This morning, three activists entered a fenced-off valve site along Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline near Sarnia, Ontario, and manually shut the valve wheel to stop the flow of oil from western Canada through the line. The protesters locked themselves to infrastructure, including the valve wheel. All three have been removed and taken into police custody.
If this seems like deja vu, it is. The action was almost identical to the incident where three other activists shut a different Line 9 valve two weeks ago at the Quebec-Ontario border.
Today, activists arrived in the rain, broke into the fenced-off valve area, and closed the manual wheel of the valve around 7:30 AM. Enbridge employees arrived shortly after 8 AM, followed by police. A locksmith showed up and, before 10 AM, the three activists were taken away from the site.
Both actions were undertaken in protest of Line 9 going operational on December 3. That was the day Enbridge's 40-year old pipeline had its flow reversed to bring western crudes, like light Bakken and tar sands bitumen, to eastern refineries and shores. The line is running at a reduced capacity this first year, and full capacity is expected to be 300,000 barrels of oil per day. Line 9 runs from Sarnia, ON, to Montreal.
Those involved in today's action, including an Anishinaabe woman, claim that the operation of Line 9 is a violation of Indigenous sovereignty and treaty rights. "It's clear that tar sands projects represent an ongoing cultural and environmental genocide," said Vanessa Gray in a statement. "I defend the land and water because it is sacred. I have the right to defend anything that threatens my traditions and culture."
Gray is from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, located near Sarnia. The reserve, created in 1827 as part of Treaty 29, originally delineated an area of over 10,000 acres. Over the next hundred years, through a series of illegal land transfers, and transfers made legal through the Indian Act, Aamjiwnaang was reduced to its current size of 3,100 acres. Much of this land went to the city of Sarnia and to a number of large industrial companies, like Dow Chemical. The area surrounding Aamjiwnaang, including on lands that were theirs as per treaty agreements, is now known as the Chemical Valley. It is there that Enbridge's Line 9 starts pumping.
Further east along the pipeline route near London, ON, the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation is taking the issue of consultation around Line 9 to the Supreme Court of Canada. Judges sided by a count of 2 to 1 against the Chippewas in a Federal Court of Appeal this summer.
The Chiefs of Ontario support the Chippewa of the Thames in their legal battle. The Chippewas are one among 18 First Nation communities along the pipeline route.
At the valve site this morning, protester spokesperson and Aamjiwnaang (one of those 18 First Nations) resident Lindsay Gray told VICE, "there has been little to no consultation with us on the [Line 9] pipeline. For some reason we had no right to be consulted, yet Enbridge has a right to operate this pipeline on our lands."
The activists called Enbridge this morning before shutting the pipeline to give the company warning, according to Gray. Although Line 9 is running below capacity in its first year of operation (as a safety precaution), manually closing a valve is not a no-risk manoeuvre. The buildup of pressure can cause problems including, in worst cases, a spill. However, engineers do tests to make sure pipelines can handle valve closures, as it is not an altogether uncommon occurrence.
Enbridge has yet to respond to VICE's requests for comment, including as to if and when the pipeline operator stopped the flow of Line 9 today.
The three protesters have been charged with mischief over $5,000 and mischief endangering life, the latter of which can come with major jail time if there is a conviction (maximum sentence is life in prison). One of the women was also charged with resisting arrest.
While Enbridge still has yet to reply to VICE's request for comment, they told CTV London that they (Enbridge) shut the pipeline down yesterday, not the protesters.