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Enbridge’s Line 9 reversal project has become a hot button issue in Ontario as Big Oil seeks to expand tar sands markets in the 401 corridor, the U.S. and potentially Europe. Line 9 runs from Sarnia, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec, passing within 50 km of an estimated 9.1 million people, including 18 First Nation communities, and directly through 99 towns and cities. In true Orwellian language, the reversal is being sold to the public as a jobs-creating, low impact, and ‘ethical’ project. It is none of these things.
Early in the application process, Enbridge misled the public by promoting the Line 9 reversal as part of its $3.2 billion “Light Oil Market Access” initiative. Pressure by environmental groups clarified Enbridge’s intent to pump tar sands dilbit through Line 9. The early mistrust established by Enbridge foreshadows the ethical doublespeak the public is expected to embrace with the Line 9 reversal. Indeed, the tar sands giga-project is one of the most violent projects on Earth and the extraction of dirty fuel represents at once a blatant case of environmental racism, climate chaos, and ecological catastrophe.
Line 9 was built in 1976 and was designed to carry light crude oil. In July 2012, the National Energy Board (NEB) approved Enbridge’s application to reverse the flow of the pipeline from Sarnia to Westover, Ontario, and is currently reviewing Enbridge’s application to reverse the rest of the pipeline to Montreal. Crucially, the reversal isn’t about the direction of the pipeline flow, but its contents: Enbridge is now openly seeking approval to transport tar sands dilbit from Alberta through Line 9. This raises multiple flags.
First, Line 9 is a 37 years old pipeline and the risks of a spill are higher for dilbit pipelines (particularly old ones) as tar sands crude is more corrosive, and transported under higher heat and pressure. Moreover, if a spill occurs the impact of dilbit is more severe for health, water and land, as dilbit contains higher levels of toxic carcinogens, including naptha and benzene. In 2010, these risks were brought into sharp relief when Enbridge’s Line 6B (originally constructed to transport light crude in 1969) ruptured spilling 20,000 barrels of dilbit into the Kalamzoo River in Michigan, a disaster that continues to have devastating impacts on surrounding communities and ecosystems. Most importantly however is the question of ‘ethics’ and how the Canadian state is responding to the apparent human rights and environmental crisis created by tar sands expansion.
Debunking the jobs argument
A core argument to support the Line 9 reversal has been job creation. In general, job creation has not been the goal of Big Oil — instead the industry has strived towards mechanization and low-cost labour. The ‘jobs’ argument for tar sands creates a fictitious division between the economy and the environment, attempting to pit employment against health and environmental concerns. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has projected that about 6335 jobs in Ontario would be related to tar sands by 2035. While seemingly substantive, this would represent less than 0.1 per cent of jobs in Ontario should an unemployment rate of 10 per cent be maintained with continued population trends — hardly a boom for a rapidly declining economy. For Line 9 specifically, Mike Harris wrote to the Financial Post suggesting, “Ontario will gain 3,250 person-years of direct and indirect employment, and Quebec will gain 1,969 person-years [over three decades].” Breaking down the math, this translates at best to 108 jobs per year for 30 years related to Line 9 in Ontario, and about 66 in Quebec.
Realistically, the majority of the ‘person years’ of employment would be short term and take place during initial upgrades to Line 9 terminals and construction of a pumping station to reverse the flow. Importantly many jobs are considered ‘indirect,’ suggesting even lower projections for actual long term employment related to Line 9. For communities in Ontario and Quebec, Line 9 jobs would therefore benefit a very few in Sarnia and Montreal, while the risk of spill affects an estimated 9.1 million people. For Big Oil, the project anticipates billions in revenue at royalty and tariff rates amongst the lowest in the world.
Greedy corporate interests, and a religious belief in neoliberal doctrine by government has meant organized labour has faced massive legislative attacks through Bill C45, and a host of provincial regulations, including Bill C115 in Ontario. In Sarnia, manufacturing jobs have been on the decline for decades. A 2011 report by the Sarnia-Lambton Workforce Development Board notes that between 2001 and 2011, about 1514 jobs were lost in the petrochemical industry, while between 2008 and 2010 about 30 jobs were created. Between 2011 and 2016, the report anticipates a whopping 44 additional jobs will be created. Doing the math, that is an approximate net ratio of 20:1 jobs lost vs. jobs gained in chemical valley over a 15 year period. However, the production and export of petrochemicals has steadily increased since 2000, with a slight decline following the 2008 economic crisis. It’s not about jobs, it’s about profit, and exploitation.
