Risky business: Harper government set to announce decision on Line 9 proposal

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Photo: Enbridge Pipeline from Kalamazoo Spill by NTSB

Update: The National Energy Board has approved the Line 9 project.

Update: The Harper government (Federal Ministry of Finance) is currently robocalling Canadians to participate in a phone town hall on the budget today, currently verified happening in London Ontario. Not coincidentally, this will happen at the same time as the NEB proposal is announced. Activists suspected the federal government would run some kind distraction from the announcement, and this appears to be it. 

With pipeline issues at the forefront of the mainstream media, and vigorous opposition at every turn, it's easy for a proposed pipeline to get lost in the mix. Not surprisingly, another Enbridge proposal has been quietly considered by the Harper government, with potentially catastrophic results. It is expected that this afternoon the deal will be sealed with an announcement that the National Energy Board (NEB) is recommending the approval of the Line 9 project. There is no reason to believe that the Harper government will reject the NEB's advice, as the Keystone XL pipeline proposal continues to be rejected by the U.S. and Alberta needs to get its tar sands product to its largest market, the United States.

The history of the Line 9 pipeline is a long one. It has been used, for the better part of 40 years, to move crude oil and other toxins from east to west. There is now a proposal to reverse the flow of the Line 9 pipeline and push diluted bitumen (dilbit) from the Alberta tar sands to Quebec refineries. There is concern that this aging pipeline, not engineered to carry corrosive dilbit, will inevitably leak, wreaking havoc on wildlife, water and the people who rely on both for their survival. Not surprisingly, many of the communities affected by the proposal were never consulted.

Council of Canadians London Chapter Chair Roberta Cory first heard about it a year ago. "I was given a pamphlet about the [Line 9 proposal], did some research and became concerned." Line 9 crosses the Thames river just north of London, Ontario. London city councillors, when asked, knew nothing about the pipeline proposal. London‘s mayor, former Liberal MP Joe Fontana, remains unavailable for comment.

In the event of a spill, there seems to be no plan in place for emergency first responders. "They need to coordinate with ambulances, the police, hospitals and the fire department in the event of a spill," says Cory. "They need to practice their preparedness in advance. I wonder how much money City Council has set aside for this, if any."

Bitumen is a combination of sand and crude oil that presents problems in both extraction and delivery. It is combined with a cocktail of highly toxic chemicals to make it possible to move it through pipelines to refineries. The mining tailings alone are deadly.

A flock of 1,600 geese landed on a tailing containment pond in Alberta and, within hours, all were dead. The Kalamazoo River, in Michigan, had an Enbridge pipeline similar in age and construction to Line 9 crossing it, carrying dilbit, spill over 1 million gallons, or about 3.8 million litres, into the river. Despite the fact that Enbridge's own systems alerted them to the spill immediately, Enbridge failed to report a spill for 17 hours, during which 81 per cent of the diluted bitumen spill was dumped.

Heavier than crude, dilbit spills are nearly impossible to effectively clean up because, unlike crude, dilbit sinks to the bottom of waterways. Resident living near the Kalamazoo River spill have reported a radical increase in cancers, nervous system disorders and kidney disease. Enbridge, by its own admission, has had over 800 spills in the space of a decade. That's averaging one spill every five to six days.

Despite Enbridge's well-documented history of spills and the proposed pipeline's age and engineering, the NEB is poised to recommend approval of the repurposing of Line 9. When asked, NEB spokesperson Carole Leger-Kubeczek initially denied any knowledge of a decision. "What decision? There has been no decision on the Line 9 proposal." When pressed, Leger-Kubeczek admitted that the decision was not ready for announcement. "An announcement will be made some time after 2:30 pm EST on Thursday."

Indigenous Peoples, notably Aamjiwnaang and Algonquin First Nations, and numerous environmental protection organizations, submitted information to the Line 9 NEB hearings in October 2013, despite being given only two weeks to file lengthy application forms. Several treaties and covenants are being ignored by both Enbridge and the NEB, including the Two Row Wampum treaties of 1613 and 1664, the Canadian Charter and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. None of the 18 plus First Nations affected by the pipeline proposal have been consulted, violating the Canadian Charter (1982). "The vast distance covered by tar sands pipelines will make toxic spills an inevitability. If this project goes forward it will devastate our health, our communities, the land and the water that we all need to thrive," comments Sâkihitowin Awâsis, a Métis environmental justice advocate.

Even with Enbridge's appalling record of catastrophic pipeline spills, no environmental assessment has been ordered. Industry estimates of a 90 per cent chance of a Line 9 spill, violation of treaties, previously documented effects of spills on the environment, wildlife and people, Enbridge, the NEB and the Harper government seem determined to promote the myth of the economic benefits of the Line 9 proposal.

In reality, the pipeline will cost billions and produce few jobs for Canadians. The estimated cost of a spill ranges between $1-10 billion. Enbridge reports that it has liability insurance of only $685 million. Mike Harris wrote the Financial Post suggesting that "Ontario will gain 3,250 person years of direct and indirect employment, and Quebec will 1,969 person years." This translates, at best, to a little over 100 jobs per year over three decades in Ontario and just over 65 jobs in Quebec. In reality the only parties to benefit from the Line 9 proposal will be Enbridge and Stephen Harper's Alberta tar sands buddies.

While there remains a glimmer of hope that the officially yet-to-be-approved Line 9 pipeline proposal will be rejected by the Harper government, it seems unlikely. There is simply too much money to be made by too few to reasonably expect that the proposal will be squashed. Provinces and municipalities don't have a say in the matter, but if significant pressure is applied, an environmental assessment can be ordered. With persistent pressure, First Nations and activists believe that the pipeline proposal can be stalled, if not defeated. Time will tell.


Meg Borthwick is a freelance writer and moderator for rabble’s discussion forum, babble.

Photo: Enbridge Pipeline from Kalamazoo Spill by NTSB

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