Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Tar sands pipeline through Hamilton

Hamilton is being tossed into the middle of the latest tar sands battle, as Canada’s largest pipeline company shifts its attention to Ontario in response to the growing opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway route through British Columbia. The first step is a proposal to reverse the flows in the Enbridge Inc pipeline from Hamilton to Sarnia so it can carry diluted tar sands bitumen (dilbit) toward the east coast, and the hearing on that application opens this week in London.

The village of Westover in Flamborough is the hub of several Enbridge pipelines including line 9 which connects Sarnia to Montreal, the parallel line 7 between Westover and Sarnia, line 10 from Westover to New York State, and line 11 from Westover to the ExxonMobil refinery in Nanticoke. The portion of line 9 between Westover and Sarnia is the focus of the National Energy Board (NEB) hearings scheduled for May 23-25 in London’s Hilton Hotel.
That 37-year old pipeline currently carries imported crude oil west to Sarnia. Enbridge is seeking permission to reverse that flow in a move widely reported to be part of a strategy to ship tar sands products to Portland Maine for export to global markets. In a potentially related move, Enbridge is also seeking to double the capacity of a pipeline running across Michigan into Sarnia – the same line that ruptured in 2010, dumping more than 800,000 gallons of dilbit into the Kalamazoo River and costing the company over $700 million. 
The implications of routing the highly corrosive “dilbit” through Ontario has caught the attention of the London Free Press which announced Friday that “Enbridge pipeline battle comes close to home” and noted the Westover-Sarnia pipe goes under the city’s Thames River. It is also being challenged by Environmental Defence, the Pembina Institute and Equiterre, as well as a Cambridge community newspaper.
If approved, Enbridge says line 9 will transport between 50,000 and 90,000 barrels per day, but acknowledges that it is capable of carrying “beyond 150,000 bpd”. The flow reversal will mean higher pressures in the pipeline and some modifications to the Westover hub and a nearby densitometer located close to the intersection of Kirkwall Road and the 6th Concession of Flamborough.
An environmental assessment document submitted by Enbridge notes the presence of two environmentally significant areas and a provincially significant wetland near the Westover installations, as well as portions of both Spencer Creek and Fairchild Creek. However, crossings of major rivers such as the Thames, Grand and St Clair are likely of greater concern, as well as the prospect of tar sands refining in Ontario near the Great Lakes such as at the Nanticoke facility of ExxonMobil.
National and international attention has been focused on two other proposed routes for export of dilbit – the Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Northern Gateway pipeline across Alberta and northern BC to Kitimat on the Pacific coast. Both have generated massive opposition – with the Keystone XL blocked at least temporarily by environmental concerns in the United States, and the Northern Gateway facing unequivocal refusals by multiple First Nations to allow use of their lands.
The latter route would cross more than 1000 lakes and rivers on the way to Kitimat, but the use of supertankers to carry the bitumen to China and other markets is particularly controversial. Their passageway would be through the Great Bear Rainforest and other narrow and often storm-wracked coastal waters, and the memory (and the on-going ecological effects) of the disastrous Exxon Valdez crash in 1989 loom large in the debate.
Alberta media, on the other hand, are pointing out that the pipeline connections to the east coast of the continent are already in place and thus could prove easier for Enbridge to win the required approvals. That approval process is also about to get much easier as the federal government pushes through an omnibus budget implementation bill that transfers final decision making from the NEB to the Harper cabinet.
The omnibus bill – labelled the Environmental Destruction Act by Green Party leader Elizabeth May – will change more than 70 pieces of legislation in a single swoop, including a complete re-write of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act that makes all assessments an option of the federal Minister of the Environment. The bill also eliminates habitat protection features of the Fisheries Act, shifts the start of the old age pension to age 67, rewrites unemployment insurance rules, and eliminates long-standing institutions such as the National Council on Welfare and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
Hamliton 350 Blog

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