In Alberta the much heralded tar sands job ‘boom’ has relied on a racist temporary foreign workers (TFW) program that bars migrant workers from accessing citizenship, as well as upon economic apartheid with a recently legislated 15 per cent difference in pay for ‘new’ immigrants. This month, the Tyee.ca reported: “Alberta currently has the highest per capita use of migrant workers, largely due to the oil sands projects — 22 times higher than the rest of the Canada — and their situation reveals troubling rates of mistreatment. As a 2010 audit by the Alberta Ministry of Employment and Immigration discovered, 74 per cent of migrant workers were mistreated by their employers, who typically violated labour laws on overtime, holiday and vacation pay.” Clearly, just, fair, and unionized employment are not goals for tar sands development.
Line 9 reversal: Did you say ‘Ethical’?
Communities along Line 9 have expressed opposition to the reversal, citing health, safety, and environmental risks associated with dilbit oil. Politically, these communities have received little support as all three major federal parties have in principle supported the Line 9 reversal, touting its potential economic benefits. In line with politicians, the most zealous endorsement of the Line 9 reversal comes from EthicalOil.org, an organization with documented ties to the Harper government and Big Oil, which in 2012 launched an online petition in support of the Line 9 reversal. The preamble reads: “This should be a no-brainer: more Canadian jobs across the country and more support for ethical Canadian oil instead of bloodstained oil coming from OPEC’s tyrants.” According to McEthicalTM, reversing Line 9 is a crucial step in ending Canada’s “reliance on conflict oil from places like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria. Conflict oil destroys the environment, supports human rights abusers, fuels conflict and war, and exploits its workers.”
In denouncing “human rights abusers” and environmental destruction “over there” in OPEC nations, Ethical Oil implicitly paints ‘Canada’ as a site of freedom, justice, and equality and in so doing, glosses over the devastation perpetuated through the expansion of the tar sands. Domestically, tar sands expansion occurs through the erosion of First Nation rights, exploitation of migrant workers, and criminalization of dissent. Indeed, Canada has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations for its treatment of Indigenous peoples and by migrant justice activists for its racist immigration policies. Moreover, state repression of political dissent in Toronto during the G20 in 2010, and in Montreal during the Quebec student strike made apparent the will to protect the political and economic status quo over justice and democracy. CSIS, RCMP, OPP, FBI and industry monitoring of First Nation communities concerned about land issues has been widely documented.
Internationally, Canada has become the fuel tank for the U.S. military, the most aggressive and violent force on Earth. Similarly, Canada’s extractive industry is globally associated with human rights abuses including forced displacement, gang rapes, targeted assassinations and mine security abuse. In late 2010 a leaked report from the Prospectors and Developers Association revealed that Canadian mining companies are implicated in four times as many violations of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as mining companies from other countries. What’s more, despite an acknowledgement in 2005 from Canada’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (SCFAIT) that Canada, “does not yet have laws to ensure that the activities of Canadian mining companies in developing countries conform to human rights standards,” the state has yet to create any regulatory framework for keeping this sector accountable. Ethical indeed.
Ground Zeros: Impacts and issues
At ground zero in Alberta, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) has been at the forefront of communities who for decades have called for health and environmental monitoring of tar sands projects. Environmental toxins including carcinogens, gene mutagens, and endocrine disruptors have been poorly tracked by governments, despite widespread knowledge since the 1970s by the Department of Indian Affairs and Department of the Environment of both their existence and potential health impacts (see Larry Pratt’s 1976 The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil). In 2008, Alberta Health indicated a 30 per cent increase of cancers in the community of Fort Chipewyan (where most ACFN members reside). Reports by Elders and community leaders document much more extreme environmental and community health changes, yet still a comprehensive study of health and environmental impacts has not taken place. Only this year — 81 years after the first tar sands plant came online, and 34 years since the major Syncrude operation began — have Federal scientists confirmed that carcinogens from tar sands operations are travelling and accumulating in watersheds north of operations.
In Ontario, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia has been described as a ‘sacrifice zone‘ and is considered the most polluted place in North America by the World Health Organization. Currently, an estimated 225 000 barrels per day (bpd) of tar sands are being processed in Sarnia, and the Line 9 reversal will increase dilbit flow by 300 000 bpd. In Michigan, Enbridge has shamelessly used the Line 6B rupture and repair operation to increase the capacity of the pipeline to 500 000 bpd, bringing the total estimated flow of tar sands to Sarnia to over 1 million bpd if the Line 9 and Line 6B projects reach completion. When landowners in Michigan affected by the Kalamazoo spill began to resist Enbridge’s plans to rebuild the ruptured 6B pipeline, the US government threatened expropriation of their lands to complete the project.
