by John Spears, Business Reporter
Oil sands opponents are turning their eyes on Ontario to throttle shipment of western Canadian oil sands bitumen eastward.
A coalition of 11 environmental groups claims to have prompted a flood of 41,000 comments to the National Energy Board by people opposed to reversing the flow of Enbridge’s Line 9, between Sarnia and the Westover terminal near Hamilton.
The line currently carries oil imported to east coast ports westward to refineries in Sarnia.
Opponents see the reversal as the first stage of an effort to send western oil sands crude eastward for export from Portland, Me.
Enbridge says it’s simply responding to market conditions. The company points out that the line piped conventional western oil eastward when it was built in 1975, but was reversed in 1999.
Gillian McEachern of Environmental Defence said Enbridge is simply trying to “hook more people on tar sands oil.”
“The reversal would cut Ontario’s access to eastern oil off, so we’re getting everything flowing in from the west,” she said in an interview.
That inevitably means “we’ll be using more tar sands oil, and it will increase over time as conventional oil production declines,” she said.
Enbridge says that it will fill the pipeline from a variety of sources in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
The company says reversing the flow will “provide greater access to the Ontario market for western Canadian oil producers, and eliminate the reliance of Ontario refiners on crude oil from areas of declining, or potentially unreliable sources of supply.”
McEachern argues that shipping heavy bitumen from the oil sands is inherently risky because it must be shipped at higher temperatures and pressures than light crude.
Nonsense, says Enbridge in its filings with the energy board, noting that it has been dealing with oil sands crude since 1968.
“There is nothing new about transporting this form of crude oilâ¦and there is no evidence that internal corrosion is caused by transporting oil from the Canadian oil sands.”
McEachern also says spills of heavy oil are harder to clean up than light crude spills, if a pipeline breaks.
She sees the pipeline reversal in the context of a plan to ship oil sands crude east.
Proposed pipelines to ship oil sands crude south through the U.S., and west through B.C., are both encountering heavy opposition.
McEachern notes that in 2008, Enbridge had proposed the Trailbreaker project, which would have shipped western bitumen through Ontario to Portland, Me.
In a letter dated March, 2011, Enbridge had said that project “is not currently being pursued.”
But in a Nov. 25 filing, Enbridge was less categorical, saying that the company “is continually examining means to ensure its pipelines are being utilized,” including reversing the next link of the pipeline from the Westover terminal to Montreal.
Hearings are slated for next month in London, Ont.