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As decision looms, seven facts on Enbridge’s proposed Line 9 reversal

The National Energy Board is set to issue a decision Thursday afternoon on Enbridge Inc.'s proposal to reverse the flow of the Line 9 pipeline, a key project to help get crude oil from western Canada to refineries in the east.

Where is the pipeline?

The Line 9 pipeline runs from Sarnia, Ont., on Lake Huron, across southwestern Ontario, through the north end of Toronto, along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to the east end of Montreal.


What will it do?

Once reversed, the pipeline will carry 300,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Sarnia to two refineries in Montreal and Quebec City. To get Canadian oil now, those refineries have to rely on shipments by rail – a controversial method that raised major safety concerns following the disaster last summer in Lac-Megantic, Que.

Proponents say that shipping cheaper western oil to Quebec would help keep the two refineries open (several others have closed in the past couple of decades). It would also reduce Quebec’s dependence on imported oil.

Montreal Port Authority

How long has it been there?

The pipeline was built in the 1970s, to carry oil from the west to Quebec refineries. Part of the reason it was built was to make sure Eastern Canada could get oil if there was an embargo on exports from the Middle East. The pipeline’s direction was changed in the late 1990s to supply plants in Ontario with relatively inexpensive foreign oil imported through Quebec.

How much will the reversal cost?

The price tag is estimated at $110-million.


Why is the change controversial?

Opponents in Quebec and Ontario say the risk of an oil spill is too high, and some object to the transport of “dirty” oil sands crude. They say it threatens water supplies and endangered species. Opponents are particularly concerned about diluted bitumen – which they say is more corrosive – being carried in the pipeline.

Also, Enbridge’s safety record has been in the spotlight after a pipeline rupture caused a huge spill of heavy crude oil into the Kalamazoo river system in Michigan in 2010. The company says it has fixed its inspection and emergency response systems.


How will this decision impact other pipeline decisions?

Because this decision involves an existing pipeline, it is considered more straightforward than the rulings coming up on more complex and controversial new projects in Canada, such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East pipeline, or Kinder Morgan Inc.’s proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline.

Who makes the decision?

The National Energy Board, the Calgary-based regulatory agency that oversees international and interprovincial aspects of the oil and gas and electricity business. A portion of the pipeline, from Sarnia to near Hamilton, Ont., has already been approved by the NEB.

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