The National Energy Board will allow nearly 60 intervenors and more than 100 commenters into its limited hearings on the proposal to add tar sands bitumen to Enbridge’s aging Line 9 pipeline across southern Ontario and increase flows by 25 per cent. Quebec has announced its own hearings on the controversial plan that increasingly appears aimed at exporting unrefined bitumen to the US, while Ontario is under pressure to also order an environmental assessment after the Harper government eliminated federal requirements for such reviews.
The cities of Hamilton and Burlington and several local organizations and individuals will be allowed to send written comments to the NEB, while Sarah Harmer and the cities of Toronto and Mississauga are among 59 organizations and individuals granted the right to call evidence and cross–examine witnesses in hearings now expected to not begin before September. The deadline for letters of comment to the NEB is August 6 – well before Enbridge has promised to release even summary results of its ‘integrity’ reviews of its 38–year old pipeline.
In addition to limiting participation to those who filled out application forms and were subsequently approved, the NEB has excluded several major public concerns from consideration in the hearings including increases in tar sands extraction and climate change plus the possible export of the diluted bitumen to foreign refineries.
Despite denials by Enbridge, that latter option returned to the media spotlight last week with reports that $6.5 million has been spent on the Montreal to Portland, Maine pipeline “to prepare for a reversal of the line so it can carry heavy oil sands crude” (another term for diluted bitumen). The pipe is owned by Suncor, ExxonMobil and Shell – all major players in the Alberta tar sands – and was part of the 2008 Enbridge proposal to export tar sands crude to US and other foreign markets.
There is already “an uproar” in New England against another tar sands pipeline that includes state governors and congressional opposition, as well as numerous municipalities who have passed bylaws to try and prevent it from ever happening. The export option is also one of the reasons the Quebec government confirmed last week that it will conduct its own environmental review separate from the NEB hearings on the Enbridge Line 9 plans.
In an interview with Reuters, Quebec’s environment minister said the province is not willing to leave the decision on Line 9 to Ottawa. He said approval of the pipeline would be hypocritical at a time when Quebec already has the most stringent greenhouse gas targets in Canada and is considering increasing those to 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.
“I think the only logical thing to do is to ...control the parameters of our own exploration, production and consumption, which is the most ecological way to do things,” the minister told Reuters.
Opposition to bitumen export, including huge campaigns to block the Keystone XL pipeline in the US and the Enbridge–proposed Northern Gateway across BC, has the Harper government spending millions on advertising and lobbying. Toronto–Dominion bank deputy chairman Frank McKenna last week accused tar sands opponents of delivering “a staggering blow” to the Canadian economy.
“Fighting pipelines is a proxy for fighting the oil sands, it’s a proxy for fighting elections….and it could be a proxy for First Nations’ claims, and possibly even nationalism in Quebec,” McKenna declared.
Local groups opposing the Line 9 proposals including Hamilton 350 and Burlington Green are now approved to submit written comments to the NEB hearings. Other opponents – some of whom shut down Highway 6 earlier this month – are advocating more direct action against the Enbridge pipeline. V