Opponents of Enbridge pipeline reversal say spill risks too high

An Enbridge pipeline project that would affect a pipeline running from Sarnia, Ontario to Montreal has a high risk of failure, according to evidence presented to the National Energy Board. The existing Line 9, with a capacity of 240,000 barrels per day (bpd), currently flows from east to west. Enbridge wants to reverse the flow from a point southwest of Toronto (North Westover Station) to carry crude to Montreal. According to Enbridge, Line 9 carries oil from the North Sea, West Africa and the Middle East. The reversal is in response to “customers’ requests” for access to western Canadian crude, Enbridge says.

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Enbridge wants to reverse the flow of Line 9 to take crude oil east to Montreal, increasing the capacity from its present 240,000 barrels per day to 300,000. Opponents say the company lacks the means to respond to a rupture, which they say will occur soon after the project is implemented. (Map courtesy of Enbridge)

The company says that it will transport “mainly light crude oil” via Line 9, and seeks to expand the capacity from 240,000 to 300,000 bpd. The expansion does not affect the operating pressure of the pipeline, Enbridge says, because of the use of a Drag Reducing Agent (DRA). The DRA is a “tested and safe polymer compound” that will be injected into the crude so that it flows with less friction. According to Enbridge, this DRA allows the expanded capacity with minimal new infrastructure.

The concerns raised by Richard Kuprewicz, an “international pipeline safety expert,” filed on behalf of a group of Quebec environmental groups, including the Sierra Club Canada Quebec Chapter, include what he called a “high risk” that the line will rupture soon after implementation, due to cracking and corrosion. The statement submitted to the Board included the claim that Enbridge’s approach to pipeline safety management will not prevent a rupture. Furthermore, if a rupture does occur, Enbridge does not have adequate leak detection systems and emergency response plans to deal with it in a timely way. According to Kuprewiscz, it would take up to four hours to mount an emergency response in Toronto or Montreal, and this would be inadequate in such densely populated areas. Because of the line’s “extraordinary proximity” to people, water and economic activity, the consequences of a rupture in Toronto or Montreal were described as “from significant to catastrophic.”

A major issue is the quantity of oil to be transported through a pipeline that is already 40 years old. Kuprewicz noted that Enbridge has not followed established maintenance and safety practices suggested by the U.S. Commission on Transport Safety following an oil spill in July 2010.

In that accident, over 3.5 million litres of heavy Alberta oil was released into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan after an Enbridge pipeline burst, creating the largest oil spill on land in U.S. history. Enbridge has just asked the Environmental Protection Agency for an extension to complete the cleanup of that spill. The company has been dredging the Kalamazoo River and had been given until December 31 to complete the work.

“This evidence clearly shows what we have been saying for a long time. This project will put the health and the quality of the environment of our communities at risk both in Ontario and Quebec. In light of this, I cannot see how the NEB could approve such a reckless project,” said Steven Guilbeault, Senior Director with Equiterre, one of the groups represented by Kuprewiscz.

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