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Dave Lawson, Enbridge vice-president, told The Globe and Mail’s editorial board that the company’s 2010 oil spill in Michigan has been a big topic in talks with residents and local governments.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Enbridge Inc. is still dealing with the fallout from its destructive 2010 oil spill in Michigan as it gets set for public hearings for the reversal of a pipeline between Southern Ontario and Montreal, a project aimed at giving Quebec refineries access to growing volumes of Western Canadian crude.

Officials with the Calgary-based pipeline company are on a tour of municipalities and First Nations in Southern Ontario to explain the Line 9 project and try to assuage concerns among about safety as well as environmental impacts in the event of a rupture.

Environmental groups have raised alarm about the initiative and the dangers of moving oil-sands-derived crude to Eastern Canada, adding controversy to what may have been seen as an unobjectionable feat of engineering a few years ago.

But Enbridge's Line 6B rupture in Marshall, Mich., which spilled 20,500 barrels of heavy Canadian oil into the Kalamazoo River system, heightened fears about pipeline integrity and safety across the continent and intensified opposition to new project proposals.

"We're certainly reminded of that spill at a lot of the meetings that we attend and at a lot of the outreach," Enbridge spokeswoman Michelle Wasylyshen told the editorial board of The Globe and Mail on Monday.

The Line 9 project involves returning the flow of the crude to the west-to-east direction it was initially designed for when it was built in the 1970s. In the late 1990s, the direction was reversed to allow imported crude to be shipped from Montreal to Sarnia, Ont.

With Quebec refineries run by Suncor Energy Inc. and Valero Energy Corp. looking again for cheaper domestic supplies, Enbridge aims to re-reverse Line 9 to move 300,000 barrels a day. About 80 per cent of the oil would be light crude from Western Canada and North Dakota, the company said.

Despite the relatively small proportion of heavy crude, Enbridge said its case was bolstered in by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which concluded in June that diluted bitumen is no more corrosive to pipelines than other crude, Dave Lawson, Enbridge vice-president of major projects, told The Globe board.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration commissioned the report following the Michigan oil spill. The issue has been a big topic in discussions with residents and local governments along the Line 9 right-of-way, he said.

"That was our feeling prior [to the report] and that was the outcome of our own studies, but certainly having that independent association contracted to perform that – and certainly they are a very well-respected technical group and think tank – and come to that conclusion, I think, is quite powerful," Mr. Lawson said.

TransCanada Corp. recently said it aims to proceed with the larger Energy East project, which would move crude to Quebec as well, but also to Saint John, where it could be used by Irving Oil Ltd.'s refinery, as well as exported.

Since the Marshall spill, whose cleanup bill has climbed to $1-billion, Enbridge has instituted a more stringent regimen of pipeline integrity testing across its system using technology that has improved since 2010, said Trevor Grams, the company's director of infrastructure integrity.

The equipment detects and helps engineers analyze anomalies in the pipe that could lead to cracks or ruptures. The company has also been digging to expose sections of Line 9 to allow visual inspections and making needed repairs.

"We have done an extensive job to go back and reinspect all of our pipeline system for the threat of cracking. By the end of 2013 we will have reinspected our entire pipeline system for that threat, so we've run the latest technology through our entire system," Mr. Grams told The Globe board.

Enbridge's reputation took a pounding following the Marshall spill. Last year, the chair of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board likened the company to the "Keystone Kops" because of the way it handled the immediate aftermath of the rupture.

Executives said safety remains a top concern among attendees at the company's open houses ahead of the National Energy Board public hearing, which starts in Montreal on Oct. 8. In Ontario, the pipeline runs through 110 municipalities and 14 First Nations communities.

Sessions have focused on Enbridge's emergency response plans, executives said. The company has conducted response drills with communities with municipal officials.

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