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

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Photo: flickr/Mack Male

Like this article? Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

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

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.