Public hearings on Enbridge’s proposal to ship tar sands bitumen through its 37-year old Line 9 pipeline begin on October 8th in Montreal. These hearings are the first to be held under ‘new rules’ on public participation in major pipeline decisions that last year’s controversial federal omnibus bill C-38 introduced.
Provisions in C-38 allow the National Energy Board (NEB) – Canada’s independent energy regulator – to deny Canadians their right to have their concerns and opinions considered by the NEB when it makes decisions on pipelines. Only those the NEB deemed “directly affected” by the Line 9 project were approved to participate in the hearings.
The NEB also set a strict list of Line 9 issues participants in the hearings are allowed to comment on. Issues connected to the Line 9 project such as the expansion of the Albertan tar sands, climate change and the rights and health of indigenous peoples of northern Alberta are all absent from this list and will not be addressed during the hearings.
In effect, the NEB has told Canadians what they can and cannot care about when it comes to pipelines like Line 9.
“The game’s been rigged,” says Gerry Dunn, co-founder of Stop Line 9 Toronto.
“The decision on Line 9 has already been made because the federal government wants tar sands pipelines to be constructed,” Dunn told DeSmog. Stop Line 9 Toronto is a citizens-initiative engaging residents of northern Toronto on Line 9. Line 9 goes through major urban centers such as Toronto and Montreal.
C-38 gives the federal cabinet power to override any decision made by the NEB on Line 9 or any other pipeline project in the future.
Line 9 is “High Risk” for a Rupture Says Expert
Line 9 runs from Sarnia, Ontario to Montreal, passing through the most densely populated parts of Canada. It crosses the St Lawrence River, and every major waterway flowing into Lake Ontario. The 831-km pipeline has never transported bitumen.
A pipeline safety expert last August slammed Enbridge’s plans for Line 9 saying the pipeline will be “high risk” for a rupture if the NEB approves the project. Line 9 has the same design deficiencies as Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline, which ruptured in Michigan in 2010 causing the largest inland oil spill in US history.
Line 6B was transporting bitumen when it burst. Enbridge is still cleaning up the spill.
1544 Participated in the Northern Gateway Hearings. Only 175 for Line 9.
Sadly, the new restrictive rules on public participation seem to have deterred Quebecers and Ontarians from taking part in the Line 9 hearings. This and the general lack of awareness around the Line 9 project resulted in the number of participants in the upcoming hearings being a mere fraction of the unprecedented levels of public participation in the Northern Gateway hearings.
The 10-page form the NEB required Canadians to complete in order to apply for permission-to-comment on Line 9 more than likely served as a further deterrent. British Columbians simply had to register themselves with the NEB to participate in the Northern Gateway hearings which ended last summer.
Sarah Harmer, Gord Downie & The Sadies, Hayden and the Minotaurs entertained over 1500 residents of Toronto on October 6th to raise awareness about the dangers of the Line 9 project. The event was organized in cooperation with Environmental Defence Canada
The majority of the NEB approved applicants will not actually be participating in the eight days of Line 9 hearings split evenly between Montreal and Toronto. It appears either the NEB or the federal government is attempting to make public hearings themselves redundant.
No cross-examinations and no calling of expert witnesses will take place during the Line 9 hearings. There will be no oral statements such as 16-year old Sam Harrison’s insightful and compelling testimony against the Northern Gateway project that stole the spotlight last February.
Only NEB approved “intervenors” – a role usually reserved for organizations, governments and companies – are allowed to present in the hearings and they can only present evidence already submitted to the NEB in written form.
Non-intervenors – the majority of participants in the case of Line 9 – were told they cannot make oral statements in the hearings and could only submit letters-of-comment.
“In my past experience the NEB gives more weight to evidence presented during the hearings as opposed to letters sent in by participants. We’ll see if this is the case with Line 9 as well,” says Margaret Vance, who as president of the Ontario Pipeline Landowners Association has been dealing with the NEB for over twenty years.
Public Has Lost Faith in the NEB process on Line 9
Rallies against Line 9 are planned for Montreal on October 10th and Toronto on October 19th, the last day of Line 9 hearings. The rallies will likely be expressions of the public's outrage and loss of faith in the NEB as legitimate venue for Canadians to voice their opinions about pipeline projects.
Poster for Line 9 rally in Toronto on October 19th at the Metro Toronto Covention Center
“We are just going to keep on doing what we’ve been doing despite the NEB,” says Dunn of Stop Line 9 Toronto.
“We will continue to raise awareness about the dangers of transporting dilbit (diluted bitumen) through Toronto and work on the municipal council to ban dilbit shipments through the city,” Dunn told DeSmog Canada.
The Quebec government has promised to initiate their own review of the Line 9 project, although they still have not released the details. Ontarians are pushing their provincial government to conduct an independent environmental assessment of Line 9. There is a good chance if the NEB approves the Line 9 project the decision will be ignored by Ontarians and Quebecers.
Instead, the final verdict on Line 9 may come from the Ontario or Quebec governments or even the municipalities located along Line 9 who feel transporting bitumen through their communities is all risk and no gain.
The Line 9 hearings will take place from October 8 – 11th in Montreal and from October 16th – 19th in Toronto. The NEB could make its decision on Line 9 as early as January 2014.
Image Credit: Ecojustice, Enbridge, Environmental Defence Canada