Ruling on oil artery through Laval, East End expected by January
By Robert Frank
For nearly 40 years, up to three barrels of oil per second has coursed through Enbridge’s Sarnia-Montreal pipeline, almost unnoticed. The crude quietly wended its way 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. First, it came from Western Canada. Later the flow was reversed, carrying overseas oil westward.
Judging by the commotion surrounding National Energy Board (NEB) hearings to restore the flow to the eastbound direction that the pipeline was originally designed for, casual observers could be forgiven for thinking that a new, risky viaduct was instead being planned.
Community and environmental groups in Southern Ontario and Western Quebec deplored the oil economy, global warming and warned of dire pollution risks. Unions and business groups, in turn, duly reminded NEB decision makers that the artery is the lifeblood of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and is important to the country’s economy.
Ultimately, the most important issues that the NEB has to consider are:
• whether making the oil flow the other way is inherently more dangerous;
• whether the slightly heavier crude that Enbridge has asked permission to carry could increase the risk of a spill; and
• whether the pipeline is capable of safely handling the 20 percent higher maximum capacity that Enbridge wants (nearly 3.5 barrels/second).
Enbridge has achieved an exemplary safety record for its Sarnia-Montreal line, known as 9B. In 38 years of operation, it has never experienced a major safety mishap.
Environment activists like Adam Scott have, for their part, undermined their own credibility by suggesting that Enbridge has asked to carry a more dangerous form of oil sands crude, which is initially dug up in Alberta.
“Shipping diluted bitumen as is being proposed is considerably more risky,” Scott told CBC. “If there was a spill, those chemicals would evaporate very quickly and cause an immediate health risk.”
“Scott is using hysterical language in place of the facts,” Enbridge’s Calgary-based spokesman Graham White told The Suburban. “We will not be shipping large quantities of heavies, let alone diluted bitumen along this line. It will largely remain a light crude line as it is today.”
“All crude oil is hazardous,” he acknowledged, but insisted that science is on Enbridge’s side. “[The crude that 9B will carry] is no more toxic than any other transmission grade of crude.”
Despite the not-in-my-back-yard reaction that Enbridge has faced, all the alternatives to moving oil to market seem worse.
Last week, the Fraser Institute published a report warning of the greater danger of shifting oil transport to road, rail or the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway waterway. The danger remains palpable in Quebec, with the tragic Lac Mégantic inferno fresh in public memory.
“At present, resistance to pipeline transport is sending oil to market by modes of transport that pose higher risks of spills and personal injuries such as rail and road transport,” cautioned the Fraser report.
“Line 9B was originally operated in the eastbound direction,” Enbridge vice-president Walter Kresic told The Suburban, “so it will be doing what it was designed to do. The pipeline is a fairly simple structure designed to operate in both directions.”
The NEB has already approved the reversal of the western section of line 9, just past Toronto.
It is expected to rule on the eastern half by January, at the latest.
The Quebec government stated in February that it also plans to review Enbridge’s proposal. However, it has not yet disclosed how it plans to do so.
Support for the pipeline reversal is strong in Quebec, where economic benefits will abound.
Most interveners at the NEB hearings in Montreal two weeks ago spoke in favour of the plan. In contrast, only NEB heard only two presentations supporting the reversal during it’s public hearing last week in Toronto.
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