Landowners, groups concerned of western crude passing through local region
Landowners in eastern Ontario and western Quebec who thought oilsands development only concerns those in western Canada's backyard might soon be thinking again.
Enbridge Inc. has filed an application with the National Energy Board (NEB) to allow it to move Alberta oilsands crude to eastern Canada's refineries by reversing the east-west flow of its existing Line 9 pipeline, which runs from Sarnia to Montreal, at a cost of $17 million.
The company quietly asked the NEB to approve "phase one" of its reversal, from Sarnia to Westover, but the request was put to a public hearing process after an outpouring of concerns flooded the NEB.
Letters from landowners, environmental groups and Aboriginal communities from Ontario, Quebec and the United States, expressed concerns that Enbridge was merely dividing up a massive reversal project into smaller pieces to avoid a full environmental assessment and greater scrunity.
Opponents worry that if the reversal is eventually extended to the pipeline's full length, up to 240,000 barrels (or 38.2 million litres) of crude oil could flow every day through small communities in Quebec and Ontario on its way to Montreal.
Line 9 travels through or near (as the exact location is not made public) communities like North Lancaster, Glen Robertson, Sainte-Justine-de-Newton, Pointe-Fortune and Rigaud, before crossing under the Ottawa River to Saint-André-d'Argenteuil, Mirabel and Montreal.
While the reversed sections of Line 9 would not initially be used to transport oil sands crude, Enbridge has confirmed such oil could eventually move through the system. The company's new proposal is similar to its Trailbreaker project, which was announced in 2008 but put on hold in 2009 because of the weak economic climate.
The Trailbreaker concept was set to use the company's existing pipelines to ship crude oil from northern Alberta to refineries in Montreal, before traveling through another set of pipelines through Quebec's Eastern Townships and Vermont on its way to Portland, Maine, where it could be loaded onto Atlantic tankers for export.
That pipeline currently brings conventional oil from Portland to Montreal, and then west into central Canada. It was built during the energy crises of the 1970s so refineries in Quebec could have secure access to western Canadian crude.
By the late 1990s, however, it sat idle, prompting Enbridge - with the support of major Ontario refiners - to reverse the flow of the pipeline at a cost of about $90 million.
In documents filed with the NEB, Enbridge argued the new Line 9 reversal - which requires installing some new equipment, but no new pipe - is environmentally benign and poses no concern to landowners or the environment. It initially asked the energy regulator to exempt it from having to conduct public hearings, but was turned down in early December.
Specifically, Enbridge's application stated "any potential adverse environmental or socio-economic effects are not likely significant, and are outweighed by the benefits of the Line 9 Reversal Phase I project. Furthermore, these effects will not be a cause for public concern."
Meanwhile, representatives of the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line have already confirmed the company is considering plans to reverse the flow of one of its Portland to Montreal pipelines, giving opponents more ammunition in their battle.
In letters to the NEB, five environmental groups - Environmental Defence, the Pembina Institute, Équiterre Quebec, the Vermont Natural Resources Council and the Natural Resources Council of Maine - are asking the Energy Board to reject Enbridge's Line 9 request on the grounds that it would undermine the public's ability to adequately assess the overall effects of the Trailbreaker project.
A joint letter from a series of Quebec environmental groups, including Équiterre, says that extended project "would impact Quebec by bringing tar sands oil into the province for the first time."
"Enbridge has stated that phase two of the project would involve reversing the pipeline from Montreal to Westover, and officials with the Portland-Montreal pipeline company have said that they are in discussions about reversing the flow of that pipeline," wrote Steven Guilbault of Équiterre. "By splitting the project up, it appears that Enbridge is trying to avoid a review of the impacts of the full project."
The groups also noted a full review of Trailbreaker would examine the air and water pollution effects of refining oilsands crude at the Montreal Suncor refinery as well as refineries in Ontario, and force Enbridge to consult with First Nations groups, landowners and non-governmental organizations across Canada and the U.S.
"A change in the supply of oil to Ontario refineries (i.e. a different mix of crude), as the
project would involve, has a potential impact on air and water quality in Ontario," Guilbault continued. "A key issue related to this is whether, at a future date, the project could result in an increase in raw bitumen being refined within Ontario. Because of this potential impact, it is important for the hearing to examine the potential shift in oil supply and its impact on air and water quality in Ontario."
Finally, the potential for spills in the pipeline was raised: the Haudenosaunee people -who claim treaty rights over part of the area that might be affected by the pipe reversal - pointed to the 1975 construction date of Line 9 and its use of "polyethylene tape as a coating - the same material used in the Enbridge pipeline that ruptured in Michigan last year."
According to the NEB, however, "The board considers the Line 9 Reversal Phase I application to be a standalone project because it does not depend on any future facilities to proceed."
A draft list of issues to be discussed at oral hearings this autumn - at a location to be determined - includes the need for the project; the engineering design and integrity of the pipeline, including the potential effects of flow reversal; contingency planning for spills, accidents or malfunctions, during construction and operation of the pipeline; the potential environmental and socio-economic effects of the project; the project's potential impacts on Aboriginal interests; and its potential impacts on affected landowners.
Canada's largest energy company, for its part, told media that it supports the idea of more western Canadian oil flowing east.
"We think what that does is better connects our Montreal refinery with western crudes, take advantage of some of the properties of those crudes and increase our domestic consumption of Canadian crudes," stated John Quinn, Suncor's general manager of refining, during National Resources Committee hearings in Ottawa earlier this month.