The Ontario government has ordered Enbridge Pipelines Inc. to apply for three environmental permits that the company is missing at a pumping station in rural Hamilton.

The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) says the oil giant is lacking permits for noise, storm water discharge and air emissions at its Westover pumping station.

"In recent years, the ministry has had repeated discussions about provincial requirements and approvals with Enbridge," said Geoffrey Knapper, district manager for the MOE. "Earlier this year, we requested Enbridge to apply for Ontario environmental compliance approvals for noise and air and storm water.

"Enbridge has since submitted an approval application for air and noise and we expect a storm water application shortly."

But Enbridge spokesperson Ken Hall says the company's primary concern is to comply with federal standards as outlined by the National Energy Board.

"That's the regulator that oversees our business," Hall said. "If the two conflict, the NEB takes precedence."

Protests mounting

Hall says the company is "quite confident" that Enbridge will meet the provincial standards regardless. Its storm water application should be sent to the ministry next week, he added.

Though the Westover Station has been operating for decades, the MOE didn't request that Enbridge apply for these permits until this spring, Hall says. The ministry didn't comment as to why the request only came forward now.

The station erupted in controversy last month when dozens of protesters marched onto the site and shut down operations for six days. Protesters are fighting Enbridge's plan to reverse and expand the amount of oil moving through of the line 9B pipeline which runs from Montreal through Westover.

Activists say both the flow reversal and expansion could raise the risk of a spill into places like the Beverly Swamp in the headwaters of Spencer Creek, Hamilton's largest watershed.

Hall says the protests likely aren't the culprit for the intensified scrutiny from the ministry. "I don't think that's what's driving it," he said. More likely, he says, is that stakeholders from various groups and municipalities have asked the province to take a more active role in monitoring pipeline activity.

'Not on a fishing expedition'

Hamilton is part of a group of municipalities participating in NEB hearings on Enbridge's Line 9B proposal.

As part of the process, Hamilton provided input into an information request compiled by the city of Toronto, alongside other municipalities such as Burlington and Mississauga. The request asks for clarification into a number of the company's practices.

Enbridge didn't answer some two-dozen questions from the request — citing privacy concerns, saying some questions are irrelevant while others were "fishing expeditions."

"They answered some of our questions — others they said we're on a fishing expedition, and we're not," said Guy Paperella, who is co-ordinating the municipal response on the project for Hamilton.

But Hall says the company is simply declining to answer questions that have nothing to do with the application and issues before the NEB. The company has also refused to produce confidential information on the record, he says.

Knapper wasn't certain as to how long it would take the ministry to issue permits to Enbridge for the Westover site.

"The ministry will endeavour to complete the review as quickly as possible," he said.

"But it needs to take the time needed to conduct a comprehensive technical review of the application."