Ontario, Quebec environmental groups ready to fight pipeline that will carry oilsands

Province ‘always ready to speak on behalf of Alberta’s interests’

 By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal July 31, 2012

EDMONTON – Environmental groups are geared up to oppose a pipeline that would ship Alberta bitumen to Eastern Canada, opening another front in the public-opinion wars provincial and industry officials are already fighting in B.C. and the United States.

Days after Canada’s National Energy Board approved the first of two Enbridge requests that will bring Alberta crude to refineries in Central Canada, environmental organizations went on the offensive.

They alleged the Calgary-based pipeline company plans to use its Ontario lines to move Alberta bitumen through Central Canada and on to international markets, and urged Ontarians and Quebeckers to demand a public debate.

“If Ontario is to facilitate expansion of the oilsands, then let’s have an open, public debate and proper public scrutiny,” said Albert Koehl, an Ontario-based Ecojustice lawyer who argued the environmental case against Enbridge’s proposal before the National Energy Board.

“We see the obvious impacts of climate change, and at the same time we’re marching full speed ahead on expansion of the tar sands, and these two things have to be reconciled.”

The protests came after Enbridge on Friday won approval to reverse the flow of Line 9A from Sarnia, Ont., to Westover, near Hamilton. In the fall, the company will apply to reverse the flow of Line 9B, from Westover to Montreal.

The lines could eventually carry Alberta oilsands-derived crude to refineries in Ontario and Quebec. From Montreal, Alberta crude could also be exported internationally via the United States, the St. Lawrence Seaway, or through a new pipeline to refineries in Saint John, N.B.

Proponents of that existing west-to-east line once believed it could help establish new markets for Alberta oilsands producers while circumventing environmental opposition to construction of the new Gateway and Keystone pipelines in British Columbia and the United States, respectively.

But environmental groups made it clear Monday they will fight plans to use the existing lines to ship Alberta’s oilsands-derived crude.

“It is not a slam-dunk,” said Steven Guilbeault of Equiterre, a Quebec-based environmental group. “This is a 40-year-old pipeline that wasn’t built to handle the tar sands,” he said, highlighting corrosion and pressure concerns.

Quebec’s environment minister responded Tuesday, pledging his province will “take a very strict approach” to pipeline projects and will carefully review requests under Quebec laws.

“It is important to protect waterways, wetlands and drinking water sources,” Quebec Environment Minister Pierre Arcand said in a statement. “Environmental issues remain central to our concerns.”

He reiterated his commitment to strictly monitor the risks associated with the presence of any pipeline in Quebec, and said the ministry “intends to seek a seat at the table” during NEB hearings.

Enbridge spokesman Graham White said the lines will be used primarily to ship light crude, but that they are safe for transporting oilsands-derived crude, should the need arise.

“We are … ensuring the line is at some point capable of carrying heavier products … because of the expanding oilsands production,” White said. “We want to have that flexibility.”

White said there is no evidence to suggest oilsands-derived crude causes more corrosion inside pipelines than any other product. He pointed to the recent report from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which excoriated Enbridge for its failures but explicitly ruled out internal corrosion as a cause for a massive spill in Michigan.

He said the company is in the process of doing “integrity digs,” excavating the pipelines and testing to ensure it is sound.

The Alberta government acted as an intervener in the NEB hearings on Enbridge’s Line 9A, but made no formal submissions.

In its application for intervener status, the province said it was interested in the proceedings because “the application may impact the marketing of Alberta’s crude oil.

“Alberta will be particularly interested in understanding commercial impacts and benefits associated with the proposed application,” the province said.

Asked whether Alberta has any plans to address the debate in the east, Alberta Energy spokeswoman Janice Schroeder said in an email that “the decision is a federal regulatory decision about a pipeline between two locations in Ontario. Alberta was not involved in that hearing, and it is a commercial decision best addressed by the company and the regulator.

She said the province is “always ready to speak on behalf of Alberta’s interests.”

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