TORONTO – The Ontario government said it will not conduct its own environmental assessment of Enbridge’s controversial Line 9 pipeline.
On Monday, Ontario’s Minister of Energy Bob Chiarelli said the issue is a matter of federal jurisdiction and Ottawa will make the final decision on whether the project goes ahead.
He said the Ontario government has called for a “stress test” to ensure the pipeline is safe, but that “the National Energy Board is responsible for getting the right information on which to make a decision.”
Enbridge Inc. wants to ship Alberta heavy crude oil from Sarnia to Montreal through a line which currently transports light conventional oil.
In November of 2012, Enbridge filed an application asking the National Energy Board (NEB) to let it reverse the flow of a segment of the pipeline between North Westover, Ont., and Montreal. That application was approved in July 2012.
Now Enbridge is seeking permission to increase the capacity of the pipeline to transport 300,000 barrels of oil a day. It currently transports around 240,000.
Enbridge is also seeking permission to transport heavy crude oil from the Alberta oilsands.
Hundreds of residents, community groups and environmentalists have protested the proposal. More than 100 interveners expressed their concerns during NEB hearings on the proposal, held this month in Montreal and Toronto, as protests and rallies were held outside. The final day of hearings in Toronto was cancelled due to security concerns.
Chiarelli said the Ontario government intervened in the NEB hearings to emphasize that public safety and environmental protection must come first.
However, because the pipeline crosses provincial boundaries, Chiarelli said the proposal is in the hands of the federal government.
Line 9 runs through numerous communities in Ontario and Quebec – cutting through rivers, parks, backyards and transit corridors.
Enbridge says the plan is safe and relatively low-impact: The pipeline, after all, is already in the ground.
But environmentalists say the decades-old pipeline was never meant to carry heavy crude, and the line cuts through numerous communities, puts First Nations communities at risk, threatens water supplies and could endanger vulnerable species in ecologically sensitive areas.
Changes pushed through as part of the federal government’s 2012 omnibus budget bill mean Line 9 could get approved without an environmental assessment at all. Groups have already argued that changes to the NEB introduced in Bill C-38 has kept the public out of the consultation process.
You can view a detailed map of Line 9′s route here.
Enbridge says it has a safe record on Line 9, and that increasing the capacity to carry heavy crude and diluted bitumen will bolster “the security of Canada’s energy supply” while “safeguarding jobs.”
To allow it to flow through pipelines, tar-like bitumen is mixed with diluents the Natural Resources Defense Council says are highly corrosive and acidic – raising the risk of pipeline corrosion and oil spills.
Enbridge argues that diluted bitumen isn’t corrosive, citing a study from U.S.-based National Academy of Sciences. The study said that diluted bitumen doesn’t have a unique property that would make it any more corrosive than other crude oils.
Enbridge said it’s safe delivery record stands at 99.999 per cent, adding that anything less than a perfect safety record is “not good enough.”
Reports of oil leaking from pipelines across Canada are not uncommon.
In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline running underground from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ont., ruptured, spilling more than 3 million litres of oil into the Kalamazoo River and a tributary creek. The cleanup efforts have cost the company more than $1 billion so far, and are not yet completed.
Enbridge spokesperson Graham White has said that if a spill occurred on Line 9 the company would be on the hook for clean up and associated costs. But several groups in Ontario are afraid that it would in fact be local responders who would arrive to the scene of a spill first, with no proper training on how to handle it.
The National Energy Board is expected to decide on Enbridge’s application around the end of the year.
*With files from The Canadian Press