The dream of bringing black gold from Fort McMurray vvato Maine, flowing less than four kilometres from Humber’s North campus, is one step closer to reality.
On March 9, the National Energy Board (NEB) approved a proposal by Calgary-based energy company Enbridge to reverse the flow of the Line 9 pipeline, which runs from Sarnia to Montreal, with a large section running under the GTA and North Toronto.
“The pipeline entered service in 1976, transporting western Canadian crude oils, including diluted bitumen, eastward from Sarnia to Montreal,” said Graham White, an Enbridge spokesperson. “In 1999, the flow direction was reversed (westward) to bring less expensive offshore crudes into Ontario.”
Enbridge now wants to flow oil eastward again, to service refineries in Ontario and Quebec. It plans to move 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day through the line, up from the current 240,000 barrels, with no increase in pressure.
The end goal for Enbridge is to build a pipeline from Montreal to Maine in order to ship the oil out from refineries located there.
A statement from the NEB reads “the board’s conditions require Enbridge to undertake activities regarding pipeline integrity, emergency response, and continued consultation.”
Enbridge will also have to submit a plan to manage cracks in the pipeline, and manage water crossings.
One major concern about the pipeline however, is its use of diluted bitumen to move the oil. Alberta oilsands crude is too heavy to move through the pipeline by itself, so diluted bitumen (or dilbit) is used to thin it out and move it.
“It can evaporate and create a toxic cloud that can cause damage,” said Adam Scott of the lobby group Environmental Defense
But White said the risks have been adequately dealt with.
“The risks associated with operating our pipeline are managed and continuously monitored,” said White. “It begins with pipeline materials and construction, and includes 24-hour surveillance, pressure monitoring and leak detection systems.”
He also said that numerous studies have shown that western crudes, including dilbit, are no more corrosive to pipelines than conventional crude and no more likely to cause a pipeline release than conventional crudes.
The NEB consultation process itself however, was met with strong criticism.
“The NEB process was a farce,” Scott said. “It actively excluded the public, and ignored most of the stakeholders’ advice.”
He said that the NEB did not require Enbridge to do environmental assessments on the pipeline, and ignored requests of the Ontario government and others that a hydrotest, which would push water through the pipeline to test its ability to carry high volumes, be performed.
Kerry Johnston, program coordinator for Humber’s sustainable energy and building technology co-op, said that some of the concerns are unfounded.
“I don’t lose too much sleep over pipeline safety,” he said. “There are hundreds of thousands of kilometres of pipeline under North America.”
Johnston noted that the general public is not going to give up its dependence on fossil fuels anytime soon, so moving oil is necessary.
He added some opposition to the pipelines is NIMBYism or “not in my backyard”.
“It’s the broadly uniformed public jumping on a bandwagon,” Johnston said.
He also pointed out that rail lines carrying Alberta crude would run through the centre of Toronto, and after the Lac-Mégantic disaster, could cause even more problems.
For its part, the government of Ontario is giving reserved approval to the plan.
“Proposals that would bring western crude oil to eastern Canada using existing, underutilized infrastructure carry potentially significant economic benefits for the whole country,” said Bob Chiarelli, Ontario’s minister of energy.
But Chiarelli also mentioned the need for proper environmental assessment.
“When it comes to pipeline projects that can span thousands of kilometres, it is vital that all voices be heard during the regulatory process,” he said.
Chiarelli said that the government has asked the Ontario Energy Board to hold dedicated community discussions regarding the proposed TransCanada Energy East project to ensure that when Ontario intervenes, the viewpoints of many stakeholders will have been heard.
White said that the project would be of great economic benefit for Canada.
“This project will enhance the Canadian economy providing increased energy security for our crude oil in Canada, enhancing a vital basic service on which we all depend,” he said.