WATERLOO REGION — Opponents of a plan to pump Alberta crude oil through an old pipeline that runs across the region are hoping the province will conduct an environmental review of the contentious project.
A plan by Calgary’s Enbridge Pipelines would see the flow of oil along the Line 9 pipeline reversed and increased in volume. The buried pipeline, which runs across North Dumfries Township, under the Grand River and through suburban backyards in Ayr, has carried imported light crude to refineries in Sarnia since the mid-1970s.
If the new plan is approved, activists worry Enbridge could begin pumping Alberta Oil Sands bitumen, a more corrosive, toxic version of light crude oil. They say that creates a greater spill risk that exposes the region’s farmland and waterways to contamination.
This week, Quebec’s government said it wants to conduct its own review of the proposed oil pipeline project through Quebec soil, in addition to one overseen by the federal government. Line 9 runs from Sarnia to Montreal.
Environmentalists are calling on Ontario to do the same.
“They have quite a few different options for getting involved and making sure the project is safe for Ontario residents,” said Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence.
A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment said the province is watching the Line 9 project “closely.” But there are no immediately plans to intervene in the federal approval process.
“The project falls under federal regulation by the National Energy Board and as such provincial environmental assessment requirements do not apply,” said ministry spokesperson Kate Jordan.
The ministry may become involved if specific permits are needed for construction work around the pipeline, she said.
Louisette Lanteigne, a Waterloo activist who has spoken against the project in front of the National Energy Board, worries Enbridge doesn’t have the ability to detect pinhole leaks in the pipeline.
Line 9 runs along the same route used by a previous pipeline built in the 1950s — a straight line that ignores roadways and municipal boundaries, and cuts across farms, ecologically sensitive areas and multiple water ways.
That puts farmland and aquifers at risk, Lanteigne said. She’s also concerned the pipeline, built to 1970s standards, could be vulnerable to leaks caused by small earthquakes, which occasionally strike the region.
“This pipeline was created before we understood hydrology, or sediment or climate change variances. There’s a whole slew of issues the pipeline was never designed to address,” Lanteigne said.
She’s organizing a protest next Monday evening in Waterloo’s Town Square to draw attention to the project. Enbridge’s plan for the section of pipeline that runs through Waterloo Region has already been approved, but opponents hope they can stop the second phase, which extends to Montreal.
Enbridge, meanwhile, says the pipeline is safe and sound and has improved its monitoring and inspection of oil pipelines since a devastating spill in the Kalamazoo River 2010. It says it checks the pipeline under the Grand River every five years, according to a National Energy Board transcript.
It’s not unheard of for a province to become heavily involved in the federal approval process for a pipeline project. Lawyers from B.C.’s provincial government have recently been demanding answers around the safety of the proposed Northern Gateway project.
Alexandre Cloutier, the Parti Quebecois minister for Canadian intergovernmental affairs, says Quebec wants to ensure the Enbridge pipeline follows its laws and regulations.
“There will be consultations in Quebec,” Cloutier said. “The people who are directly involved will be consulted. We will make sure that the environmental regulations and Quebec laws are applied.”
Environment Minister Daniel Breton, who has concerns about oil spills, said Quebec wants more information on the Enbridge project before deciding to approve it.
“We are in charge of our territory, we must have our say,” he said. “It’s as simple as that . . . We’re going to deal with it because it’s a question of protecting the environment on our territory.”