Quebec Commission Gives Green Light to Line 9 Reversal

A Quebec parliamentary commission has given its stamp of approval to Enbridge Inc.'s plan to reverse the flow of its Line 9B pipeline, recommending to the provincial government that it go ahead, pending certain conditions.

If the reversal of the pipeline goes ahead, it will send crude oil from the U.S. and Alberta, including oilsands bitumen, to Montreal.

Environmental groups immediately denounced the report, saying it ignored the majority of concerns raised at the commission, questioning the hastiness of the commission and accusing the Quebec government of turning its back on its environmental responsibilities.

"Quebec has abdicated its responsibilities to the Harper government, which has destroyed environmental protections and limited public participation in order to accelerate the approval of dirty energy projets," said Patrick Bonin of Greenpeace Quebec in a press release. "Quebec has become complicit in the increase in Canadian emissions and the acceleration of climate change by driving us into the murky economy of the tar sands."

The report, released Friday following six days of hearings, lists 18 conditions the commission would like the company to meet to respond to concerns raised during the hearings. These requests range from the economic (giving assurance that any oil would not be piped further than Quebec, thereby ensuring the oil is refined in the province), to the environmental. 

Those suggestions include:

  • Establishing an oversight committee composed of federal, provincial and Enbridge representatives that would ensure all relevant information about pipeline security and environmental concerns be shared with parties affected by the pipeline reversal.
  • That Enbridge provide the Quebec government with its studies regarding the integrity of the pipeline for review by an independent inspector.
  • That the company establish an adequate plan in the case of leaks, that the plan be made public and that they provide the required access and information for the independent monitoring of water in proximity of the pipeline.

The pipeline reversal is also being studied by the federal National Energy Board, which wrapped up hearings in October. Their report is expected in early 2014.

Since the pipeline project falls under federal jurisdiction, the conditions from the provincial government aren't actually binding on the company, admitted a government spokesperson. “We hope that [Enbridge] will take this report into consideration as it moves forward,” said Pierre-Luc Desaulniers, the spokesperson for the deputy minister of industrial development, who oversaw the commission.

The hastiness of the report led some groups to question whether the Quebec government actually took the process seriously. Even before the commission began, many groups questioned the commission and called on the government to have a more extensive public consultation. Concern grew even further when Quebec Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet admitted the government had already taken a postion of "yes, but" going into the commission, viewing the pipeline as a fait accompli with just the details to work out.

Calling the report “short-sighted” and “embarrassing,” the Quebec Association for the Fight Against Atmospheric Pollution questioned whether Quebec, like the federal government, is in the pocket of the oil lobby. "We need to realise that Quebec is also being taken hostage the by financial and petroleum communities and is being dragged to the bottom of the tar sands barrel by lobbyists representing the fossil fuel industry," said president André Bélisle in a release.

For their part, Enbridge says they have met their promise to consult the Quebec public. In a press release sent after the report was released, they say that during the past 18 days they have heard from more than 700 people and organizations, and that they will comment on the report itself once they have a chance to read it more closely.

The proposal to change the direction of the flow of the Line 9B pipeline between North Westover, Ont., and Montreal has been met with considerable opposition from environmentalists and First Nations communities. The reversal will allow Enbridge to bring crude oil from Alberta and United States to the east coast. This would allow the company to send oilsands bitumen to the east for export, just as western routes like Enbridge's Northern Gateway run up against tough opposition.

Opponents say any plan to pipe oilsands bitumen east will allow for an unacceptable expansion of what is becoming known as the dirtiest oil on the planet. They also allege that it presents considerable risks for leaks, given that the pipeline was not constructed to carry heavy oil like oilsands bitumen, and point to Enbridge's spotty record for pipeline breakages.

This includes the worst on-land spill in U.S. history, when more than three million litres of dlitued bitumen from the Alberta oilsands leaked from Enbridge's Line 6B into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Line 9 and Line 6 were constructed at nearly the same time and to nearly the same specifications, raising concerns a similar accident could happen.

While Quebec environmental groups haven't yet said what their next steps will be, there appears to be growing opposition. This past week, members of Rising Tide Toronto locked themselves down to an Enbridge construction site to oppose the plan, shutting down work for the day. A small solidarity rally was held in Montreal and citizens tried to access the deputy minister of industrial development's office to express their concern about the pipeline, but were stopped when the building was locked down.

Participants at both protests said they will continue to organize against the pipeline reversal.

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