Andrea Budgey, chaplain of Trinity College. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

On June 18, 2015, Enbridge’s leave to open application for the Line 9 Reversal Project – a controversial enterprise that would allow the company to begin moving oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the Atlantic – was conditionally approved by Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) . The NEB, which grants companies permission to operate oil pipelines will allow Enbridge to begin transporting tar sand oil through Canada as soon as it satisfies safety conditions by completing hydrostatic testing on three segments of the pipeline.

Environmental and Indigenous rights activists fear that the selective testing is not sufficient to ensure that the 40-year old pipeline is safe to operate. Their major concern being that the old line may not be capable of withstanding bituminous crude oil reversed at a higher pressure.

The pipeline runs between Sarnia and Montreal and passes within 50km of over nine million people while crossing every major tributary that flows into Lake Ontario and important farmlands. It is also close to 18 First Nations communities, who would also be at risk if pipeline-related issues were to occur.

Bituminous crude oil is notoriously difficult to clean up and the volatile gases that are used in the dilution process are feared widely for their risks to human health.

When outgoing president of the U of T Green Party Sean Manners, learned about Line 9 two years ago, he was shocked that the project was going ahead. “I couldn’t believe that at a time when Canada should be making a transition towards a clean energy economy, that the NEB, federal and provincial governments have colluded in order to put the public at risk and maintain Canada’s addiction to fossil fuels,” he said.

Another of the chief concerns surrounding the pipeline is the potentially disastrous effect a spill could have on water quality. “If there were to be a spill, Toronto’s capacity to provide water to its residents will be greatly reduced for some time as Toronto’s drinking water treatment plants are not able to safely eliminate the compounds found in diluted bitumen, which is the commodity that Line 9 is set to transport,” said Manners.

Implications for transit users 

While the general community would inevitably suffer from any leakage, those most immediately affected by the pipeline would be transit users; the entrance to the Finch subway station, a transit hub for many U of T commuter students, is very near the line. “There is no barrier to control the flow of the product should it rupture and if any of it goes down the stairs or the escalators, onto the platform or track level, there would be an enormous risk to thousands of daily passengers and TTC workers,” said Manners, noting that the City of Toronto has also recognized the danger posed to commuters and TTC workers by the pipeline.

Andrea Budgey, Trinity College’s Chaplain, attended a “Die-In” protest event held at Finch Station on June 29. Budgey said that she hoped to educate commuters about the potential hazards of the pipeline reversal. Despite the geographical proximity of the proposed pipeline reversal, the action of peaceful demonstration speaks to a lack of public awareness on the issue. Budgey suggested that engaging with this issue is the responsibility of the academic community, environmental scientists, as well as student leaders.

Budgey admits that it is challenging to put up a coherent defense against the approval. “[A] conditional leave to open with hydrostatic testing is what people interested in public safety want to hear [but] hydro-static testing is very minimal and not necessarily on the most crucial pieces of the line, and it is not clear if there would be any further public revelations of the testing,” she said.

The City of Toronto does not appear to have prepared for the possibility of a leakage. Neither the TTC, Toronto Fire services, nor Enbridge appear to have any specific contingency plan to manage a leak of petroleum should this occur near the (Finch) TTC entrances,” reads a portion of The City of Toronto’s final submission to the NEB.

Affect on Indigenous populations

Indigenous communities located in or near the pipeline’s path have protested the project’s lack of consultation with stakeholders.

Louisette Lanteigne, a Mi’kmaq Metis mother from the Waterloo region, became involved, as a concerned citizen, to protect water supplies. She attended the Line 9 hearings and represented herself independently as a delegate. In her summary from the hearing in 2013, she wrote that: “The solicitor for the Crown… argued it is unreasonable for First Nations consultation to take place until after the NEB makes their decision because if the verdict is no there is no logical reason to require consultation in his view. At that point the audience along with me quietly groaned, mumbled etc. Not a popular idea to put it mildly. This is racist in my view to give everyone else a voice to shape the approval while negating First Nation’s concerns. How can we make informed decision if folks don’t have a say equally at the same time?”

Lanteigne expressed concerns about the lack of consultation, not only with the First Nations communities, but also with experts in the field. “There was no cross exam of experts at either one of the NEB’s Line 9 reversal hearings. That is not reasonable for any court process or quasi-jurisdictional hearing. They are supposed to base their decision on facts. Silencing this critical part of the dialogue with experts inhibits our ability to test the qualifications of the experts or to discuss and resolve issues collaboratively.”

The Chippewa of the Thames First Nation are awaiting a federal court ruling on their legal opposition to the project. “[The] outcome is not out yet and it seems inappropriate for the NEB to give Leave of Open, however conditional, if that case isn’t settled because that case, in theory at least, could stop the whole of Line 9,” said Budgey.

The Chippewas of the Thames were in attendance at the March for Jobs, Justice and Climate Change, which took place on July 5, 2015, in Toronto. The march paused for a few minutes in front of the Ontario Court of Justice to witness a representative of the Chippewas of the Thames drop a banner which read: “Respect the Treaties Support Chippewas of the Thames #NOLINE9”.

Enbridge’s Aboriginal and Native American policy promises that the company will “engage in forthright and sincere consultation with Aboriginal and Native American peoples about Enbridge’s projects and operations which have an impact upon their legally and constitutionally protected rights.” However, Enbridge has admitted in writing that they have not reviewed any treaties that are impacted by this project — a particularly concerning revelation when considering the implications for traditional indigenous land uses and burial grounds.

The fossil fuel question

The leave to open decision plays into the internationally recognized push toward fossil fuel divestment.

“Line 9 is just one manifestation of Canada’s addiction to fossil fuels and the University of Toronto’s largest single holding of its endowment is in the fossil fuel industry,” said Manners. “The U of T community needs to send a clear sign that as an institution it is committed to transitioning to a clean energy economy through not only divesting its holdings from shell, but also through speaking out against such a dangerous pipeline that only serves to further support Canada’s reliance on fossil fuels and the tar sands.”

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