Enbridge is seeking approval from the National Energy Board to reverse the flow of oil in a pipeline that runs from Sarnia to Montreal. The 639 kilometre stretch of pipeline between Sarnia and Montreal (mostly in the Lake Ontario watershed) is the focus of an NEB hearing that moves from Montreal to Toronto this week. The hearing is expected to be well-attended and eventful. Within the first hour of the Toronto hearings, two peaceful protests were staged by Amjiwnaang First Nation and 350.org members.
Here are 7 things you need to know about the Line 9 hearing:
1. You can attend the Toronto hearing or listen online:
Wednesday, October 16 to Saturday, October 19
Metro Toronto Convention Centre, South Building (222 Bremner Boulevard)
9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
2. Enbridge is asking the NEB for permission to do 3 things:
- Change the flow of bitumen in these pipes to Montreal refineries;
- Increase the pipeline capacity from 240,000 to 300,00 barrels per day; and,
- Alter the pipeline’s contents to allow the transportation of heavier grade crude oil.
3. This hearing is a big deal.
There are 60 intervening parties including government ministries, environmental groups, industry representatives, municipalities, and impacted individuals, and over 110 commenters. This level of participation and concern makes this NEB hearing one of the largest and most significant project proposals in years.
4. Spills, accidents, and emergency response plans are the issues to watch.
Pipeline spills are all too-common. Since 2008, Enbridge has admitted to spilling over 1.5 million litres in Canada. Between 1999 and 2011, the company is estimated to have spilled almost 26 million litres from its North American pipelines. This is a big threat to the Lake Ontario watershed specifically, because Line 9 has very few shut-off valves and isn’t equipped with the modern technologies that would help protect waterways, as outlined in our submission.
5. This hearing is a test of Canada’s new environmental rules.
Line 9 is the first major project to be determined under the NEB’s new rules. Because of the Government of Canada’s sweeping environmental law changes last year, most of these changes appear to facilitate quick approvals for major projects, rather than promote thoughtful scrutiny. For example:
- Fewer people are permitted to participate in this hearing.
- The NEB must make a final report to the Cabinet within 15 months.
- Cabinet, not the NEB, has the final word on whether the project will be approved; this politicizes a process that should be based on science and evidence.
6. A portion of Line 9 has already been approved.
Last July 2012, the NEB approved the reversal and capacity expansion of the first section of Line 9, which stretches from Sarnia to New Westover. Coupled with the new rules, the fact that half of the pipeline expansion has already been approved leaves many observers wondering if the NEB could actually deny Enbridge’s request for approvals.
7. Environmental Assessment? Not at this hearing.
No matter what happens, this NEB hearing is not an environmental assessment. Enbridge is not required to consider alternatives to the pipeline, demonstrate "proof of need" for the pipeline reversal, or assess its cumulative environmental effects. This, too, is a sign that changes to Canadian environmental legislation are making it easier for major projects to escape full regulatory review.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper will be at the hearing every day this week. Follow us on Twitter for updates.
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