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Hearings held to discuss pipeline reversal proposal

(Canadian OH&S News)


(Canadian OH&S News)

The National Energy Board (NEB), which regulates Canada’s oil, gas and electric industries, is holding public forums in Montreal and Toronto to discuss whether energy corporation Enbridge should be permitted to expand the capacity and reverse the flow of its pipeline between Montreal and North Westover, Ontario.

Enbridge plans to run diluted bitumen (dilbit) through the pipeline, Line 9B, and increase its capacity from 240,000 to 300,000 barrels per day; the company also plans to change the flow from westbound to eastbound. NEB gave its approval for Enbridge to reverse the flow of Line 9A, between Sarnia, Ontario and North Westover, in July 2012.

“This is the final portion of the public hearing,” explained Carole Léger-Kubeczek, an NEB communications officer. “The initial portion was a written process, and now this is the oral portion, which consists of interveners providing their final oral arguments.” NEB convened the first half of the oral argument portion from Oct. 8 to 11 at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal, and it will continue at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from Oct. 16 to 19.

The debate follows a negative safety report from Accufacts Inc., a research corporation based in Olympia, Washington. The Aug. 5 report highlighted numerous risks in Enbridge’s plan, including the following:

* Line 9B has stress corrosion cracks that are likely to rupture;

* The cracks will increase in growth if the type of transported crude is changed to bitumen;

* The pipeline is located in highly populated areas and sensitive wetlands that will suffer high consequences if there’s a spill or rupture;

* Enbridge ignored recommendations from American regulators after a past spill;

* “Something appears very wrong” with the company’s risk assessment of Line 9B;

* Enbridge’s leak detection won’t detect a rupture in time; and

* The company’s emergency response plans “are not adequate for a high-consequence area.”

Enbridge spokesperson Graham White denies that the project will pose any dangers. “The vast majority of product to be transported on a reversed Line 9 will still be light product, as it currently transports,” he said. “The destination refineries are both light refineries, so their capacity for refining heavies, like dilbit, is limited.

“We look forward to responding to the Accufacts report in detail,” White added, referring to the Montreal and Toronto hearings.

Enbridge believes that the flow reversal is necessary to make discounted Canadian crude accessible to refineries that, according to White, “are currently on a diet of expensive, Brent-priced foreign crude,” referring to the trading classification of the Brent crude sourced from the North Sea.

“Also, Suncor has said that without the reversal, they would be forced to close their Montreal refinery, which would directly affect more than 2,500 jobs,” White added. “We believe this reversal is important for the country, the industry and the regions of Ontario and Quebec for those reasons.”

According to Léger-Kubeczek, the current oral hearings allow a variety of different people and organizations to voice their concerns about the project. And this proceeding at this point is only for people who are directly affected or who have expertise that would be relevant,” she said.

“It could be an ENGO organization [environmental non-governmental organization] that may have expertise,” she added, “or it could be somebody who does not live in close proximity to the pipeline. For example, if it’s a hunter, he may know about information that somebody who was maybe a mile upstream would not necessarily know. Information about wildlife, about whatever grass is growing, the particular habitat in that area.”

Enbridge has been operating Line 9 since 1976, according to the company’s publicity material. It does not intend to replace or expand any part of the pipeline.