Sixty-three petrochemical refineries surround Aamjiwnaang (an estimated one third on stolen Aamjiwnaang lands) and it is the first community documented to experience endocrine disruption from pollution: two females are born for every male on the reserve, and 40 per cent of women experience miscarriages. Despite international knowledge of endocrine disruption and a ‘cancer epidemic’ in the community, the governments of Ontario and Canada have failed to conduct a baseline health study. Both Aamjiwnaang and ACFN citizens have been described the impact of tar sands as a ‘slow industrial genocide.’
Tar sands, colonization and resistance
The expansion of the tar sands, and the sixty-three refineries surrounding Aamjiwnaang First Nation are markers of Canada’s ongoing colonial legacy, though communities have been actively resisting. Several First Nations have launched lawsuits against governments and industry related to tar sands, asserting that the projects are illegal because in destroying local ecology, the projects violate First Nation’s constitutionally protected Treaty Rights to health, cultural traditions, and land/water integrity (see Aamjiwnaang citizens lawsuit, Beaver Lake Cree lawsuit, and ACFN lawsuits).
In September 2012 the Harper government made public its intentions to terminate the Inherent Treaty rights of First Nations, and in December passed Bill C-45, which makes major changes to environmental legislation, labour laws, and the Indian Act. A recent Greenpeace access to information request revealed that Harper took direction from Big Oil in crafting Bill C45. However, the legislative attack by Harper motivated Chief Spence to commence her fast and demonstrate to the globe true ethics in the face of oppression and environmental racism.
Since the passage of the illegal and undemocratic Bill C45, both the fast by Chief Spence and the Idle No More movement have sparked the largest social movement for Native rights seen on Turtle Island. Civil disobedience has spread throughout the continent with political marches, round dances, blockades, and teach-ins organized to bring attention to land, water and human rights abuses. Importantly, Chief Spence, and Idle No More have inspired and strengthened to voices of those speaking out about the destruction brought by tar sands developments. On Dec. 21, 2012 Aamjiwnaang community members launched a 13 day blockade of a CN Railway switch-line into chemical valley in support of both Chief Spence, and Idle No More, actively keeping 420 rail cars per day from transporting toxic chemicals in and out of their community.
Disturbingly, McEthicalTM spokesperson Ezra Levant has reverted to race-baiting in response to Idle No More, characterizing the ‘Indian uprising’ as a ‘criminal’ and even ‘terrorist’ movement. With regards to tar sands, Ethical Oil has positioned employment in First Nation communities as moral legitimacy for the destruction of land-based economies. Generations of Native communities have experienced apartheid, residential schools, and land theft under the ‘Indian Act,’ and employment at the community level has been described as akin to ‘feeling like economic hostages’.
Communities have not been given a choice about tar sands development, rather they have had to adapt to unabated expansion. Alternate economic visions based on ecologically and culturally sustainable industries have never been seriously considered. Rather, for communities downstream of projects, inflated prices on basic necessities like food, water, and hydro are the legacies of tar sands development. For those who harvest from the land to subsidize high food costs, the bioaccumulation of toxins in food and medicines has created serious health concerns, and forced many to abandon cultural traditions.
‘Canadian’ ethics and global climate change
The Harper government has sabotaged international climate negotiations at the United Nations, and is the only country in the world to walk away from the Kyoto accord. NASA scientist James Hansen has argued that further exploitation of the tar sands means game over for the climate, yet the Harper government is ignoring facts in favour of an ideological economic vision of Canada as an ‘energy superpower.’ Indeed, Harper has cut funding for world renowned climate research while greenhouse gas emissions have continued to grow, and tar sands have been the single largest contributor to increased emissions.
Climate change is expected to contribute to the displacement of an estimated 150 million people by 2050, yet Canada’s borders are tightening. The acceptance rate for refugees has declined by roughly 40 per cent since the 1980s, and an average of 15,000 people per year are deported (see more). New federal immigration policies deny refugees healthcare and authorize the government to indefinitely detain refugees who cannot be processed quickly enough or who are deemed “bogus” by the Minister of Immigration. Meanwhile, the amount of people allowed to enter the country under exploitative Temporary Foreign Workers programs continues to rise, providing cheap and precarious labour for tar sands extraction. The Canadian state, provincial governments, and corporations invested in the tar sands have an interest in controlling the flow of people across Canadian borders, and determining under what conditions people are allowed to stay and work in the country.
Attacks on labour, racist immigration policies, violations of Indigenous Rights, international human rights abuses, and no accountability to a planet facing climate chaos are the current realities of ‘Canadian ethics,’ as espoused by ‘Ethical Oil’ and the Canadian state. However, communities and allies in Ontario and Quebec are stepping up to stop the Line 9 reversal, because ours is an ethics that embraces free, prior and informed consent, the rights of all peoples, and respect for the earth. We hope you join us.
Sonia, Sakura and Dave are environmental justice organizers in Toronto.
For more information, follow @RisingTideTor and the hashtag #NoLine9