The Risky Enbridge pipeline that will hurt Ontario

The Risky Enbridge pipeline that will hurt Ontario
Posted on September 4, 2013 | Mike Schreiner | Written on September 4, 2013
Letter type:


Huffington Post

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 >

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A leading advocate for independent businesses, local food and sustainable communities, Mike Schreiner is well known for his leadership in co-founding the award-winning Local Food Plus organization. He brings a proven... More


Great analysis Mike!

Its clear, the downside of this project is far greater than the upside for Ontario residents. Let's hope the Liberals have the backbone to do the right thing by supporting the interest of their residents over the those of big oil.

Robert Lyman

Mike Schreiner is an entrepreneur with experience in the food industry. One must consider it more than slightly strange that he is offering public policy advice about the technical capacity of crude oil pipelines to safely transport heavy oil diluted for transport. I do not claim such expertise. I simply know that this transportation technique has been used successfully in North America for at least four decades.

The real issue here is one of due process. The National Energy Board is Canada's is an independent, expert, quasi-judicial agency established by the government of Canada in the early 1950's to assess applications to certificate pipelines on the basis of the economic, financial, engineering, safety and environmental considerations. The NEB offers to Canadians a professional body that can deal with issues like the ones Mr. Schreiner raises and render an independent objective decision. The federal government has, to my knowledge, never rejected the recommendations of the NEB on a pipeline.

The NEB was established, among other things, to ensure that decisions of this kind were taken on their technical merits, free from the partisan manoeuvring that accompanies a highly politicized debate. Those who trust that decisions should be made on their merits will resist the tendency of environmental representatives to politicize the decision processes governing oil infrastructure in Canada.

Mike Schreiner is the leader of a political party. He has every right to comment on the safety of pipelines if he and his supporters think there is a risk. As a former farmer, he has a unique insight into the safety risks pipelines pose to farmers and landowners in general.

But, as a politician, its up to the public to decide whether or not they think his argument is valid. You may not, but I certainly do.

Robert - I must say that you are naive to think that the NEB will decide on this pipeline application purely on the basis of merits. Really?

Robert Lyman

Mr. Montpelier, what grounds do you have for challenging the integrity of the National Energy Board members?

Mike Schreiner

As a political leader, I believe it is my responsibility to meet with experts and read about issues so that I can comment on those that affect our great province. I filled out the 10 page NEB application and was selected to make a submission. I'm happy to share that submission with folks, and I hope the NEB takes my contribution into consideration when making a final decision on Line 9B.

Great letter Mike. You have captured the concerns of many Ontarians and Canadians who fear the worse when a 38 year-old pipeline is being considered to carry tar sands oil rather than light conventional oil for which it was designed.

Surely the Energy Board will reject the proposal. Right?


"...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..."

With this as an opening salvo,is there any point continuing? To begin with, the author starts out improperly using the name "tars sands." I won't assign motive, but it does paint an inaccurate picture in the mind of the reader. The correct name is the "oil sands".

He claims that this poses a threat to half the country as if any other method is somehow better even in the wake of the rail disaster in Quebec just a few months ago. It is important to point out that the physical safety standards for shipping compressed gas through a pipeline are far greater than for shipping oil, so to use a gas line in this manner makes it far safer than the writer would have you believe. And of course he says there is no rewards. Really? So sending Canadian petroleum, a substance that supports our entire way of life, to Canadian refineries and supporting Canadian jobs, is somehow not a reward? He would prefer we continue to bring in middle eastern oil that comes from some of the most despotic places on earth? That "reward" should be reason enough to demand we use this pipeline all by itself.

Mike Schreiner

With all due respect, it was the oil and gas industry's PR machine that convinced the media to start calling it the oil sands instead of the tar sands. Now they are busy trying to call Alberta oil ethical oil.

As the article states, my primary concern is with shipping dilbit through a pipeline not designed to handle such corrosive material. To be transparent, I don't support the Harper government's plan to triple tar sands production. Climate change is already costing us billions, and we need to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, not invest billions in fossil fuel infrastructure. However, if climate change was not a concern, I would advocate for refining bitumen locally in Alberta and then shipping the refined product east and west. This would be much safer for our communities and our environment.

I appreciate the response, and it begs the question. You think that middle eastern oil is more ethical than that of Alberta? You would also advocate building new refining capacity in that province, rather than make use of refineries we already have? At what cost? No system is perfect, but sooner or later we have to use what we have available now and stop spending money duplicating assets.

Nick, the cost to build a new refinery would fall to the oil companies not taxpayers. The threat of an oil spill and the resulting costs associated with it, as we have seen with the Enbridge spill in Michigan, is tremendous. Taxpayers should not have to worry about or carry this burden. It would be safer for all Canadians if the oil was refined locally and then transported. Its a solution that puts the interests of people ahead of corporations, which is exactly what government's are supposed to do because corporations don't vote, people do. Our interests need to come first, especially when the cost to do so is minor in comparison to the cost of cleaning up a spill, and to the profits oil companies will realize as a result of these new pipelines.

Mike Schreiner

Well said James. The cost of cleaning up the Enbridge spill in Michigan is now more $1 billion and clean up is not complete. This cost does not include the health care costs associated with the clean up. Nor does it include the jobs losses and costs to the tourist industry and others negatively affected by the spill.

I enjoy looking through an article that will make men and women think.
Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

Ross Dedman

I see you are clearly against the pipeline. Fine. However, nowhere do I find an alternate solution or recommendation. What do you propose tom transport the oil or are you recommending we go back to the horse and buggy with streets full of manure. I would like to hear your viable alternative suggestion to the pipeline. Perhaps trains through downtown Ottawa?

Mike Maguire

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mike. I wonder if you could contrast the risks associated with moving Alberta oil through an existing pipeline vs. moving Venezuelan oil through international waters and the St. Lawrence by loosely regulated oil tankers?

I suppose one other consideration might be the morality of sending Canadian dollars to support the regime in Venezuela vs. leaving those dollars in Canadian hands.

One last thought...I see the first comment from my dear friend James who references the all-purpose villain, Big Oil. James, which Big Oil? The soulless plutocrats who own the oil in Canada (oh wait, that's us!) or the hostile, anti-human rights, anti-western Venezuelan regime so oddly beloved by certain self-loathing western factions?