An environmental disaster is waiting to happen in Hamilton: the rupture of Enbridge’s Hamilton-to-Sarnia pipeline, pouring diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands into the Beverley Swamp or one of the many creeks and rivers along the way that flow into lakes Ontario and Erie. The pipeline hub is at Westover in Flamborough.
Enbridge applied last month to the National Energy Board (NEB) to reverse the flow of its 37-year-old Pipeline 9 through Hamilton and ship diluted bitumen from west to east, rather than crude oil from east to west. Pipeline 9 uses the same type of steel pipe that ruptured last year in Kalamazoo, Michigan, causing a $750-million spill that’s still not fully cleaned up. It took Enbridge 17 hours even to turn off the flow of that pipeline after the rupture.
Crude oil isn’t corrosive but diluted bitumen is. Crude oil requires less pressure to move through a pipeline than diluted bitumen. And diluted bitumen, when bursting from a break in an outdated pipe that is under greater pressure than it was built for, does not float on water. Rather, it sinks to the bottom where it’s hard to remove, and releases toxic solvents into the atmosphere that could cause respiratory problems and even deaths among residents, first responders, livestock, and wildlife nearby. Six hundred people became ill during the Kalamazoo spill. Two later died.
Enbridge Pipeline 10 from Hamilton to Buffalo spilled once in Binbrook in 2001 and, according to Binbrook resident John McGreal, it took 12 hours for the company to shut off that 29-year-old pipe.
On Oct. 17, 2012, Enbridge was supposed to address Hamilton council regarding its proposal. For the third time, it failed to show up. Instead, Enbridge representatives privately lobbied councillors but apparently failed to tell them diluted bitumen was to be shipped. Hamilton, incidentally, does not have a compulsory lobbyist registry.
In Enbridge’s place, a number of citizen delegates addressed council. I argued that, because the Stephen Harper government recklessly cancelled the environmental assessment of the Enbridge proposal (along with 3,000 others in its omnibus budget bill), council should direct its legal staff to initiate a legal challenge forcing the project to undergo one. Until then, I recommended the city amend its building code to idle oil pipelines over 30 years of age within city limits. At the very minimum, I urged that Hamilton’s idle blast furnaces should be churning out steel for a brand new pipeline.
Harper, I pointed out, is the voice of the oil industry in Canada. Line 9 through Hamilton represents the last hope of the oilsands consortium to ship out its environmentally unfriendly product to world markets. The proposed Keystone pipeline for oilsands bitumen through the United States for refinement in Texas has been nixed for now by Barack Obama. The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to transfer bitumen to the West Coast for shipment to Asian markets by supertanker (shades of the Exxon Valdiz) has been stopped by British Columbia. So, Enbridge wants to ship diluted bitumen through Hamilton to be refined in Maine.
I also explained why the oilsands development should be shut down. That mining operation is environmentally unsustainable and represents an obsolete 1950s paradigm of the use of fossil fuels to power a completely outdated system of private transportation using cars and trucks. It is the world’s largest single polluter producing CO2, a greenhouse gas that promotes climate change.
Other presenters called for council to demand a $1 billion performance bond from Enbridge, to be apprised of the results of 84 recent “integrity digs” on pipelines near Hamilton, to intervene in Enbridge’s NEB application, to approach other municipalities for joint action, and to force Enbridge to appear at public informational meetings, among other initiatives. On Oct. 17, with Brian McHattie in the chair, city councillors listened attentively and asked many questions of presenters and city staff. Hopefully, council will act promptly on these suggestions.
Hamiltonians wanting to learn more about this issue would be well advised to hear Andrew Nikiforuk deliver the annual Spirit of Red Hill Lecture on Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church, 170 Dundurn South. The topic of this award-winning journalist will be Bitumen, Pipelines and the Petro-State. Admission is free.
Ken Stone is a member of Environment Hamilton and Hamilton 350 Committee.