Water issues may be the key to stopping Enbridge's Line 9, say activists

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On February 5, Enbridge moved a step closer to reversing and increasing the capacity of its Line 9B pipeline, running from North Westover, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec.

The National Energy Board (NEB) had stalled the Line 9B process in October, citing issues with the proposed placement of shut-off valves and Enbridge's work to identify major water crossings. In a letter sent to energy company at the time, the NEB noted that Enbridge was not complying with industry standards of placing shut-off valves within one kilometre on both sides of identified major water crossings.

Enbridge proposed to build an additional 17 shut-off valves for Line 9B, but the NEB wrote that this amount of valves would only meet industry standards on "6 of the 104 major water crossings" identified by the energy company. The NEB asked that Enbridge demonstrate how the placement of shut-off valves "meet or exceed" industry standards, and "accordingly, are installed on both sides of MWCs [major water crossings] [emphasis in original]."

However, in the decision regarding Enbridge's fillings on Feb. 5, the NEB seems to have changed its tune on safety standards for major water crossings threatened by a spill from Line 9B.

While the NEB noted that effective placement of shut-off valves helps "control and potentially reduce the size of pipeline failures," the Board also argued that valves of this kind pose their own risks, do not prevent pipeline failures and "alone cannot appropriately mitigate the consequences of a failure."

The NEB's position on shut-off valves seems to have changed; however, the amount of valves Enbridge plans to install on Line 9B has not. Enbridge will still place 17 new valves on Line 9B, leaving the vast majority of major water crossings without shut-offs on both sides.

In its February 5 response, the NEB called the 17 valves a "significant improvement" and reflective of an "evolving response in identifying and addressing concerns associated with pipelines."

Enbridge attempts to become operational

Louisette Lanteigne has been an intervenor in hearings for both sections of Line 9. In the hearings for Line 9B, Lanteigne focused her intervention on valve placements.

"I asked Enbridge to disclose where the shut-off valves were along the Grand River," a river starting in Dufferin County, Ontario and emptying 300 km later into Lake Erie.

Lanteigne discovered that not only were valves spaced more than one kilometre from both sides of the Grand River, but that a valve was in a flood plain. Expanding cities in the region as well as the effects of climate change have made such placements problematic.

"The valve by Grand River might have been a reasonable placement when it was first installed, but it ended up in the middle of a flood plain, so if the pipeline ruptured during a flood, someone would have had to go into the water to shut off the manual valve."

Perhaps acknowledging that waterflow patterns have changed around Line 9 since its construction in 1976, the NEB's approval has stipulated that Enbridge must report to the Board on the appropriateness of valve placement throughout the life-cycle of the pipeline.

Lanteigne sees this stipulation as opportunity to force Enbridge to regard climate change impacts in their assessment of Line 9, however she's less than optimistic about the intentions of Enbridge.

"Enbridge is going to try to do the bare minimum they have to in order to save money. That's the nature of business."

Enbridge has applied to the NEB for final Leave to Open, a last step in the hearing process before the pipeline can become operational. However, Lanteigne argues that the pipeline is a long way from being granted operational status.

In order to be granted Leave to Open, Lanteigne says that Line 9 needs to pass hydrostatic testing, a process where the pipeline's integrity is measured by running water through the line at an intensity higher than its operational pressure.

"There is a 90 per cent chance that Enbridge will fail the hydrostatic testing according to its own integrity dig data. I'm confident the NEB will make sure that this condition [successful completion of hydrostatic testing] is met, or else they will lose all credibility as an industry regulator."

Activists stand firm against Enbridge

Since the February 5 conditional approval, Enbridge has been publicizing their hopes of completing work on Line 9 by the end of June. However, if the NEB fails to stop the Line 9 from becoming operational, opponents of the projects are poised to respond.

Rising Tide Toronto, is one of several community groups opposed to Line 9. In concert with other groups, they have undertaken several blockades to disrupt the construction of the pipeline.

Lana Goldberg, a member of Rising Tide, says the group opposes Line 9 because of its links with the tar sands, a project which she says "is poisoning Indigenous communities, violating Treaty Rights and contributing to catastrophic climate change."

Stopping Line 9 thus means stifling the expansion of the tar sands as well as the mega project's harmful impacts on Indigenous communities and the climate.

Aside from threats posed to communities and the climate, Goldberg says that Rising Tide Toronto is motivated towards direct action because of the inadequacy of the NEB's Line 9 process.

The NEB, Goldberg says, "is composed of numerous former oil executives and regularly approves tar sands projects even when negative environmental impacts are expected."

While Kathleen Wynne's Liberals had the right to set up a provincial Environmental Assessment, widely considered a more rigourous hearing process, they ignored calls to do so, deferring a decision on Line 9 to the NEB. As such, Goldberg suggests that direct action outside of the process has been crucial to stop and delay construction of the pipeline.

Along these lines, Rising Tide Toronto responded to the news of the conditional approval of Line 9 by indicating that they are "mounting a response."

 

Steve Cornwell is interested in social movements, science and technology. Steve has worked on energy issues with Greenpeace Canada, Environmental Defense, Safe and Green Energy Peterborough, and SumOfUs.org. Follow Steve Cornwell on Twitter @steve_cornwell

Photo: flickr/Mack Male

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