Friday, 28 June 2013
A Line in the Sand
There is an increasingly polarized but submerged dynamic in Canada which revolves around pipelines, resource extraction, First Nations, and climate change. Sometimes the tensions rise to the surface and more awareness is created. This is what is happening right now in Ontario, Canada, in areas traversed by the “Line 9” pipeline.
Enbridge Inc. currently uses a 38 year old pipeline (Line 9) to transport petroleum from Montreal to Sarnia. Thirty-eight year old pipelines are not thick: this one is ¼ inch thick, and it measures 30 inches in diameter. Replacement pipes are ½ inch thick.
Enbridge is proposing to reverse the flow of this pipe (so that “product” runs from west to east), increase the volume of flow by 25%, and run diluted bitumen through it to Montreal, then to Portland Maine, where it can be refined and exported.
Years ago, the notion of running diluted bitumen through such a pipe would not have been considered. Not only does diluted bitumen (dil bit) have the consistency of peanut butter, but it contains abrasives such as pyrite and quartz. The flow creates friction, which raises the material's temperature, and makes it more corrosive. Additionally, cancer-causing condensates such as benzene, toluene, hydrogen sulphide, n-hexane, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons must be added to the toxic mix.
New pipelines dedicated to the transport of diluted bitumen are ¾ of an inch thick. They are coated outside for corrosion, and inside for abrasion, and they are 36 inches in diameter.
Normally, such a reckless proposal would at least trigger a federal Environmental Assessment with full public disclosure; however, now that Omnibus Bills C-38 and C-45 have been passed, the company is only required to request a National Energy Board (NEB) hearing (scheduled for August). Unfortunately, though, the NEB process is akin to a “rubber stamp” process, since public access to the hearings is restricted by an onerous application protocol, and the findings of the hearing can be overturned by the federal government.
An important impediment for Enbridge is the fact that the pipeline runs through unceded Mohawk Territory. According to the Canadian Constitution (1982), projects such as this that cross First Nations territories must first secure Free, Prior, and Informed Consent from First Nations, and this has not been secured.
Enbridge, likely anticipating that there would be resistance to its project, engaged in what could accurately be defined as "influence peddling" in communities through which the pipeline runs. In Hamilton, for example, Enbridge donated money to the police. Near the pumping station in Flamborough, home to the Beverly Swamp, ( a Class 1 protected wetland, and headwaters to streams and rivers feeding Lake Ontario), they provided funding for a baseball diamond.
Some may be fooled, but Enbridge’s track record is not exceptional. Between 1990 and 2010, they had 804 reportable spills in North America. If/when Line 9 leaks or bursts, the air will be contaminated by cancer-causing toxins, and the land and waters will be contaminated by diluted bitumen, which sinks to the bottom of wetlands, rivers, etc. A recent spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan bears all the hallmarks of what a spill will look like here.
It is in this context, and with late night construction crews working on reversing the lines at the North Westover Pumping Station BEFORE securing NEB approval, that a tipping point was reached which triggered a blockade and occupation of the station.
The protestors included First Nations peoples and a diverse contingent of peaceful (and well-informed) activists. Police made a number of arrests, and the blockade/occupation is now over, but the activism has already created a pause for reflection and awareness.
Awareness sometimes means debunking corporate myths. For example, people who support pipelines often mention jobs, but pipelines are largely self-sustaining once installed, and alternate sources of energy offer far more jobs. Additionally, increased reliance on a rip and ship extractive economy creates a high petro dollar which eliminates rather than creates jobs.
Others think of tar sand pipelines as a “necessary or lesser evil”, but why choose evil? The global atmospheric levels of carbon are now at 400 parts per million (ppm), and climate change is already wreaking fatal and expensive havoc throughout the world.
Discussions also involve First Nations issues. Increasingly, Canadians are learning that First Nations issues and their issues are intertwined. Canada’s neglect of its peoples and its environment are interconnected issues that are tarnishing our country and our international reputation.
Many of us are no longer willing to settle for Canada’s diminished stature, and many more are becoming aware of the imperatives of science-based policy-making, and the need to transition away from fossil fuels.
The blockade at Flamborough is a sign of our discontent, and a sign of our need for progressive change.
MarkTaliano is based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and is an Anchor for Allvoices.