Occupying pipeline hubs and highways that could get you arrested may turn out to be an easier way for citizens to have a say in the controversial plans to use an aging pipeline to ship diluted bitumen through Hamilton. As some opponents marched to the courthouse this week, others were pulling their hair out trying to negotiate the convoluted official process to just submit a letter of comment. The city was among those who succeeded and it has filed some strong objections with the National Energy Board (NEB).
The NEB granted a one–week extension to submit written comments after many were blocked by a malfunctioning website e–filing system as well as the refusal of the NEB to accept email attachments instead of on–line submissions. Even a resident who has spent 40 years of his life as a computer systems analyst was frustrated by the NEB’s on–line software.
Comments filed by the city focus on potential spills from the 38–year–old Line 9 that could affect local water supplies and damage ecological sensitive areas such as wetlands and streams in rural Hamilton. They also challenge the refusal of Enbridge to provide information on recent failures of the company’s pipelines such as the 3 million litre rupture that contaminated 60 km of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in July 2010.
That pipe carried bitumen diluted with cancer–causing chemicals such as benzene, something that Enbridge is now seeking permission to transport through Line 9. The city’s letter suggests a spill into one of the several local streams crossed by Line 9 would significantly threaten drinking water supplies in multiple cities.
“A recently–completed event–based modeling scenario in western Lake Ontario suggested that a release into the Sixteen Mile Creek of benzene could reach the municipal water intakes of Halton Region, the Woodward intake in Hamilton, and the Lorne Park intake in Mississauga at significant threat levels,” notes the letter. “Enbridge should strive to convey a higher confidence to municipalities that their spill response programme is better developed and subject to continual improvement, given historical events and future potentials in that this is an older pipeline with unproven expectations as to its abilities to convey a product with characteristics much different from original intended use.”
The letter notes the company “is not prepared to provide municipal emergency responders with the level of information that would enable these first responders to properly plan and prepare for the most effective coordinated response in the event of a pipeline–related emergency.”
Line 9 also directly affects more than a dozen First Nations whose traditional territorial rights are a significant issue. Some have intervenor status that allows them to participate in the hearings expected this fall, but the comment filed this week by “Chiefs of Ontario” raises troubling issues, while emphasizing that each First Nation will ultimately speak for itself.
The chiefs group notes that Line 9 was built before the 1982 Constitution Act when “Canadian legal recognition of First Nations rights was vastly different” and “there was no acceptance of a constitutional duty to consult and accommodate First Nations in the event of proposed projects” likely to affect their lands or rights.
The Hamilton 350 Committee repeated objections to the NEB decision to not examine effects on climate change and increased tar sands extraction.
“It is unreasonable to exclude these crucial matters, and to do so will certainly result in a deeply flawed and grossly inadequate examination of the full impact of the Line 9 proposals,” the group states. “Approving the transport of diluted bitumen will encourage increased extraction and refining activities, resulting in significant greenhouse gas release and damaging climatic consequences.” V