Environmentalists: Ontario-Quebec pipeline will lead to oil exports through east

Environmental groups have mounted a campaign against a plan to ship western crude to Quebec, saying it’s just one step towards creating an eastern route for “dirty” oilsands crude exports.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, meanwhile, shrugged off concerns that environmental opposition could hinder Enbridge’s plan to reverse the flow of its Line 9 pipeline from Montreal to southern Ontario.

He said opposition is inevitable to a project that has otherwise garnered a great deal of “enthusiasm.”

“That certainly has been my experience since I became the minister of natural resources – there hasn’t been a single project anywhere in the country, irrespective of what it is, that isn’t opposed by someone,” Oliver told reporters after a speech to a Calgary business audience.

Enbridge announced Thursday it has applied to the National Energy Board to reverse a stretch of its Line 9 pipeline that currently runs from Montreal to Westover, Ont. It also wants to increase the line’s capacity from 240,000 barrels per day to 300,000 barrels per day.

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However, a group of environmentalist organizations that have been arguing Enbridge wants to create an eastern export route for “dirty oil” from Alberta, said Friday that they view the pipeline reversal as a preliminary step in that plan.

“With this application, the evidence becomes overwhelming that oil companies are planning to send tar sands through eastern Canada, Quebec and New England,” the groups said in a statement Friday.

Patrick Bonin of Greenpeace said in the statement that “Quebec cannot count on the Harper Government, Alberta or the National Energy Board when it comes to the environment, and must refuse this project for the common good of Quebecers.”

The groups say they don’t believe Enbridge’s assurances that it has no plans for creating an eastern export route and that the “the full reversal of Line 9 is almost certainly a precursor to a reversal of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline “

Oliver says critics of energy development can be divided into two groups. One is going to be opposed to energy development under any circumstances, he said.

“There’s another broader group of people who care deeply about the environment, are uncertain about the facts and are worried about the potential impact,” said Oliver.

Communicating with the second group is the “single biggest challenge,” which the government is trying to address through advertising campaigns, among other things.

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“We need all the help we can get in raising the profile of this issue, making people understand what the critical points are and communicating also on an emotive level,” said Oliver.

“I think facts, and information, is crucial, but it’s not enough. I think people have to understand how it will impact on them.”

An example of ways the government can appeal to Canadians’ emotions is looking at the role resource development has played in this country’s history, Oliver told reporters.

“That’s something I think that a lot of people in this country feel proud about.”

Enbridge’s Line 9 flowed from west to east when it was built in the 1970s, but it was reversed two decades later to respond to market conditions at the time. Now, Enbridge wants to restore its original flow so that eastern refineries can have access to western crude.

During the summer, the NEB gave Enbridge the green light to reverse a segment of Line 9 between Sarnia, Ont., and Westover, which is close to Imperial Oil’s (TSX:IMO) Nanticoke refinery.

The application announced Thursday covers the remaining stretch to Montreal, where Suncor (TSX:SU) has a refinery.

Eastern refineries currently rely on crude imported from overseas, which is more expensive than oil that comes from Western Canada. It’s one of the reasons why gasoline prices are much higher in the East than they are the West, though there are many other factors at play.

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A lack of adequate pipeline capacity has meant Alberta crude hasn’t been able to find its way to the most lucrative markets, leading to a supply glut that has depressed prices and eroded producers’ profits.

Enbridge says the environmentalists’ claims are “false.”

“The market demand driving the Line 9 reversal projects, from Ontario and Quebec refiners, is for light crude oil, which is generally sourced from regions other than the Canadian oilsands,” it said.

“However, crude oil derived from the oilsands region of Canada, sometimes called diluted bitumen or dilbit, could also be shipped on Line 9.”

Enbridge added that dilbit is safely shipped every day through pipelines across North America.

“Decades of transporting heavy crude proves there is no evidence that pipelines transporting this product are more susceptible to internal corrosion than pipelines transporting other crude oil types.”

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