National Energy Board hearings into Enbridge's application to reverse the flow in a pipeline between southern Ontario and Montreal continue today in Toronto.
Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB) wants to reverse Line 9 and increase its capacity to move oilsands crude from the Alberta oilpatch to Eastern Canada.
It plans to move 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day through the line, up from the current 240,000 barrels, with no increase in pressure.
Opponents of the Line 9 reversal claim the crude is more corrosive and will stress the aging infrastructure and increase the chance of a leak.
Enbridge stresses what will flow through the line will not be a raw oilsands product — although there will be a mix of light crude and processed bitumen.
Hearings last week in Montreal
At hearings last week in Montreal, Enbridge counsel Douglas Crowther said the project will redeploy an existing pipeline in a safe, efficient and economical way to the benefit of refineries in Quebec, oil producers in Western Canada "and the broader Canadian public interest."
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says environmental, community and First Nations concerns are "paramount" when it comes to any pipeline project in Ontario.
"So that the questions that will come forward at these meetings need to have answers," she said. "We need to understand exactly what the risks are."
If there are questions that have yet to be answered, "we will need to get those answers in terms of environmental concerns," Wynne said.
Line 9 originally shuttled oil from Sarnia, Ont., to Montreal but was reversed in the late 90s in response to market conditions, to pump imported crude westward. Enbridge is now proposing to flow oil back eastwards to service refineries in Ontario and Quebec.
Emergency crew in Mississauga
Enbridge says the 831-kilometre-long line is constantly monitored from an Edmonton control centre and can be shut down within 10 minutes if an unexplained reading comes in. A sudden loss of pressure means an automatic shutdown. The line is also patrolled on foot and by air.
If a leak occurs, a team can be on site in up to three hours, but the company is working to improve that by adding an emergency crew in Mississauga, Ont., to deal with problems in the Greater Toronto Area.
Ontario's Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller said he has some concerns about the kind of oil — called diluted bitumen, or "dillbit" — that would be transported through the pipeline if the reversal of Line 9 goes ahead.
The crude has the consistency of peanut butter, "gooey and semi-solid," he said. It's diluted with natural gas liquids so it can move through the pipeline.
If there's a spill, dillbit doesn't float on the water like regular light crude, which can be mostly recovered from the surface, he said. The gas evaporates and the "thick, peanut butter" heavy oil sinks.
"I would hate to be on a spill response on a dillbit spill," said Miller, who said he worked in government spill response years ago.
"Because you've got the stuff initially on the water spreading out, and then with time, it's sinking down. Cleaning up the top of the water is hard enough, cleaning it off the bottom of the lake is extremely difficult."
Some opponents suggest the Line 9 reversal is ultimately so Enbridge can transport oil to the Atlantic coast for export — something the company denies, saying the project is currently about "keeping Canadian crude in Canada."
Adam Scott of Environmental Defence, one among a consortium opposing Enbridge, contends the project is similar to a previous Enbridge bid called project Trailbreaker, which he said would've reversed Line 9 and a pipeline between Montreal and Portland.
A portion of the line has already received approval for reversal and has been sending oil from Sarnia to North Westover, Ont. — about 30 kilometres northwest of Hamilton — since August.