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Line 9 pipeline reversal approved 2:22

Activists in Hamilton say they knew the National Energy Board’s approval of Enbridge’s controversial Line 9 pipeline reversal was coming — so they came prepared to protest Friday.

About 60 people gathered in front of Hamilton city hall around noon — carrying signs, banging drums, and even hoisting an oversized papier-mâché rubber stamp to mock the regulatory board's decision to allow a plan to reverse the flow and increase the capacity of an aging pipeline that runs between southern Ontario and Montreal.

Protesters started work on the stamp a week ago, says Don McLean, coordinator of the Hamilton 350 committee. As most people assumed the project’s approval was a foregone conclusion, making it in advance was a safe bet, he told CBC Hamilton.

'We’ve gone through exactly the farce we expected it to be.'- Don McLean, Hamilton 350 committee

“The National Energy Board is a conflicted board. It isn’t designed to turn down pipelines. It has a double mandate – on one hand it’s supposed to make sure that the transport of fuels is safe, and on the other hand, it has a mandate to make sure it pushes out as much as possible,” McLean said. “It’s an economic development mandate.”

“It’s not going to stop pipelines.”

In the end, blocking highways, marching through the streets and even taking over the Enbridge pumping station in rural Hamilton wasn’t enough to stop the project. The green light for the Calgary-based company to reverse the pipeline’s flow came as many expected – subject to certain conditions and requirements.

A statement from the National Energy Board says "the board’s conditions require Enbridge to undertake activities regarding pipeline integrity, emergency response, and continued consultation."

NEB failed the people of Ontario: Green party leader

Enbridge will also have to submit a plan to manage cracking features in the pipeline, and manage water crossings. The board says that with these conditions in place, the project will be "safe and environmentally sensitive."

McLean doesn’t buy that argument. “We’ve gone through exactly the farce we expected it to be,” he said. “They haven’t even bothered to accept the demands of the provincial government – nevermind the demands of citizens.”

Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner says the NEB has “failed the people of Ontario.”

“The health and well being of people and communities should be the government’s top priority, not the interests of big oil,” he said. “Pumping dirty oil through an aging pipeline not designed to handle such corrosive material is not in the public interest. It is dangerously irresponsible that the NEB did not at the very least require a hydrostatic test for leaks in the 38-year old pipeline or even require Enbridge to carry sufficient insurance.”

The decision on the line comes some four months after the NEB held public hearings on Enbridge's proposal.

During those sessions, a three-member panel heard from a wide range of parties including First Nations, environmental groups, private citizens and representatives from municipal and provincial governments, including Hamilton.

Enbridge's own final submissions were delivered in writing after the board cancelled its final day of Toronto hearings over security concerns stemming from a planned protest.

300,000 barrels a day

Line 9 originally shuttled oil from Sarnia, Ont., to Montreal, but was reversed in the late 1990s in response to market conditions to pump imported crude westward. Enbridge now wants to flow oil back eastwards to service refineries in Ontario and Quebec.

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. It has also received permission to move different types of oil, including a heavier form of crude.

Critics also worry that Enbridge will run what they claim is a more corrosive product through the 831-kilometre-long line — a move which they claim will stress the aging infrastructure and increase the chance of a leak.

Enbridge has insisted that safety is its top priority and has characterized the scope of the reversal as "actually very, very small."

It has said a reversed Line 9 will not be transporting a raw oilsands product, although there will be a mix of light crude and processed bitumen.

It has stressed, though, that the products that will flow through the line will not erode it.

Activists point to Michigan spill

The company has also said the refineries it supplies can currently only take a small portion of heavy crude and would have to invest significantly in infrastructure to take more.

Despite the company's assurances, Line 9's opponents have often pointed to an Enbridge spill in Michigan, which leaked 20,000 barrels of crude into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. There are concerns the same thing could happen in Ontario or Quebec in the future.

Some opponents have also suggested the Line 9 reversal is ultimately so Enbridge can transport oil to the Atlantic coast for export — something the company denies.

A portion of the line has already received approval for reversal and has been sending oil from Sarnia to Westover in rural Hamilton since August.