By: Jessica McDiarmid News reporter, Published on Thu Oct 03 2013
All of Toronto’s major waterways fall in its path.
That path, of Enbridge’s Line 9B pipeline, crosses all nine watersheds in the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority area along its route from North Westover to Montreal.
As the company seeks federal approval to increase capacity and reverse the flow of the 38-year-old pipeline, environmental groups and municipalities have sounded alarm bells over the potentially catastrophic affect of a spill on water in the GTA.
“It runs through a really, really sensitive place and the proposal makes the pipeline much more dangerous,” said Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence.
“There’s been no assessment of what would happen if there’s a spill into one of the rivers that the pipeline crosses. What would it mean for the city of Toronto, for example?”
Enbridge is seeking approval from the National Energy Board to boost the 30-inch pipeline’s capacity from 240,000 barrels per day to 300,000.
It also wants to reverse its flow from westbound to eastbound, allowing it to carry bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to refineries in Quebec.
Public hearings will be held in Montreal next week and Toronto from Oct. 16 to 19. Municipalities along the pipeline have raised concerns about safety and emergency response, in hopes the NEB will make its approval contingent on tight safety conditions.
The proposal isn’t subject to a federal environmental assessment, following changes to environmental rules included in last year’s omnibus bill C-45. Enbridge submitted an Environmental and Socio-Economic Impact Assessment as part of its application to the NEB, which concluded the project wasn’t likely to have significant negative effects on the environment.
The pipeline, which moves an annual average of 160,000 barrels per day, runs across three major rivers — the Humber, Don and Rouge — in Toronto alone. It crosses hundreds of waterways along its 639-kilometre stretch. Most of those flow into Lake Ontario, a drinking water source for millions in Canada and the U.S.
“I can’t underscore just how important Lake Ontario is as a drinking water supply,” said Mark Mattson, president of the environmental group Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.
“There is no alternative drinking water for our communities.”
Mattson said his organization’s view is that the pipeline, built in 1976, doesn’t utilize the latest, best technology and needs upgrades if it’s going to carry diluted bitumen, a mixture of crude oil thinned with chemicals that critics claim is more corrosive to pipes than typical light crude. Many companies, including Enbridge, deny this.
Dilbit can prove more difficult to clean up, however, as was the case in a 2010 spill in Michigan that saw 3.3 million litres of dilbit spew into the Kalamazoo River. Cleanup efforts have cost Enbridge more than $1 billion so far, and are not yet complete.
Even with approval, the vast majority of product in the pipeline wouldn’t be dilbit, according to the company.
Beth Williston, senior manager of environmental assessment planning at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, said Enbridge’s monitoring of the pipeline is comprehensive, though not as tough as the TRCA standard for many municipalities.
The TRCA has dealt with three Line 9B exposures in the past three years — incidents where storms, erosion or similar issues cause the line to become uncovered. While the company was quick to respond and remedy the problem, Williston said the conservation authority wants the company to take it further, conducting more testing and detailed surveys, with a more “proactive” approach.
“It can be done, and Enbridge has actually been very receptive,” said Williston. The TRCA also wants to see plans for watersheds in the event of a spill and models to show how fast any product leaked out would reach Lake Ontario.
“If it were ever to get to Lake Ontario, we want to ensure they have a strategy to mitigate it before it gets into the drinking water.”
The TRCA has met with Enbridge to air concerns and is satisfied with the company’s response so far, she said. Meetings will continue to address TRCA’s issues.
On Thursday, NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns urged the province to conduct its own environmental assessment, arguing that the NEB process doesn’t examine all the potential impacts on drinking water, wetlands and shorelines.
Ontario environment ministry spokesperson Kate Jordan said interprovincial pipelines fall under federal jurisdiction. Ontario is participating in the hearings to “ensure any potential environmental impacts arising from the proposed project are addressed.”
In an emailed statement, Enbridge spokesperson Graham White said the company is serious about its safety commitments in all communities along Line 9.
“We have state-of-the-art monitoring and detection systems and professional, responsive employees at the controls of those systems 24/7 to ensure quick containment, and have proven the effectiveness of these measures in both exercises and real life events,” it said in part.
“Enbridge’s goal is zero incidents, and no spill is acceptable to us … Line 9 has been a safe and well-performing line for the past 38 years, and we are taking all necessary measures to ensure that remains the case for the people of Ontario and Toronto.”