Sunday, 14 October 2012

Enbridge bails as opposition grows

Canada’s largest pipeline company has withdrawn its request to speak to councillors about planned flow reversal for its 37-year-old Line 9 running across rural Hamilton. But local opposition is growing, fed by the expectation that the pipe will carry diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to foreign markets. Opponents have called a rally at city hall on Wednesday morning and a protest next Sunday at Enbridge Inc’s pipeline hub in rural Flamborough.

A staff report going to the general issues committee on Wednesday says there are dozens of residential wells within a kilometre of the site where Enbridge will be carrying out construction activities near the village of Westover, as well as a Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW), and four city-designated Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs). The construction activity is expected to employ 30 people for about four months and includes “installation of a short section of pipe”, but the report concludes that the city has no jurisdictional authority over federally-regulated pipelines and that no action is required by councillors.

“Based on the above, staff is satisfied that the National Energy Board has addressed the issues surrounding pipeline safety and emergency response protocol through their approvals process. Since there are no planned impacts to Hamilton’s Environmentally Significant Areas and/or to existing land uses, residents and water supplies as a result of Enbridge’s proposal to reverse the direction of flow within the existing section of pipeline between Sarnia and Westover, it is concluded that there are no foreseeable impacts to the City of Hamilton.”

While Enbridge has been unwilling to reveal what it plans to put through the pipeline, the Globe and Mail and other media have reported that it will carry diluted bitumen (also known as dilbit), an unrefined composite of materials extracted from the Alberta tar sands mixed with chemical solvents to make the heavy viscous material flow. The company is also considering expanding the capacity of Line 9 once it has approval to reverse the flows all the way to Montreal.

The eastern plan is apparently an option to the company’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline across hundreds of lakes and streams in northern British Columbia that is mired in controversy. Moving the unrefined tar sands material in that direction would also involve supertankers traveling through the Great Bear rainforest and other treacherous BC coastal waters.

Opposition to the Ontario flow reversal by Environmental Defence and others has focused on the shift from oil to the much more corrosive dilbit that also requires increases in both temperature and pressure in the pipeline. The staff report, however, makes no mention of dilbit, tar sands or bitumen, referring only to “crude oil” which it notes was transported easterly through the pipeline for many years after it was first constructed in the mid-1970s.

“However, in the 1990s, when off-shore oil from areas such as the North Sea, West Africa and the Middle East was more affordable, Line 9 was reversed to westbound to carry crude oil from the Montreal terminal to Sarnia.”

It was dilbit from the Enbridge pipe that feeds into Line 9 at Sarnia that contaminated over 60 kilometers of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in July 2010, and sickened dozens of residents when the solvents spread into the local community. The company’s response to the spill has been lambasted by US regulatory authorities and last week the Environmental Protection Agency ordered it to expand a cleanup that has already cost the company over $800 million.

Huffington Post reported that “on the same day that Enbridge told its investors that its tar sands spill and cleanup had made the Kalamazoo River cleaner, EPA ordered the Canadian tar sands pipeline company to resume its cleanup of the Kalamazoo River after finding that submerged oil ‘exists throughout approximately 38 miles of the Kalamazoo’.”

Eight delegations have been approved to speak on the Enbridge report at Wednesday’s general issues committee that begins at 9:30 am in council chambers. They include representatives of the Six Nations Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

Opponents of shipping tar sands through Hamilton have called a rally prior to the meeting. They point to the cancellation of a federal environmental assessment of the Line 9 flow reversal and ask councillors to oppose the Enbridge project and to help uphold the treaties with indigenous peoples.

“This movement did not begin with Hamilton's council and it will not end with it,” their statement notes. “But this is a chance for Hamilton's government to be on the right side of this issue and to lend their support to the grassroots struggles that will keep stopping the Line 9 reversal and the Tar Sands – with or without them.”

The Hamilton 350 Committee on climate change is also inviting the public to a protest potluck picnic at Enbridge’s Westover hub at noon on Sunday, October 21. Cyclists are invited to ride there from Westdale, leaving at 10 am from My Dog Joe’s Café.

Hamilton 350 Blog

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