Critics of Enbridge’s Line 9 oil pipeline project are concerned the project will be approved despite insufficient evidence the 38-year old pipeline is safe. The National Energy Board – Canada’s independent energy regulator – is expected to deliver its final decision on Line 9 any day. Enbridge is applying to reverse and increase the flow of the aging pipeline to transport oilsands bitumen and Bakken shale oil to Eastern Canada.
“Enbridge should have to reapply for the pipeline. The safety of the pipeline is outside the scope of the Line 9 project’s application,” Darko Matovic, a fluid dynamics engineering professor at Queens University told DeSmog Canada in an interview.
Enbridge describes Line 9 as a project of “limited scope,” suggesting review of the Line 9 proposal be restricted to proposed construction at “the seven Project sites.” The project sites consist of six pipeline pumping stations and a new densitometer site.
Critics fear if the NEB takes this narrow view of the Line 9 proposal the current condition of the pipeline will not be properly assessed to ensure public safety. The pipeline lies in southern Ontario and southern Quebec where nearly one-in-three Canadians live.
“Enbridge cannot tell the NEB what the Board's parameters are when assessing a project,” says Rick Munroe energy analyst for the National Farmers Union and participant in the Line 9 hearings last October.
“The NEB has a mandate to make decisions which are in the public’s best interest and above all, to ensure public and environmental safety. The NEB's legal duty overrides Enbridge’s insistence on a limited scope,” Munroe told DeSmog from Kingston, Ontario.
Critics suggest changes proposed to Line 9 are not of a “limited scope." Enbridge applied to ship heavy crudes such as oilsands bitumen and Bakken shale oil through Line 9, reverse the pipeline to flow from Sarnia to Montreal, and increase the capacity from 240,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 300,000 bpd.
Matovic, who is also the president of the Ontario Pipeline Probe, argues Enbridge’s application for Line 9 does not adequately establish the pipeline can operate at the levels of pressure necessary to transport 300,000 bpd. He finds it alarming the pipeline company did not assess what would happen if Line 9 ruptured, especially given the known difficulties of cleaning up a bitumen spill.
Enbridge justified not assessing spills in its application stating, “scenarios concerning pipeline rupture events are not within the scope.”
Pipeline safety expert Richard Kuprewicz estimates the likelihood of Line 9 rupturing is “over 90%” if the National Energy Board approves the project without any conditions.
Ruptured pipeline from the Enbridge Line 6B which released more than 3 million litres of oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010.
“I do not make the statement ‘high risk for a rupture’ lightly or often. There are serious problems with Line 9 that need to be addressed,” Kuprewicz told DeSmog Canada in an interview last October.
Extensive existing damage on the pipeline known as stress corrosion cracking and the larger pressure swings associated with shipping heavy crudes are the basis of Kuprewicz’s prediction for Line 9.
Enbridge for its part has not asked to increase the maximum operating pressure of Line 9. The pipeline has not operated at full capacity or pressure in recent years. Kuprewicz and Matovic both agree Line 9 needs to undergo a hydrostatic test to prove the pipeline can still do what it was approved to do nearly forty years ago.
A hydrostatic test would pump water through the pipeline at pressures above the line's maximum to ensure the pipeline can operate safely at full capacity. The NEB did order a hydrostatic test of Line 9 when the pipeline was reversed to flow from Montreal to Sarnia in 1997.
“The issues with Line 9 are too serious to ignore. No other pipeline in Canada is located in such a densely populated area. Ontario can only lose if Line 9 is approved,” says Matovic.
It will be up to the NEB to demand a hydrostatic test and more information on Line 9’s condition that goes beyond the limited scope of the project’s application.
Emily Ferguson, independent researcher and founder of the Line 9 Communities website, questions why the NEB is considering Enbridge’s application for the project at all.
“If the Line 9 project was a new pipeline being installed, the NEB would not even consider the application because some of its features do not meet present day engineering standards,” says Ferguson from Guelph, Ontario.
Line 9 meets pipeline manufacturing standards from 1971. The pipeline's quarter-inch walls and single layer PE-tape (polyethylene encasement) outer protective coating are no longer found on oil pipelines constructed today. Half-inch pipe walls have become standard for a thirty-inch pipelines segments, like those used in Line 9.
PE-tape’s tendency to become unglued, allowing moisture to corrode pipelines is a prolbem known to the pipeline industry. It was also identified as the cause of the Kalamazoo spill in Michigan, the largest onshore oil spill in US history.
“Why is the NEB even considering the application to use this outdated and faulty technology to ship oil through our communities?" Ferguson said.
Image credit: Enbridge, NTSB