Line 9 – Letter of Comment to National Energy Board

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Leader of the Green Party of Ontario, Mike Schreiner, today sent the following letter to the National Energy Board in response and opposition to Enbridge’s Line 9B proposal.

National Energy Board
444 Seventh Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta T2P 0X8

Dear National Energy Board,

I’m writing on behalf of Green Party supporters across Ontario, who are gravely concerned about the health, environmental and economic effects of Enbridge Inc.’s proposal to re-purpose and reverse the flow of its Number 9 pipeline (Line 9) through Ontario.

As you know, Enbridge’s Line 9 is a 38-year-old pipeline running between Sarnia and Montreal (Line 9A Sarnia to North Westover and Line 9B to Montreal). It runs under every major river in Southern Ontario, under prime farmland and sensitive ecosystems as well as populated urban areas.

Enbridge proposes to reverse Line 9 to its original west to east flow in an apparent attempt to ship tar sands oil to the east coast for export. Most alarming is Enbridge’s proposal to change the product flowing through Line 9 to dilbit, a combination of solid bitumen and diluent—a mix of undisclosed chemicals—that is much more hazardous than conventional crude oil.

It is the risks associated with shipping dilbit, especially in an aging pipeline not designed for this particular product, that are the focus of the Green Party of Ontario’s opposition to Enbridge’s proposed Line 9. Line 9 raises health, environmental and economic concerns, and I strongly encourage the National Energy Board to reject Enbridge’s Line 9B application.

The people of Ontario will be at greater risk of oil spills if Line 9 is approved.

Raw tar sands bitumen is thick and gooey with the consistency of peanut butter. Since it cannot flow like conventional crude oil, bitumen is mixed with diluent. Diluent is a mixture of undisclosed chemicals such as natural gas condensate, benzene, toluene and xylene. The combination of bitumen and diluent is called dilbit and is pumped at high pressure to force the product to flow.

A Cornell University study found that between 2007 and 2010, U.S. pipelines carrying dilbit had a spill-rate three times higher than pipelines carrying conventional crude. Some have compared pumping dilbit to moving hot sand paper through a pipeline because it is more abrasive and acidic, with acid concentrations up to 20 times higher than conventional oil. In addition, dilbit is 40 to 70 times more viscous than conventional crude oil, which requires operating at a higher pressure than conventional pipelines. These factors may explain the increased risk of spills in pipelines pumping dilbit.

Although the science on the corrosive nature of dilbit is not settled, we do know a lot more about dilbit than we used to. We gained most of that knowledge in 2010 when Enbridge’s Line 6B spilled more than 3 million litres of dilbit into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. We learned that dilbit both floats and sinks and that it is harder and far more expensive to clean up than conventional crude.

Three years later, the clean up of Enbridge’s Line 6B spill is still not complete. Enbridge expects it to cost at least $725 million with some estimates exceeding $800 million.

We do not want to expose our communities, our water and our environment to these risks.

The health of Ontario communities is at risk if Line 9 is approved.

The increased likelihood of spills combined with the more toxic mix of chemicals in dilbit exposes the people of Ontario to greater health risks.

One of the diluents commonly used is benzene, a well-documented carcinogen. Exposure to toxins used to dilute bitumen can negatively affect the human central nervous system. According to oil spill expert Riki Ott, micro-PAHs used to dilute bitumen are major health hazards, causing cancer, asthma, hormone and reproductive problems.

Again, Enbridge’s Line 6B spill is informative. According to a 2010 report by the Michigan Department of Community Health, health officials identified 145 patients who reported illness or symptoms associated with the leak. A door-to-door survey of 550 people by health officials showed that 58 percent of those contacted suffered from adverse health effects, most commonly headaches, respiratory problems and nausea.

We do not want to expose Ontarians to these type of health risks.

Ontario’s environment is at risk if Line 9 is approved.

Enbridge’s Line 9 crosses under some of Ontario’s most treasured natural heritage locations. This list includes the Niagara Escarpment, the Grand River, Rouge River Park and numerous waterways that flow into Lake Ontario.

Shipping dilbit poses additional risks to Ontario’s water supply. Unlike conventional crude oil, which floats on top of water, dilbit will sink into wetlands, lakes or river sediments because it is heavier than water. Conventional skimmers and booms will likely not be as effective in cleaning up a spill of dilbit because it sinks to the bottom. Cleaning up dilbit will require dredging the bottom of the water body, stirring up the toxic settlements that have landed there.

Again, Enbridge’s Line 6B spill is informative. It was only after a month of cleanup that researchers even realized that dilbit was in the river’s sediment. After three years of extensive dredging of the river bed, blobs of bitumen are still sitting on the bottom of the Kalamazoo River.

We do not want to expose Ontario’s waterways, farmland and treasured places to these risks.

Ontario’s economy is at risk if Line 9 is approved.

Being a corridor for dirty energy provides no clear economic benefits for Ontario and it may hurt the province’s efforts to capitalize on homegrown, clean energy opportunities.

We have an opportunity in Ontario to be a leader in the emerging clean tech, low carbon global economy. Instead of sending money and jobs out of the province, our economy can benefit from building and powering electric cars, investing in public and active transportation, growing and processing local food, generating renewable energy, being more competitive and saving money by using energy more efficiently.

At a time when the world is moving to invest in low carbon sources of energy, it makes no sense to invest billions to ship a product that contributes to the growing climate catastrophe. Ontario’s economy will generate more jobs and economic benefits if we invest where the puck is going—the emerging global clean tech sector and low carbon economy—rather than where it is today.

At a minimum, it makes more economic and environmental sense to refine bitumen locally and to avoid shipping dilbit long distances, especially with aging pipelines.

This proposal puts Ontario’s economy at risk of being left behind in the global race to a clean tech, low carbon economic future.

Conclusion

Enbridge’s Line 9 proposal presents Ontario with significant risks while providing the province with few benefits.

It is unclear what specific measures Enbridge has taken to mitigate the risks posed by shipping dilbit. Has it learned from the Michigan disaster? What safeguards does Enbridge have in place to ensure that the Kalamazoo River spill will not be repeated in the Grand River or Lake Ontario watersheds? Is there adequate plans in place to protect the health of Ontarians or the well being of our communities? Is Enbridge’s Line 9 proposal compatible with Ontario or Canada’s long term energy plans, especially in the absence of a national energy strategy?  

These questions must be answered before Line 9 is approved. On behalf of thousands of Green Party supporters who live and work near Enbridge’s Line 9, I urge you protect Ontario’s water, environment, economy and communities by saying no to the Enbridge’s Line 9B proposal.

Regards,

Mike Schreiner
Leader
Green Party of Ontario