The Risky Enbridge pipeline that will hurt Ontario

Mike Schreiner | Written on September 4, 2013

Enbridge’s proposal to ship tar sands oil through Ontario threatens the health and well being of our communities, water and farmland. The proposal is all risk with no rewards.

Tar sands oil is more likely to cause a pipeline leak, more hazardous to our health, and harder to clean up when it spills. Yet, Enbridge’s proposal to reverse and expand the flow of Line 9 is not subject to a full environmental assessment.

Line 9 is a 38-year-old pipeline running between Sarnia and Montreal. It runs through 115 communities and under prime farmland, and crosses major river systems that flow into Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. A spill could put the drinking water of millions of Ontarians at risk.

What is most alarming about Enbridge’s proposal is that the company wants to increase the capacity and change the product flowing through Line 9. Instead of light conventional crude, Enbridge proposes to ship dilbit, a concoction of tar sands bitumen and diluent -- a mix of undisclosed chemicals -- that is much more abrasive and hazardous than conventional crude oil.

Whether you support expansion of Alberta’s tar sands or not, shipping dilbit through an old pipeline not designed to handle such corrosive material is simply dangerous and irresponsible. International pipeline safety expert Richard Kuprewicz predicts Line 9 will rupture. It’s like sending a high current through a low-voltage wire: it’s definitely irresponsible and possibly very dangerous.

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. It is more abrasive, acidic and viscous than conventional light crude.

Although the big oil companies deny dilbit is more hazardous than conventional oil, we have heard horror stories from folks in Michigan with firsthand knowledge of a dilbit spill. In 2010 Enbridge’s Line 6B dumped 3 million litres of dilbit into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Three years later, the clean up of Enbridge’s Line 6B spill is still not complete. The clean up cost will likely exceed $1-billion.

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 spill. A door-to-door survey of 550 people by health officials showed that 58 per cent of those contacted suffered from adverse health effects, most commonly headaches, respiratory problems and nausea. We do not know the long-term effects of exposure to the mixture of chemicals in dilbit -- partly because we are not being told what that mixture is.

Do we really want to expose the people of Ontario to these types of health risks? Do we want to expose Ontario’s waterways, farmland and treasured places to these risks?

I don’t think so. Being a corridor for dirty energy provides no clear economic benefits for Ontario unless we are trying to develop expertise in cleaning up dilbit spills.

The National Energy Board should reject Enbridge’s Line 9B application, which is currently under review. At the very least, the provincial government should demand a full environmental assessment. The health and safety of our communities and environment is too precious.

Read Mike Schreiner's Line 9 letter to the National Energy Board >