TORONTO – Local environmental and community groups are speaking out against the National Energy Board’s decision to approve a controversial pipeline proposal.
On Thursday, the board gave the green light to Enbridge’s plan to reverse the flow and increase the capacity of Line 9, a pipeline between southern Ontario and Montreal, with conditions.
Line 9 runs through many communities in Ontario and Quebec – cutting through rivers, parks, backyards and transit corridors in some of the most heavily populated areas of the country.
It initially shuttled oil from Sarnia, Ont., to Montreal, but was reversed in the late 1990s in response to market conditions to pump imported crude westward.
You can view a detailed map of Line 9′s route here
With the NEB’s approval, Enbridge will reverse the flow oil back eastward to service refineries in Ontario and Quebec. The company also wants to change the rules to allow heavy crude to be transported on the line. Right now the pipeline carries light crude oil.
Most of the conditions deal with the capacity expansion component of Enbridge’s application, which would increase the pipeline’s volume from 240,000 barrels per day to approximately 300,000.
The NEB said Thursday the decision allows Enbridge to “react to market forces” while ensuring the pipeline project is carried out in a “safe and environmentally sensitive manner.”
On Friday, several groups expressed deep concern in the NEB’s decision.
WATCH BELOW: Protesters gather at Queen’s Park to oppose NEB’s decision on Line 9
Representatives from the Toronto Coalition Against Line 9 repeated that Enbridge’s pipeline plan is not worth the risk to the communities Line 9 runs through.
They argue the Line 9 plan threatens water supplies and could endanger vulnerable species in ecologically sensitive areas, and that the 38-year-old pipeline was never intended to transport heavy crude.
Coalition members are urging residents to call on the provincial government to ensure an environmental assessment is conducted.
Last October, Ontario’s Minister of Energy Bob Chiarelli said the province wouldn’t conduct its own environmental assessment, saying the issue is a matter of federal jurisdiction.
But because of changes to environmental protections, pushed through as part of the federal government’s 2012 omnibus budget bill, the feds are no longer required to conduct an environmental assessment, meaning Line 9 could get approved without an environmental assessment.
“When spills happen, it’s the province that is responsible for source water protection, for species at risk,” said musician and activist Sarah Harmer on Friday.
“We need the provincial government to stand up for this land that they have clearly already stood up for” in the past, said Harmer.
Harmer has been a vocal opponent to Enbridge’s plan and was one of 100 interveners at the NEB hearings held in October in Montreal and Toronto.
Also on Friday, representatives from a community group opposed to the pipeline, East End Against Line 9, said the NEB rejected “almost all safeguards demanded by governments and community groups.”
The group said they were shut out of the NEB hearings because their homes, located between eight and 15 km from Line 9, were”not in close vicinity to the pipeline route.”
The group argues that a pipeline spill would put the entire city’s water supply at risk.
“We need a full and unrestricted probe of Line 9 and its environmental dangers. A full and independent environmental assessment is the way to prevent a disaster before it’s too late. Ontario’s government should act now to protect us,” said the group in a press release on Friday.
Following the NEB decision on Thursday, Enbridge spokesperson Graham White called it “the right decision. The benefits are clear.”
White said Enbridge is still reading through the 30 conditions in the National Energy Board’s approval and wasn’t yet sure if the construction completion date of late 2014 is realistic. But the conditions are “not too far from what we’d expect,” he said. “In fact, some of these we have already undertaken.”