Environmental groups are questioning plans by Enbridge Inc. to reverse the flow of oil in a pipeline that runs through Kingston north of Hwy. 401.
The 30-inch pipe, known as Line 9, carries light crude oil from Montreal to Sarnia.
A spokesman for Environmental Defence says Enbridge is planning to move western tar sands oil in the other direction, ultimately heading for refining facilities in Portland, Maine.
Adam Scott said the heavy crude is more corrosive and could cause a breakdown of the pipeline resulting in an environmental disaster like the ones Enbridge experienced in Wisconsin this summer and Michigan in 2010.
“Their safety record is terrible,” said Scott. “We’re hoping municipalities will step in and ask questions.”
According to a map supplied by Environmental Defence, the pipeline crosses under the bed of Colonel By Lake, part of the Rideau Canal.
“Running this stuff is much more corrosive. If it’s spilled, it’s much more difficult to clean up,” said Scott.
The pipe has a capacity of 240,000 barrels a day.
Environmental Defence is teaming up with two local environmental groups – Transition Kingston and the Society for Conservation Biology – to host an information forum on Monday at Queen’s University.
A spokesman for Enbridge told the Whig-Standard that the current plan is to move only light crude from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries at Sarnia, Hamilton and Montreal.
“If they can have access to Canadian crude it increases their margins and improves their business model. It is primarily light crude that will be transported,” said Graham White. “We’re repurposing the line back to its original intent. We sometimes call it a re-reversal.”
White said Enbridge will likely, in future, begin to move oilsands products through Line 9 but not until it has been thoroughly inspected and approved.
Though the line running through Kingston is 40 years old, White said, it remains safe.
“We do all kinds of monitoring on that line. It is a line that is in place and operating,” he said. “It’s a line that has been in use since it was constructed.”
White said monitoring is the key to operating lines at “a very high level of integrity in perpetuity.”
Sections of the pipe will be uncovered, lifted out and checked for integrity.
Last year, Enbridge convinced the National Energy Board to reverse the Ontario pipeline section from Sarnia to Hamilton.
Scott charges that the company is seeking approvals in stages in order to avoid controversy.
Enbridge is currently embroiled in a disputed plan to build a pipeline from oilsands operations in Alberta across British Columbia to a port on the Pacific coast.
This summer, disaster struck when 190,000 litres of oil leaked from an Enbridge pipe in Wisconsin.
In July 2010, a 30-inch pipe carrying tarsands oil ruptured near Marshall, Mich., resulting in a massive spill of 3 million litres that polluted the Kalamazoo River.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Enbridge to perform more clean-up work at the Michigan site.
“I’m sure few people in that community were aware the pipeline was there in the Kalamazoo spill,” said Scott. “People were shocked it was there.”
White said Enbridge has learned from those events but noted that an independent regulator’s report on the Michigan spill made it clear that “internal corrosion was not a factor in this leak.”
Oilsands crude, he said, has “the vast majority” of sand, sediment and water removed before it hits the pipeline.
“We have been safely transporting very heavy crude through our lines for decades – for more than 40 years,” said White. “They do not produce any more of a corrosive effect that medium crudes.”
The public discussion will take place in Dupuis Hall of Queen’s University from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.