Oil spills

Is Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline a ticking time bomb?

Expert pegs probability of pipeline rupturing in first five years at 90 per cent
Photo: Environmental Defence

Rachel Thevenard completed a remarkable feat earlier this month by running the entire 831 kilometres of the Line 9 oil pipeline. Starting in Ontario and ending in Quebec, the 22-year-old from Waterloo, Ontario, more or less ran a daily marathon over four weeks to raise awareness about the 40-year-old pipeline.

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Thevenard’s “Run Against Line 9,” as she called her journey, coupled with the arrests of a half-dozen protesters who temporarily shut down the pipeline on two occasions in December, is the latest reminder of persistent public opposition to the controversial Enbridge project.

“The risks associated with the Line 9 project have not decreased. They are the same as they were a year ago,” said Lorraine Caron, spokesperson for the Quebec-based citizens group Les citoyens au courant.

Public opposition to pipeline

Public opposition to the project peaked in 2013 during the National Energy Board hearings on proposed changes to the pipeline. Enbridge, Line 9’s operator, applied to increase the pipeline’s capacity from 240,000 to 300,000 barrels per day, as well as reverse the flow from from west to east in order to transport oil to Montreal. The pipeline’s western starting point is Sarnia, Ontario, Canada’s petro-chemical hub.

When the NEB approved the project in March 2014, it gave Enbridge permission to transport heavy crudes such as tar sands bitumen through the pipeline.

For critics of the Line 9 project, heavy bitumen is the main point of contention and opposition.

“The nature of the project, the fact Line 9 will be transporting different types of crude like tars and [heavy] oil really concerns us. A spill in the Ottawa River could contaminate the drinking water of 2.5 million people in Quebec alone,” Caron told Ricochet.

Unlike conventional crude oil, bitumen sinks in water, which makes clean-up of spills all the more difficult. This proved to be in the case in the bitumen pipeline ruptures near Michigan’sKalamazoo River in 2010 and in Mayflower, Arkansas, in 2013. Line 9 crosses the Ottawa River on its way to Montreal and comes within kilometers of Lake Ontario, an important source of drinking water for southern Ontarians.

A pipeline and a subway station

The geographic corridor traversed by Line 9 in southern Ontario and southern Quebec is one of the most densely populated areas of Canada. In Toronto, the pipeline literally goes through a subway station.

Line 9’s design is also eerily similar to Enbridge’s ruptured Line 6B pipeline, which was responsible for the Kalamazoo spill. The pipeline is covered with the same problematic protective tape (polyethylene tape, or PE-tape) that U. S. investigators identified as the probable cause of Line 6B’s breach, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

Pipeline expert Richard Kuprewicz’s 2013 report on Enbridge’s engineering assessment of Line 9 concludes the pipeline has extensive stress corrosion cracking. This type of pipeline wall damage was also found on Line 6B.

Kuprewicz insisted at the time that Line 9 needed to undergo a hydrotest, which involves pumping water through a pipeline at pressure levels close to or even exceeding the maximum pressure a pipeline is expected to operate at. It is a common industry method of determining pipeline integrity.

Failure to adequately hydrotest the pipeline’s wall strength, according to Kuprewicz, left the probability of Line 9 rupturing in its first five years of service at 90 per cent.

Likely due to public pressure from grassroots groups such as Les citoyens au courant, the NEB required Enbridge to install additional shut-off valves along Line 9 and to hydrostatically test sections of the pipeline.

For Caron, this was all “window dressing” by the NEB.

“The hydrotest was not conducted on the entire pipeline, only on three small segments of Line 9. Furthermore, Enbridge convinced the Board to allow the tests to be conducted at a pressure level below what the Board originally ordered on June 18,” said Caron.

Oil began flowing to Montreal via Line 9 at the beginning of December 2015. There now remains only one legal obstacle that could bring the project to a halt: Deshkaan Ziibing’s (Chippewas of the Thames First Nation) court challenge of the Enbridge pipeline.

Legal challenge

Deshkaan Ziibing, an Anishinaabe First Nation in southwestern Ontario, argues the federal government failed to fulfill its legal duty of consultation about the Line 9 project. The pipeline goes through the nation’s traditional territory, where members exercise their aboriginal rights to hunt, fish, trap and harvest. These rights are protected under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.

When Enbridge submitted its application for changes to Line 9, the federal government had a legal obligation to consult with Deshkaan Ziibing and the other 13 Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Lenape (Delaware) First Nations along the pipeline’s route.

This legal duty to consult comes into play when a proposed project has the potential of infringing on aboriginal rights. To this day, the Canadian government has not consulted First Nations on Line 9.

Deshkaan Ziibing is currently seeking to have its case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. The Federal Court of Appeal ruled against the case last October in a 2-1 decision, stating the NEB is not required to take into consideration whether the duty to consult has been fulfilled when making decisions on projects.

Thevenard’s wintry run last December was in support of Deshkaan Ziibing’s case and raised about $4,000 online.

Recently, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in favour of west coast First Nations’ challenge ofEnbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline on the grounds the provincial government failed to consult them about the proposed project.

It is unclear whether the current federal government will continue to fight Deshkaan Ziibing in court over Line 9. h Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to renew Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples and restore public faith in the NEB by revamping the regulatory review process.

However, a new review of the Line 9 project appears to be out of the question for the Trudeau government, which seems content to allow the NEB reviews of pipeline projects such as Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain and TransCanada’s Energy East to continue under the widely discredited rules put in place by the Harper government.

“Prime Minister Trudeau needs to start the reform of the NEB right now. Don’t delay, because the current process is very biased and restricted,” Caron said. “They are breaking their own election promises if they don’t.”

Line 9 was one of the first pipelines to be approved by the NEB after the Conservatives’ 2012 omnibus bills gutted Canadian environmental regulations and limited public voices of dissent in NEB pipeline hearings.

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