Not all pipelines are created equal, though all require some measure of regulatory scrutiny. As in law there are hard cases, likewise some pipelines are comparatively risky. For example, the Northern Gateway project would have to cross mountains and then supply oil to tankers set to sail through some tricky waters.
The reversal of Line 9 in southern Ontario and Quebec – on which the National Energy Board has just begun its Toronto hearings – should not be contentious. It is in principle an operation of the same kind as a household's reversal of hot and cold taps: A valve is removed and flipped over; the "inlets" of waters are reversed, and the formerly cold outlet then releases hot water, and vice versa.
With Line 9, the change would be from westbound to eastbound – to refineries in Quebec and beyond. Twenty per cent more oil would be passing through than before. Communities along the route are fully justified in asking questions about safety and emergency response, and well-founded concerns should be accommodated.
Generally speaking, pipelines are safer and more economical than transport of oil and gas by railway. The Lac-Mégantic disaster is an extreme example of the risks of shipping oil by rail, but it is a forceful reminder of a broader truth.
Eighty per cent of the oil carried by Line 9 would be light crude. There would also be diluted bitumen, which is no more likely than other crudes to corrode the pipelines or consequently to result in breakages and spills.
The economic logic is compelling, beneficial to Western, Central and Eastern Canada alike. The environmental hurdles can be surmounted. The Line 9 reversal should be recognized as an example of the least controversial kind of pipeline project.