Click and drag on the map above to see the locations of the major oil and gas pipelines in Hamilton.
More than a dozen major oil and gas pipelines run through Hamilton, several of them more than a half-century old.
Released publicly for the first time, a city-produced map reveals a network of pipelines that crisscross Hamilton’s rural areas and course beneath populated neighbourhoods and the city’s industrial north end.
But despite the fact staff have identified where the pipelines lie, the city doesn't have comprehensive information on the ages of the lines or the products that each one carries. A new city task force has formed to uncover these answers and to assess pipeline issues that arise across Hamilton.
“That’s part of the information that we’re gathering now,” said Guy Paparella, the city’s director of growth planning, who oversees the task force.
Paparella’s admission comes a day after a CBC News investigation showed that Hamilton has experienced nine safety-related incidents on oil and gas pipelines since 2000 — second in Ontario to Sarnia, which recorded 10 over the same period.
The same investigation revealed that the rate of safety incidents on Canadian oil and gas pipelines doubled between 2000 and 2011, according to National Energy Board documents released under access to information laws.
The number of pipelines crossing through Hamilton comes as a surprise to Don McLean, a longtime environmentalist who has slammed proposed changes to an Enbridge pipeline that runs through the city’s rural northwest.
“There’s a whole string of questions that comes to mind when you discover you have pipelines running through your city that potentially could be a problem,” said McLean, founder of Hamilton 350, a climate change advocacy group.
“And probably eventually all them will be a problem. Nothing lasts forever."
Despite the lack of a comprehensive record of pipelines running through Hamilton, Fire Chief Rob Simonds says emergency crews "are well positioned to respond" to leaks or fires on oil and gas pipelines.
He said the fire department is in "regular discussions" with energy companies about emergency preparedness, and said he's confident that the fire department and the oil companies have procedures in place to work together if a disaster were to occur.
"We have had those discussions and are feeling quite comfortable with that."
More than just Line 9
The issue of pipelines has attracted increasing attention in Hamilton amid protests about proposed changes to a large pipeline running through the city. In June, 18 protesters were arrested after staging a six-day occupation at an Enbridge pump station in Westover, a village in Hamilton’s rural northwest, to condemn a proposal
The group was making a statement in opposition to the Edmonton-based energy giant’s proposal to reverse the flow of a segment of its 38-year-old Line 9 pipeline that runs from Westover to Montreal.
However, the furor over Line 9 has glossed over the existence several additional pipelines cross through the area. Westover is the terminus for three other Enbridge pipelines, lines 7, 10 and 11, which run to Sarnia, Kiantone, N.Y., and Nanticoke, respectively.
Additionally, several other pipelines run through the Flamborough area, including those belonging to Union Gas, Imperial Oil, TransCanada and Waterdown firm Sun-Canadian.
'Based on where Hamilton is located, we have quite a number of pipelines.' —Guy Paparella, City of Hamilton
There are also a number of pipelines radiating from the city’s waterfront. Segments of the Imperial Oil and Sun-Canadian pipelines spur off into Hamilton’s industrial north end. And the Trans Northern pipeline spans from an Enbridge pipeline near Binbrook down to the lower city and terminates at the end of the Beach Strip.
“Based on where Hamilton is located, we have quite a number of pipelines,” Paparella explained. “We’re at the confluence of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. And if you want to go east, west, north and south from this area with a pipeline, you have to go through Hamilton.”
While portions of Hamilton’s pipeline infrastructure are less than a decade old, some of the lines were laid before the 1960s. TransCanada’s main pipeline, segments of which run through densely populated areas of west Hamilton, dates from the ‘50s, as does the Sun-Canadian pipeline which transports petroleum products from Sarnia to Toronto and other cities in between.
The city’s pipelines task force, formed in the early summer in response to Enbridge’s Line 9 proposal, has “turned our mind to” the issue of developing an inventory of oil and gas infrastructure in the city.
Paparella assembled the unit, which consists of public works planners as well as Simonds, to examine proposals to build new pipelines in Hamilton or to make changes to existing ones.
“That’s why we're looking for that information now,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of people sending letters out and looking for that information.”
Pipeline watchers like Pembina Institute associate Nathan Lemphers have raised concerns about North America's aging pipeline infrastructure.
“The pipelines that are in the ground are getting older and in some cases there's more products flowing through them so you're going to see increasing incidents and increasing defects in those pipelines unless they're properly maintained,” Lemphers told CBC News.
The spectre of the city not knowing what runs through its pipelines worries McLean. He cited the 2007 fire at the Biederman pesticide packaging plant in Dundas as an example of why first responders need to know the contents of the city’s oil and gas pipelines.
Firefighters used millions of litres of water to extinguish the blaze. The runoff, which contained poisonous chemicals, drained into Spencer Creek, killing thousands of fish and other wildlife.
In its testimony to the Ministry of the Environment, the company said the environmental catastrophe could have been prevented if firefighters had used fire retardant foam.
“The fire department didn’t have the information about what they were dealing with,” said McLean, who followed the case closely.
In a Monday interview with CBC Hamilton, Simonds expressed confidence in the fire department’s ability to respond to large leaks or fires on the city’s oil and gas pipelines.
“I think we’re well prepared,” said Simonds. “We work very well with our provincial partners at the Ministry of the Environment to address any situation... and have processes in place to find out the product that would be in the pipe at the time of the emergency.”
He said the fire department regularly consults with energy companies about how to respond to a crisis if one were to occur, and is currently developing an appendix to the city’s emergency response plan that addresses pipelines specifically.
Simonds says the energy companies have been very cooperative in providing the city with information about their pipelines and have shown a “strong investment” in safety.
“When we’re having those discussions, never do I sense any ambivalence on their part to that commitment.”
Industry officials have defended their safety records, and say they have sophisticated safeguards in place to prevent catastrophic spills and explosions, and to minimize the impact of accidents when they do occur.
Brenda Kenny, president of the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association, which represents major oil and gas companies, says there’s an industry-wide commitment to “get to zero incidents.”
“We're driving that out very hard through our risk-based management approach at the industry level that involves a lot of best practices, integrity, management, technology and these indicators,” she told CBC News.
“The Canadian pipeline industry is one of the very safest in the world, second to none in terms of actual results.”