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Photo By Don Wilkie / istock
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“ Our party’s preference is for oil to be upgraded in Alberta so it wouldn’t have to be shipped as bitumen. ”NDP MP ANDREW CASH
The last few weeks have been a big, gooey mess for Canadian oil. In the space of mere days, we've seen the dumping of thousands of litres of toxic tailings into the Athabasca River and CP oil derailments in Minnesota and White River, Ontario.
But it was the rupture of ExxonMobil's Pegasus line in Arkansas and all those images of tar sands oil oozing down the streets of a Little Rock suburb that really lit a fire under T.O. foes of the reversal of Line 9 to carry crude eastward.
As enviros point out, Pegasus is a close parallel to Enbridge's Line 9, through which, if permitted, oil will run along Finch Avenue on its way from Hamilton to Montreal. Pegasus was built 65 years ago for thinner oil at relatively lower pressure but was reversed for tar sands product in 2006; the 37-year-old Line 9 was also designed for light crude.
At the No Tar Sands In Toronto meeting Monday night, April 8, at the Davenport-Perth Community Centre, Greenpeace's Keith Stewart tells the audience of 100 that the recent spills serve as a warning. Oil leaks, he said flatly, are inevitable.
"It's a question of when and how much. I don't want to see bitumen flowing into the Credit, the Humber or any of the other rivers that flow into Lake Ontario - our drinking water."
A similar argument was made in February by city of Toronto lawyers, who urged council to participate in upcoming National Energy Board hearings on Line 9, given that a pipeline break would threaten water treatment plant intakes.
But is there clear political support for a movement to head off the line? One audience member Monday night wonders aloud whether the NDP would actually support an eastern pipeline if processing jobs remained in Canada.
Davenport MP Andrew Cash responds from the floor, saying the real issue is the Conservatives' gutting of environmental assessment rules and processes. But he stops short of calling for a moratorium on Line 9 until proper controls can be put in place.
"Canada needs to move to a green energy economy," says Cash. "The Harper government has not only stripped away environmental protections, but also shut down consultation, and that's what we have to push back against."
Asked later to elaborate, Cash says his party's preference is "for oil to be upgraded in Alberta so it wouldn't have to be shipped as bitumen."
At the meeting, Stewart steers the conversation back to the need to build grassroots momentum "so Andrew can go back to caucus and say that pipeline east is not going to fly" and so Conservatives feel the pinch of pipeline anxiety in Ontario.
The crunch is soon coming. The deadline for submissions to the National Energy Board hearings is April 18. And here's the rub: merely to send a letter requesting permission to participate in NEB , members of the public must complete a 10-page form and include a resumé or reference letters documenting their expertise.
That has Environmental Defence's Adam Scott ready to blow a gasket. He tells me, "This speaks to the legitimacy of the review process itself. These are potentially risky projects, and it's unacceptable that the public can't be properly consulted."
The board has already okayed the section of the line between Hamilton and Sarnia, and enviros are convinced the entire project is meant for corrosive tar sands oil and that the endgame is a pipeline extension to Maine for export.
Enbridge, though, maintains otherwise. "The product to be carried will be primarily light crude," company rep Graham White tells me, "as that is what Quebec refineries are capable of processing." He does say, however, that "we will also likely [carry] a small proportion of heavies [heavy crude] if requested by shippers," and clarifies that this could be "processed diluted bitumen" from Alberta or Saskatchewan [which has its own oil sands].
But here's a new reason regulators should pay attention: in ordering ExxonMobil to take corrective action in Arkansas after the Pegasus spill, the U.S. Department of Transportation noted that "a change in direction flow can affect the hydraulic and stress demands on the pipeline."
Meanwhile, the Ministry of the Environment is reviewing a March 27 letter sent by Environmental Defence, Greenpeace and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment asking the province to conduct an independent assessment of Line 9.
"Ontario's rivers, farmland and drinking water," the letter reads, "should not be a test case for the severely weakened federal environmental laws."