The ominous Enbridge tower in BC. Photo via.
If you pay any attention whatsoever to environmental news in Canada, you must be well aware of the tensions surrounding Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline. The cracked old behemoth—whose flow may be reversed to send a glut of Alberta bitumen east (while barrelling it’s way through the most populated part of the country)—has understandably been a hot-button issue.
Last June, protesters shut down construction on the pipeline in Hamilton. In December, there was a similar incident in Toronto. But back in October, while everyone was focused on protesters shutting down the National Energy Board’s farcical Line 9 public hearings in Toronto and Montreal, Enbridge and the NEB were quietly pulling a fast one over on the hippies and the lefties.
Enbridge’s 57-year-old Line 7 pipeline travels from Sarnia to Hamilton carrying the same product as its bigger and younger brother, Line 9. In late October, The National Energy board approved a project that allows Enbridge to increase Line 7’s capacity for oil delivery from 147,000 to 180,000 barrels a day.
This 40,000 barrel-a-day increase might not sound like much (unless you actually picture 40,000 leaky barrels of oil stacked up right in front of you) but to put it in perspective, when Enbridge’s 6B pipeline ruptured in 2010 and filled the Kalamazoo River with Alberta crude, it was the worst on-land oil spill in American history. It lasted 17 hours, leaked 20,000 barrels, and to this day is still being questionably cleaned up. So if only half of the 40,000 barrel a day increase in Line 7 were to leak, we’d probably be looking at one of the worst oil spills in Canadian history.
And so what does the National Energy Board do? Approve this increase without any public hearings, consultations, or consideration for the farmers and landowners whose property Enbridge’s pipeline happens to traverse. Even the City of Hamilton—a municipality of half a million people that Line 7 runs directly through—wasn’t notified of the proposed expansion until Enbridge was already given the green light.
"In our view, if it is in our municipal jurisdiction, Enbridge should consult with the City of Hamilton," Guy Paparella, Hamilton's director of growth planning told the Toronto Star, upon finding out about Line 7’s approval. He added that they would have appreciated the “courtesy” of at least being notified, but that since "the project's already approved, there's nothing we can do about it at this stage."
Enbridge, who has said that Line 7’s increase doesn’t affect Hamilton “in any way,” responded by having spokesman Graham White send an email to the Star: “Hamilton is the only municipality voicing that concern,” he wrote, “but we have heard and understood it and assured them directly that we will include them in all future consultation and activity on this project.” How considerate.
With the smack on the ass and go-get-‘em style approvals that the National Energy Board has been giving Enbridge recently, the NEB’s allegiance is clear. But it’s still confusing as to what their legitimate function actually is: to regulate energy projects, as they suggest on their website? Or is it simply to facilitate their rollouts on behalf of companies like Enbridge?
With Line 7 and Bill C38 (a Conservative initiative that “guts environmental legislation”) in mind, I got in touch with former farmer, trucker, and the current CEO and Director of Federally Regulated Projects for the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowners Associations: Dave Core.
“It has always been a swindle, the NEB is a facilitator, and its job is to make sure pipelines get built… The NEB was created to make the public think that there is a reasonable process when it is anything but. That is more obvious to the public now that they have participated and the press is interested.”
As for the broader implications that this apparently deregulated, regulatory process has had on the ability for citizens to voice their concerns about pipelines such as Line 9 and Line 7’s expansion, Mr. Core believes Bill C38’s red-tape has been effective, deliberate, and “a reaction to landowners speaking up and the recent involvement and awareness of the public… the changes were created to restrict landowners further, and limit public participation.”
Without organizations like CAEPLA raising awareness about projects that the National Energy Board and Enbridge would rather have kept on the down low, it’s hard not to wonder what else might be kept swept under the rug.
“The fact is that there are hundreds of applications made to the NEB by companies all the time that no one pays any attention to,” said John Gowdy, a litigator who represents pipeline landowners in southern Ontario, who emailed me to discuss Line 7 and the NEB. “Perhaps there should be a more strict notification process in place so that landowners and other interested parties don’t have to monitor the NEB’s filings so vigilantly… I’m sure a lot goes unnoticed.” @ddner