Enbridge withdrew its request to speak to councillors about planned flow reversal for its 37–year–old Line 9 running across rural Hamilton, but local opposition is growing, fed by the expectation that the pipe will carry diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to foreign markets. Opponents have called a protest on Sunday at Enbridge’s pipeline hub in rural Flamborough, after rallying this week at city hall and speaking to council in response to a staff report.
    That report acknowledged about 75 residential wells within a kilometre of facilities where Enbridge will be carrying out construction activities near the village of Westover, close to a Provincially Significant Wetland and four city–designated Environmentally Significant Areas. But it made no mention of the diluted bitumen whose shipment through Hamilton has particularly sparked concerns, and staff concluded the city has no jurisdictional authority over federally–regulated pipelines.
    While Enbridge has been unwilling to reveal exactly what it plans to put through the pipeline, the Globe and Mail and other media have reported that it will carry diluted bitumen (also known as dilbit), an unrefined composite of materials extracted from the Alberta tar sands mixed with chemical solvents to make the viscous material flow. The company is also considering expanding the capacity of Line 9 once it has approval to reverse the flows all the way to Montreal.
    The plan is apparently an option to the company’s very controversial Northern Gateway proposed pipeline across hundreds of lakes and streams in northern British Columbia. Moving the unrefined tar sands material in that direction would also involve supertankers travelling through the Great Bear rainforest and other treacherous BC coastal waters.
    Opposition to the Ontario flow reversal by Environmental Defence and others has focused on the shift from oil to the much more corrosive dilbit that also requires increases in both temperature and pressure in the pipeline. The staff report, however, refers only to “crude oil” which was initially transported easterly through the pipeline but reversed in the 1990s “when off–shore oil from areas such as the North Sea, West Africa and the Middle East was more affordable.”
    It was dilbit from the Enbridge pipe that feeds into Line 9 at Sarnia that contaminated over 60 kilometers of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in July 2010, and sickened dozens of residents when the solvents spread into the local community. The company’s response to the spill has been lambasted by US regulatory authorities and last week the Environmental Protection Agency ordered it to expand a cleanup that has already cost the company over $800 million.
    Huffington Post reported that “on the same day that Enbridge told its investors that its tar sands spill and cleanup had made the Kalamazoo River cleaner, EPA ordered the Canadian pipeline company to resume its cleanup of the Kalamazoo River after finding that submerged oil ‘exists throughout approximately 38 miles of the Kalamazoo’.”
    Opponents are also pointing to the cancellation of a federal environmental assessment of the Line 9 flow reversal and supporting the demands of the Six Nations Haudenosaunee Confederacy to uphold historical treaties.
    “This movement did not begin with Hamilton’s council and it will not end with it,” their statement notes. “But this is a chance for Hamilton’s government to be on the right side of this issue and to lend their support to the grassroots struggles that will keep stopping the Line 9 reversal and the Tar Sands – with or without them.”
    Sunday’s 12 noon potluck picnic is at Enbridge’s hub, west of Westover Road on Concession 6. Cyclists are invited to ride there from Westdale, leaving at 10 am from My Dog Joe’s Café.