Photos by Nicky Young. On Thursday afternoon, news broke that a crew of activists had shut down construction on Enbridge’s Line 9 crude oil pipeline in Hamilton by camping out on the site and locking up the gate with their own lock. Line 9 stretches from Sarnia to Montreal and over the past few months it has attracted the ire of protesters from across the country. That's because Enbridge is looking to reverse the flow of crude oil so that it will start running from west to east—a move that many worry will increase the likelihood of a spill somewhere along the pipeline’s path. While defenders of the reversal plan say there’s nothing to worry about because the line has been reversed before, activists don’t buy that explanation. On top of that, protesters are extra pissed off because the National Energy Board required any dissenter to Enbridge’s reversal plan to submit a ten-page application just to have their voice heard.
To get a closer look at this latest protest in Hamilton, I went down to the construction site where Enbridge is working on Line 9 to chat with some of the activists and see what exactly was going on. According to David Prychitka, the man acting as a media liaison for the activists, the protesters are planning on camping out at the construction site until Enbridge’s reversal plan is stopped.
“There are direct environmental concerns, we know that Enbridge as a company averages one pipeline spill every five days, between 1999 and 2010 they themselves reported 804 spills,” said Prychitka. “90 percent of those spills occur around pump stations.”
With the North Westover station being so close to Beverly swamp and Hamilton watersheds, activists are particularly concerned about the possibility of a spill in this area. Despite the high level of spills on Enbridge’s track record, Graham White, manager of business communications at Enbridge, says the company’s goal is “zero spills.” Well, no kidding.
Another source of local controversy for Enbridge comes from their recent gift to the Hamilton police force. The energy giant recently donated over $44,000 to the Hamilton Police Services so they could buy a sweet new ATV, along with mapping and GPS equipment. Activists see the donation as a concern that the Hamilton Police Service will be biased towards their new, petrochemical sugar daddy.
Graham White says the notion that Enbridge expects favouritism from the police is “cynical and irresponsible.” He says they donated that money as part of the Safe Community Program and that Enbridge has been donating cash and resources to different public services for years. The program is “to be better able to respond to any pipeline incident.”
As of right now there has been a small police presence at the protest site, and Enbridge and the activists have had some type of an open dialog. So far, no legal action has been taken against the protesters but it’s unclear as to how far Enbridge’s patience will last. After all, like it or not, they have work to do. While the activists have essentially taken control of the construction site, they have politely agreed to let two to three Enbridge workers conduct hourly checks on the site to ensure everything is running safely.
Since the takeover of the site, the activists have received donations, and have seen some new protesters join their cause since it all got started. On top of that, the protest has garnered positive support online from those who cannot attend. Currently there are about 60 activists camping out at the construction zone. Henry Allen, a protester I spoke with, summed up the cause for me bluntly: “I'm concerned about our land’s environment and the watersheds. I want it to stop.”