An Enbridge Inc. plan to extend the reach of Alberta crude into Ontario faces new opposition from aboriginal, landowner and environmental groups amid mounting popular concern over pipeline safety.
In letters to the National Energy Board (NEB), groups from Ontario, Quebec and Maine argue that Enbridge must face greater scrutiny for plans that could eventually involve bringing oil sands crude to Atlantic ports for export.
The rising criticism comes amid a continent-wide battle between industry and environmental groups, which have sought to halt attempts to expand the system of pipelines that bring northeastern Alberta crude to markets.
“There’s just an overall larger focus on pipelines in general these days, given both the recent spills and then the whole Keystone stuff,” said Matt Price, campaigns director for Environmental Defence. TransCanada’s Keystone XL project, which would take oil sands crude to the Gulf Coast, has ignited a bitter dispute in the U.S., where high-profile arrests have renewed questions over both the safety of oil pipelines and the desirability of expanding the continent’s hydrocarbon infrastructure.
In Canada, the latest Enbridge scuffle was triggered in early August, when the company applied for permission to reverse the flow of part of Line 9, the pipe that currently brings crude from Montreal and on to Sarnia. Enbridge proposed changing part of that pipe to bring western crude from Sarnia to the Toronto area, where it could be distributed to a pair of refineries.
In documents filed with the NEB, Enbridge argued that the reversal – which requires installing some new equipment, but no new pipe – is environmentally benign and “will not be a cause for public concern” with either landowners or first nations. It asked the energy regulator to exempt it from having to conduct public hearings.
Now, however, both landowners and at least one first nation are demanding an in-depth review of the plan.
The Haudenosaunee people, for example, 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.” The Haudenosaunee claim treaty rights over part of the area that might be affected by the pipe reversal and want a broader review.
Residents’ associations, landowner and community groups along the way have filed similar requests. The Maine-based Conservation Law Foundation calls on the NEB to “require the company to make full disclosures of its plans and to subject those plans to a transparent evaluation and thorough public hearings.”
Those concerns are rooted in a belief that Enbridge intends to reverse the entire Line 9, making good on a plan it first discussed several years ago, when it was promoting its Trailbreaker project. Trailbreaker would have allowed the company to bring Alberta crude to Montreal and then, on another pipeline system, to Portland, Me., where it could be loaded onto Atlantic tankers for export.
A joint letter from a series of Quebec environmental groups including Équiterre and a local Greenpeace chapter, says that extended project, if built, “would impact Quebec by bring tar sands oil into the province for the first time.”
The reversed sections of Line 9 would not initially be used to transport oil sands crude, although Enbridge has said such oil could eventually move through the system.