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Three Line 9 land defenders appeared in court again yesterday. Vanessa Gray, Sarah Scanlon and Stone Stewart were arrested in Sarnia last month after they shut down the controversial Line 9 pipeline and locked themselves to the shutoff valve. The three women have been charged with mischief over $5,000.
The Line 9 pipeline project, rubber-stamped by the National Energy Board (NEB), is repurposing a decades-old natural gas pipeline by reversing the flow of materials — from east to west to west to east — and carrying corrosive diluted bitumen (dilbit) instead of natural gas from the Alberta tar sands, across Ontario, to a refinery in Montreal.
Dilbit is tar sands product that has been diluted with chemicals that are extremely toxic, known carcinogens like benzene and affect the human central nervous system. Enbridge, which operates Line 9, has reported pipeline spills every five or six days for the past 10 years. Activists believe it is a matter of when, not if, there will be a spill.
Gray, Scanlon and Stewart weren’t alone at the Sarnia courthouse yesterday morning. They were surrounded by supporters, fellow activists and members of the local Aamjiwnaang First Nation. Mike Plain, an Aamjiwnaang elder, expressed admiration for the three women. “I think they’ve made a very strong statement against an environmental wrong. They’ve taken a strong stand for Mother Earth and all of us people.”
Also in the crowd was student activist Rachel Thevenard. Thevenard ran the length of the more than 800km pipeline to draw attention to Line 9. “I heard about Line 9 a few years ago, about the reversal and that it would be carrying tar sands crude. This project should never have been approved.”
In southern Ontario alone Line 9 crosses every major tributary that flows into Lake Ontario. A pipeline break at any of the Greater Toronto Area’s significant rivers like the Don River, Etobicoke Creek or the Rouge River would result in the threat of benzene contamination of drinking water.
Similarly Montreal’s drinking water could be contaminated if a spill occurred at a pumping station upstream of the St. Lawrence River. The drinking water of millions of people could be affected.
In addition, Line 9 passes within 50km of 18 First Nation Communities and impacts the watersheds of several more. The pipeline is in violation of several treaties and agreements including the Two Row Wampum and the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous people.
The responsibilities outlined in these treaties include ensuring that free prior and informed consent is sought from Indigenous nations when a project is proposed and that real and meaningful consultation occurs. Enbridge and the NEB did neither.
Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and Aamjiwnaang First Nation have indicated that Enbridge is in violation of the treaties. Chippewas of the Thames First Nation has taken their cause to the Supreme Court of Canada and the case is currently pending.
According to Amanda Lickers of the Six Nations of Grand River, Enbridge never contacted Haudenosaunee communities along the shore of the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario or Lake Huron. The watersheds of the Tonawanda Senecas and the Onondaga Nation would be directly impacted by a dilbit spill.
Lickers also investigated unresolved land claims along Line 9 and found several. Enbridge claims they are unaware of any outstanding claims along the route.
Another concern is that while Enbridge is insured against a spill for $685 million, cleanup could cost billions. Dilbit is a particularly heavy form of crude which, when spilled into a waterway, sinks to the bottom and is extremely difficult to remove. Which begs the question, in the likely event of a spill, who will pay the bulk of the cleanup costs?
Clearly, Line 9 is proving to be a potential environmental disaster from inception, and now that the toxic diluted bitumen is flowing people are wondering what stands between us and the highly suspect practises of Enbridge.
As for Gray, Scanlon and Stewart, the case was adjourned until Feb. 23 and they hope that the charges will be dismissed, but much depends on Enbridge. The energy giant could drag court proceeding out indefinitely. Time will tell how the future will unfold for these three dedicated, direct-action activists.
Meg Borthwick is a freelance writer and moderates rabble’s discussion forum, babble.
Photo credit: Monica Vida