Enbridge Inc. has given closing arguments in support of the reversal project for its Line 9 oil pipeline between Ontario and Quebec, and in a show of how rancorous the regulatory proceedings became, it was forced to do so in writing.
That is because the National Energy Board shut down the final oral portion of the hearing into the project in Toronto on Oct. 18, fearing for participants' safety as protesters became disruptive.
The 10-day proceeding was antagonistic, especially for a project in which little in the way of new facilities will be needed to allow crude oil to flow to Montreal from Sarnia, Ont., through a pipeline constructed in the 1970s.
However, such demonstrations have been growing as environmental groups target pipelines as a way to hammer home their message that oil sands development has to be halted to fight global warming and as worries grow about ruptures and spills.
"We've had many instances where, just for the sake of efficiency – sometimes we just run out of time – it has been done in writing," NEB spokeswoman Carole Léger-Kubeczek said. "But I have to say in this instance, the major factor was the elevated security risk. There would be too many disruptions to allow us to proceed with the reply anyway."
Enbridge aims to ship 300,000 barrels a day of crude from Western Canada to refineries in Quebec by reversing the flow direction of the pipeline, a move aimed at giving the refiners access to more affordable domestic supplies.
Following a reversal of the line in the late 1990s, the plants, run by Suncor Energy Inc. and Valero Energy Corp., are now mostly captive to pricier imported oil.
However, growing public concern over pipeline safety following such incidents as Enbridge's devastating Line 6B rupture in Michigan in 2010, which spilled more than 20,000 barrels of oil into the Kalamazoo River system, has stoked vocal opposition.
The board will now take 12 weeks to weigh evidence before making a decision on whether to approve the reversal.
During the hearing, intervenors, including green groups, First Nations, landowner associations and the Ontario Ministry of Energy, questioned the financial forecasts tied to the proposal, demanded more intensified high-pressure testing of the pipeline and urged the NEB to require Enbridge have at least $1-billion (U.S.) of insurance.
"The NEB has heard loud and clear that there's more work that needs to be done before they can make a decision on this project, and we hope they'll listen," said Gillian McEachern, campaigns director for Environmental Defence, one of the opponents. One of the problems, she said, is the lack of an environmental assessment for the project, especially for a three-decade-old pipeline.
In its final submission, Enbridge argued that repeat high-pressure testing on the line before start-up should be rejected in favour of in-line inspection tools. In regard to insurance, it pointed out that the recent throne speech included the federal government's intention to increase required liability insurance for pipeline companies.
Leon Zupan, chief operating officer for Enbridge's liquids pipelines division, said his company's projects have become a major part of the overall debate over development of the oil sands.
Mr. Zupan stressed Enbridge has made strides since the Michigan spill to seek out and employ the most advanced inspection, pipeline integrity and emergency response technology.
That includes a program now under way to dig up sections of Line 9, a pipeline first built during the oil-embargo era of the 1970s to ensure Quebec had access to domestic supply.
"The way we've approached internal inspection technology is we want the most reliable technology available so that we don't have a bunch of surprises, and we know that the tools that we've run have very high levels of reliability," Mr. Zupan said. "As a result we haven't seen any issues associated with the line that haven't already been confirmed with the (in-line inspection) technology that we've run."