being laid through her 300-acre ranch, and she's been arrested several times for blocking construction on her own land.
Walking past the springs and wetlands that separate a stand of dogwood and oak trees from sprawling pasture, Fairchild proudly displayed arrest papers and told me the tar sands produce "the dirtiest fuel on earth."
My next stop was a tree-sit in a thick forest a few miles away, but yellow police tape and a helicopter belonging to TransCanada (owner of Keystone) buzzing at treetop height nix that plan.
However, things really hit home closer to Dallas, where Enbridge and Houston-based Enterprise Products are repurposing a second line, Seaway, to carry diluted tar sands bitumen from a terminal in Cushing, Oklahoma, to refineries in Texas.
The Seaway pipe isn't much younger than the ill-fated 43-year-old Michigan tar sands line that burst in 2010, leaking tar sands oil and contaminating the Kalamazoo River. And Seaway is just two years older than Line 9. All three pipelines are Enbridge-owned. Texas and Toronto never seemed so close!
We visited Mike Goldstein's home just outside Farmersville, Texas, where the Seaway line threatens his property. "I consider it a land grab," Goldstein said. The pipeline, its foes point out, would run less than 1,000 feet from local schools and cross creeks that drain into nearby Lake Lavon, a major source of drinking water for Dallas.
All this seems a little too close for comfort. In the case of Ontario, Enbridge confirms that at least one section of Line 9 pipe crossing the Rouge River became exposed a few years ago - not a happy omen.
Enbridge rep Graham White tells me the company has no current plan to extend its pipes to the East Coast, and he echoes the company's consistent denial that Ontario's Line 9 is about moving tar sands crude.
But he does say that while the pipeline will initially carry light crude, Line 9 will be capable of transporting a range of crude oil products. "We don't want to rule anything out, because we're a business and we have to adapt to the needs of our clients and changing market conditions."
Like Barlow, ED's Scott is adamant that the campaign against dirty oil is now all about its transportation. "The expansion of the tar sands will negate all the progress made in shutting down coal-powered plants," he says. "The consequences will be astronomical."