The author, having a moment with Line 9.
In late October, Enbridge delivered its final arguments for the irrefutably unsafe Line 9 pipeline reversal project, seeking permission from the National Energy Board of Canada to pump more than 47 million litres per day of diluted tar sands bitumen through its 38 year-old pipeline in the most densely populated part of Canada. These final arguments were meant to be delivered in person during hearings in Toronto, but after the hearings ended in chaos with National Energy Board members literally fleeing from opponents of the pipeline, the NEB permitted Enbridge to put forward its final reply in writing.
One would think that, given an extra week to prepare their rebuttal, Enbridge would have written something airtight, while vanquishing the mountain of evidence raised against them at the hearings—or at least trying to convince the public that this proposal isn’t as shitty as everyone says it is. But Enbridge’s 38-page final reply is as weak as their decrepit 38 year-old pipe whose risk of rupture sits at an alarming 90%. In their response, Enbridge downplayed the scale of the project and ignored most testimonies in their entirety.
This lazy reply basically reiterates the company’s opening statement, as if the two weeks of hearings didn’t happen and nothing new was said. Expert claims that Line 9 would burst in operation were coyly ignored as Enbridge repeated: “increasing Line 9’s capacity would result in an increased assessed risk for 2.2% of [the pipeline].” The company also grossly understated the potential impact of any accident or spill, arguing that the worst case scenario is a rupture occurring when the pipeline is at full capacity—which, according to Enbridge, would only last for a maximum of 13 minutes. Considering that Enbridge’s similar Line 6B in Marshall, Michigan ruptured for 17 hours before the company managed to shut down the line, and that Enbridge still uses the exact same technology in Line 9 to detect leaks, this 13 minute estimate is wishful thinking at best.
But what Enbridge has left unsaid is a lot more incriminating than what they actually talk about in their response. Enbridge didn’t reply to criticisms of the monitoring and leak-detection systems that they rely on, ignoring (along with most other arguments) the Ontario Pipeline Landowner’s Association’s concern that the company’s technology cannot detect “pinhole leaks.” As another Enbridge pipeline failure demonstrates, pinhole leaks can result in hundreds of thousands of litres of oil being spilled. The company also didn’t respond to Rising Tide Toronto’s concern that, according to Enbridge’s own data, the pipeline will fail if it becomes operational. As Enbridge self-reports, many areas of the pipe will rupture at a pressure of about 700-800psi, even though they are seeking to pump diluted bitumen through the pipe at a pressure of around 1000psi.
But the company refuted these and all other possible statements against the project by dropping an ultimate, all-encompassing, irrefutable super-argument: “It should go without saying . . . that a lack of comment or response by Enbridge in respect of any position should not be taken as agreement with such.” Very reassuring.
Enbridge also rejected a number of measures that could create some public confidence in this ridiculous plan. Widespread suggestions that Enbridge should be insured for at least $1 billion in case of an oil spill, when an estimate submitted to the NEB pegs potential costs for a worst-case rupture at $5-10 billion, were dismissed as unnecessary. The company also argued that, in the case of an accident, it should not be required to fully compensate landowners.
Enbridge representatives during the hearings in Toronto. Photo by the author.
A number of groups also requested that Line 9 be subject to hydrostatic testing, a process where water is run through the pipeline at a higher-than-usual pressure to see if any leaks result. Referring back to their opening arguments, Enbridge insists that hydrostatically testing the pipe has “the potential to induce or grow cracks that do no fail during the test but may continue to grow in-service.” If this explanation is meant to be reassuring it fails miserably—if Line 9 is likely to crack when water is pumped through it, how could it safely transport a sludgy, highly corrosive mixture of diluted tar sands bitumen?
Many groups also asked that Line 9 be subject to an engineering assessment by a third party organization – rather than the NEB decision being based entirely on Enbridge’s own data. To Enbridge, “an ‘independent third party’ review is unnecessary, inappropriate, and should not be imposed.” Without specifically suggesting why a third party report would stall a supposedly safe project, the company frames this recommendation as an affront to the unquestionable wisdom of the NEB and uses it as an opportunity to kiss regulatory ass. Enbridge writes: “With great respect, if the National Energy Board does not qualify as an ‘expert independent third party’ then who or what possibly could? It may simply be that the [Ontario Ministry of Energy] and [Ontario Pipeline Landowner’s Association] do not fully understand the NEB mandate, approach, and expertise.”
To their credit, Enbridge at least responded to someof the claims that their emergency response plan is inadequate. They agreed to consult with the Toronto Transit Commission and to develop an emergency response plan in case Line 9 ruptures into Toronto’s subway system, a situation that could easily result in massive loss of life. They also agreed to develop a plan to conduct training exercises with first responders, though it is unclear how quickly this training would be completed and what these exercises will involve. Enbridge also noted that they would be installing new shut off valves in certain “high consequence areas,” a measure which is only partially reassuring because, as Équiterre noted during the hearings, the Michigan rupture was only so catastrophic because Enbridge didn’t use the shut off valves that they had in place.
Enbridge also agreed, in the case of an emergency, to pay for drinking water for those areas, like Toronto, that explicitly requested it during the hearings. But those municipalities that didn’t make a similar request are basically fucked—as Enbridge clarifies, “the legal authority and responsibility to supply water in a particular geographic area . . . may rest with parties other than Enbridge.” In other words, Enbridge will only cover “whatever costs for which it may be legally responsible.”
Enbridge also concluded that “there would be no adverse effect on any Aboriginal interest” and that the pipeline poses no new threat to traditional Indigenous lands because the pipeline right of way is already in place. In response to Aamjiwnaang First Nation’s claim that they were never consulted when the pipeline was first built in 1975, Enbridge stuck by its opening argument that “the courts have found that the duty to consult on a proposed project does not include addressing alleged past wrongs.” Instead, Enbridge politely reminded the NEB that they should ignore altogether the objections of the First Nations along the pipeline route who were never meaningfully consulted: “the Board is not required to determine whether there is a duty to consult or whether that duty has been filled. Nor does the Board itself bear any duty to consult.”
And finally, in response to the citizens and municipal representatives who argued that the public was not properly informed about Line 9, Enbridge capitulated that it could meet, once a year, in a non-public forum, with our esteemed leadership to discuss ongoing concerns of public safety.
In the end, the implications of Enbridge’s response are clear and concerning: Enbridge knows Line 9 is unsafe and wants it approved anyway. The NEB decision will be issued in January, based on if this pipeline serves the “Canadian public interest.” In what is an arrogant display of stubbornness, Enbridge still seems to think it safely suits the good of the nation.