Ford voted against three motions that would further investigate the effects of Enbridge's Line 9. Photo via Don Peat, on Twitter.
Mayor Rob Ford, along with three other city councillors in Toronto, voted against a motion to ask the province to study the environmental risks of the thoroughly-cracked, almost 40-year old Enbridge Line 9 pipeline. The NEB has just approved Enbridge’s application to use the line to transport highly toxic and explosive fuels like tar-sands diluted bitumen and US Bakken crude through the city.
Council voted 28-4 in favour of a motion to ask the “Ontario Minister of Environment to conduct a comprehensive Environmental Assessment for the Enbridge Line 9B Application” and to “forward a copy of the request to the Federal Minister of the Environment.” In passing this resolution, Toronto joins Kingston and all five municipalities in the Durham Region in asking the province for an environmental impact assessment.
“An environmental assessment is the least that the province can do to understand this potentially devastating project that the NEB has rubber-stamped. I would call a 90 percent risk of rupture predicted by pipeline experts a bit of a red flag,” said Sakura Saunders, an activist who belongs to the Toronto Coalition Against Line 9 that brought the issue to the attention of several city councillors.
“Before Harper's gutting of environmental regulation in this country, a federal Environmental Assessment (EA) was standard. Let's not forget that,” Saunders added.
Rob Ford was also the lone voice voting against two other Line 9 motions, which were put forward by councillors David Shiner and Anthony Perruzza. Together, these motions ask the City Manager to report on Enbridge’s emergency preparedness and measures to protect Toronto’s drinking water supply, as well as asking the company to inform GO transit and the TTC of any maintenance work needed for this project over the next five years. Another motion to ask Enbridge to confirm where and when their emergency response team will be deployed passed unanimously.
David Shiner, a councillor of a ward Line 9 runs through, told me that “Line 9 runs—not only close to so many homes and over so many rivers and streams right across Willowdale and the city—it’s within feet of the entrance to the busiest subway and bus terminal in all of Canada, at the Finch-Yonge station. Just yesterday staff advised me, looking at some TTC projects, that Enbridge might be going in to do some other repairs to the pipeline there. And I’m really concerned and would like to know what’s going on, what repairs are being done, what problems there are with the pipeline. Residents and people across the city deserve to know what’s happening with a major pipeline in their community, and in addition to that, Enbridge has committed to put an emergency response capability into the greater Toronto Area, and it’s still not there. It’s never been there. This pipeline has been there for 38 years and we want to know when that’s going in.”
The environmental assessment motion was put forward by Councillor Mike Layton, but Sakura Saunders told me that “other councillors had showed interest in this motion as well.” Saunders explained that Rising Tide Toronto has been hand-delivering a community report on Line 9 “to city councillors and educating them on the issue and seeking endorsement for the report. Mike enthusiastically endorsed the report, as well as other councillors.”
The meticulously researched community report, entitled
Not Worth The Risk, details a litany of problems with Line 9. It points out that Enbridge has a “horrendous record of spills, averaging one spill every 5-6 days over a 10 year period.” It concludes that the project poses a massive economic and public safety risk, while only offering marginal economic benefits—significantly, the report warns, that a spill into any of the tributaries that Line 9 crosses could poison the St. Lawrence River or Lake Ontario, endangering the drinking water supply of millions of people.
Sakura Saunders speaks to a resident at a Line 9 blockade in Toronto.
It outlines the many sensitive ecological areas that Line 9 crosses, deficiencies with Enbridge’s leak detection and pipeline integrity management technologies, and that Enbridge has requested to operate the pipeline at a pressure of 1,000psi, despite their own assessment that parts of the line would rupture at pressures between 687psi and 818psi, and offers a number of reasons why diluted tar sands bitumen is more corrosive and dangerous to transport than conventional, liquid crude.
The report also presents evidence that many residents in areas affected by the project have not been properly educated about its existence, and that a number of First Nations along the route were never consulted about the project as is legally required under treaties and the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “Evidence submitted by interveners including Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, and Aamjiwnaang First Nation indicate that neither the NEB nor Enbridge have honoured the treaties in Line 9’s approval process,” the report says.
“I don’t think that many people even knew it was there, know the age, know what it’s carrying and in addition to Enbridge having the oil pipeline, I believe they have a high pressure gas line and I believe Trans-Canada has an oil line as well, running through that same corridor,” Councillor David Shiner told me.
Toronto city councillors had been briefed on the project already, but Saunders said “most of the staff recommendations had to do with a confidential report that even city staffers couldn't see, and it was discussed in private by the council.” She was concerned because “their backgrounder was horrible, basically cut and paste from the NEB decision. That is one of the things that instigated myself and others to do a fresh round of education with the councillors starting late last week.”
“Residents of my community come to me as a city councillor, and we’re doing anything we could possibly do to protect them and their interests,” said Councillor Shiner. “However, both our provincial representatives, which we believe could call for an environmental assessment, and our federal elected representatives that have the National Energy Board as one of their agencies, are doing nothing... It’s being left to the city of Toronto, which has no jurisdiction on this, to send our lawyers to the board, to fight Enbridge on this for changes. Even just to make sure that there are emergency response capabilities available in the Greater Toronto Area should have been done decades ago by the federal government, and it’s ridiculous that those type of response capabilities aren’t here.”
The provincial Ministry of Environment has continued to shirk responsibility for studying the risks of the project. “It would be up to the federal government to determine whether or not they would want to proceed with a federal environmental assessment,” an Ontario Ministry of Environment representative told the Toronto Star.
In contrast, the Ontario Ministry of Energy requested a full, independent engineering report on Line 9 at the National Energy Board’s October hearings, but the NEB determined this was unnecessary when they approved the project with weak conditions.
Sakura Saunders is cautiously optimistic that this resolution may lead to a closer look at the issue by the province. “I don't know if the province will listen right away, but they will have to open up the debate. You simply can't ignore all of these cities that are speaking with one voice to say they want a full EA, and of course this is really the minimum that should be done, so if it is a debate, I believe that the EA will be carried out,” she said.
Mayor Rob Ford declined to provide a comment by press time.