Pipelines have been much in the news lately, particularly the controversial north-south Keystone Pipeline that is destined to transport 1.1 million barrels of oil from Alberta to the gulf coast, and the Northern Gateway pipeline that Enbridge Inc. plans to build between Alberta and the coast of BC to transport almost 600,000 barrels of oil for shipment overseas.
Oil pipelines are nothing new in Canada. In fact, a 40-year-old Enbridge pipeline transports 240,000 barrels of light crude oil through eastern Ontario each and every day through Pipeline 9. The oil that flows through the pipeline is sourced from the North Sea and other foreign sources. It travels by ship to Montreal, and flows through the pipeline to customers in Southwestern Ontario and beyond. Of that daily flow, 110,000 barrels are destined for the Imperial Oil plant at Nanticoke on Lake Erie.
The pipeline runs under Frontenac County in the Battersea area and then bends to cross south of the south of Frontenac County into rural Kingston
With the price of both heavy and light oil from North American sources now running at lower prices than oil produced in the North Sea, Enbridge is now looking to
reverse that flow, sending light and heavy crude oil from Alberta to be processed in Montreal and beyond.
In order to reverse the flow, Enbridge will need to seek approvals from the National Energy Board. They recently received approval to reverse the flow in the section of Pipeline 9 that runs from Sarnia to Westover (north of Hamilton) and are planning to apply for approval for the 639 km. stretch between Westover and Montreal. As part of the proposal, the capacity of the pipeline is to be increased from 240,000 to 300,000 barrels per day.
These changes to the use of Pipeline 9 have come to the attention of Environmental Defence, a not-for-profit environmental action organization based in Toronto.
In conjunction with Transitions Kingston and student groups from Queen’s, Enviromental Defence sponsored a public session on Pipeline 9 at the Queen’s campus on Monday night, November 5.
Adam Scott, the Green Energy program manager at Environmental Defence, said that Enbridge’s decision to seek approval for the Sarnia to Westover section first, “was an attempt to break the approval process into pieces to avoid controversy. They also did not come clean about what they were planning to use the pipeline for until a couple of weeks ago, when they admitted they were going to use it for diluted bitumen, tar sands oil.”
According to Scott, bitumen and the chemicals used to dilute it so it can flow through a pipeline, are “a lot more abrasive than crude oil, leading to higher levels of corrosion in pipelines. That, combined with the age of this pipeline, 40 years, would lead anyone to think twice about this.”
Adam Scott also expressed concern about increasing the flow in the pipeline to 300,000 barrels per day, because of fears that an increase in pressure needed to increase the flow will further stress the metal in the pipe.
He also pointed to two recent spills in Enbridge pipelines, one in Wisconsin this past summer and a major spill last summer in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which has led to a cleanup that Enbridge acknowledges has cost $800 million.
“Pipeline 9 crosses over every river or stream that runs into the great lakes,” said Scott, “and pipelines do fail.”
Scott also said that because of recent changes in the regulatory environment that were brought in to streamline approvals for pipeline projects such as the Northern Gateway pipeline in Alberta and BC, the Enbridge application for Pipeline 9 will not undergo an environmental assessment nor will there be much opportunity for public hearings.
“The Sarnia-Westover hearings lasted only 3 days, and there was limited opportunity to present relevant information,” he said.
Peter Hodson, a professor of Biology at Queen’s, who has studied the impact of Alberta tar sands oil production on fish populations in the Athabasca River watershed, said that the long term impact of an oil spill on local fish populations could be devastating, and that any attempts to clean up an inland oil spill are likely to cause as much or more damage than the spill itself.
He added, however, that most of the oil spilled in North America is spilled by the end user.
“The next time you take a bus, look at the road next to the sidewalk. You’ll see a stream of diesel fuel running into the sewers because the buses leak. That oil goes into Lake Ontario,” he said.
Graham Smith, speaking for Enbridge from Calgary, said that the company’s intention is to transport light crude through pipeline 9, not the tar sands bitumen.
“For this particular project, the vast majority of the product is light crude,” Smith said, although he added that bitumen may be transported through the line in the future.
He disputed Adam Scott’s claim that bitumen is more corrosive and poses more of a risk to the integrity of the pipe.
“Studies have shown that this is not the case,” he said, “I think people sometimes misunderstand what diluted bitumen is. It does not contain any sand or clay. That is all removed before it is shipped. The product that is shipped resembles a thick syrup.”
Smith also said that the increase in flow through the pipeline will be achieved through the addition of a “drag reducing agent, what we call a DRA, which is a safe polymer compound.”
He acknowledged that Enbridge has been faced with some major spills in recent years, and called the Kalamazoo, Michigan spill “an incredibly serious watershed moment for the company, which has led us to focus on improvements at all levels.”
He said that all Enbridge pipelines are monitored on an ongoing basis.
“We also conduct a series of line inspections on Pipeline 9 and our other lines, which involve physically digging up portions of the lines to do physical inspections to ensure we have good integrity in the line,” he said.
As well Enbridge uses sensors that evaluate the pipelines from the inside to check for any loss of integrity in the ¼ inch steel pipes.
At the meeting in Kingston, there was little comfort that the changes to Pipeline 9 will be minimal and that the pipeline will never leak.
Transitions Kingston, a group that advocates for decreases in the dependence on oil and petroleum products, has organized a petition against the reversal of Pipeline 9. They can be found at TransitionKingston.ca