Enbridge Inc. says it should not be required to install shut-off valves at every major water crossing of its Line 9 oil pipeline because it has a smarter way to minimize potential leaks from the line.
In a letter to the National Energy Board (NEB) filed Thursday, the Calgary-based company is seeking to get its project back on track by convincing the regulator that it essentially meets a requirement to ensure the pipeline can be quickly shut down to prevent spills in rivers and creeks across Ontario and Quebec.
Enbridge had been hoping to start its Line 9 reversal this fall in order to ship Western Canadian crude through Ontario to refineries in Quebec. But the federal regulator put on the brakes two weeks ago when it demanded the company identify all major waterways along the route, and explain why it had not installed valves on both banks of each one, as the board had required when it conditionally approved the project last spring.
In its response filed Thursday, Enbridge noted that the regulations do not specify how far from the banks the valve must be, and insisted that in using modern engineering techniques with a number of remote-control shut-off valves, it had "met or exceeded" the rule.
Enbridge noted that its original submission – which the NEB found lacking – contained considerable data and technical analysis. "It has become evident to us that key aspects of our valve placement methodology were not clearly conveyed," said the company's president for liquid pipelines, Guy Jarvis.
Enbridge has largely completed the work to reverse the 639-kilometre stretch of the 40-year-old pipeline that previously carried crude from Montreal to southwestern Ontario, and to expand the capacity to 300,000 barrels a day. The project will provide Western Canadian crude producers with greater access to refineries in Montreal and Quebec City as well as export potential.
The Alberta-based industry is eager to expand its access to new markets, but several pipeline projects are stalled or face major political opposition. Enbridge's Line 9 reversal was considered a slam dunk, although environmental groups mounted opposition along its path in Ontario and Quebec.
In a sharply worded letter two weeks ago, board secretary Sheri Young scolded the company, saying the regulator "takes protection of people and the environment seriously and it expects the same of the companies it regulates."
Mr. Jarvis assured the board that the company does indeed take such protections seriously. "Specially, Enbridge recognizes the importance of optimal valve placement along Line 9 in order to reduce significant risk to the public and the environment in the unlikely event of a pipeline release," Mr. Jarvis said.
But he added that it has an "intelligent valve placement" methodology that is better than simply installing valves on each bank because it optimizes the placement of the valves so they will be most effective at reducing flow in the event of a leak.
The NEB will now have to review Enbridge's response and determine whether to order further action before awarding a certificate to commence operations. But on Monday, the regulator demanded more information from the company on its process for identifying major waterways and said it wanted an answer by the end of the month.