An environmental group is going to court to try to get The National Energy Board to reopen hearings into the controversial Line 9B reversal proposal.
Prominent lawyer Clayton Ruby, of the law firm Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan, is at the forefront of a lawsuit against the federal government and Enbridge Pipelines Inc. over the way the NEB handled regulatory hearings on the oil giant’s pipeline reversal applic.
Ruby, who will be arguing the case, says Enbridge blatantly excluded the public from its decision-making process over the pipeline project that runs through Hamilton.
The suit, which will be launched by North Bay author Donna Sinclair and B.C.-based nonprofit ForestEthics, would force the NEB to reopen the hearings if a judge agrees with the challenge, Ruby told CBC Hamilton. The firm is submitting its case to the Federal Court of Appeal on Thursday.
- READ MORE: The local Enbridge pipeline expansion you don't know about
- READ MORE: Enbridge launches hundreds of digs for cracks in Line 9
“The NEB deliberately acted to cut off participation,” Ruby said. “The oil companies don’t like anyone but them being heard.”
In Hamilton, environmental activists like Ken Stone and Don McLean of the Hamilton 350 committee have bemoaned the application process publicly. To participate in the hearings, citizens had to fill out 10 pages of dense application forms and weren't allowed to speak about the oilsands if they were approved.
'In the back pocket of the oil companies'
Many have questioned the legitimacy of the NEB process, which is largely regarded by environmentalists as a rubber stamp procedure for the Line 9B proposal. Enbridge is seeking approval to boost the line’s capacity to 300,000 barrels per day, up from the 240,000 that currently flow through it. The flow reversal would move from westbound to eastbound, carrying bitumen from the oilsands in Alberta to Quebec refineries.
Ruby says changes found in the federal Conservatives 2012 omnibus budget bill restricted public participation in the Line 9 hearings, which took place amid protests in October in Montreal and Toronto. The NEB once had the final say on projects like these, he says, but now the federal Conservatives can override and approve decisions if needed.
“No matter what the recommendations are, this can go ahead,” Ruby said. “I think the NEB is in the back pocket of the oil companies.”
NEB spokesperson Whitney Punchak would not comment on any of Ruby’s allegations. “This is an ongoing court case, so we can’t comment on it at this time,” she said. The Ministry of Natural Resources did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Ebridge going over and above, spokesperson says
Enbridge spokesperson Graham White told CBC Hamilton that he couldn’t comment on active litigation.
White did say the company feels it has been fair and rigorous about community consultation and that engagement has been “over and above regulatory requirements.”
“Stakeholder input is not limited to the NEB process, as we have demonstrated,” he said in an email. “They will always have a voice with us outside the regulatory process, and we have been listening and responding to concerns, even prior to any decision being made on the line.”
Enbridge did host several community consultations in the Hamilton area prior to the NEB hearings, though the city has accused the company of ducking questions and concerns raised by city staff about its practices leading up to the NEB hearings.
Opponents to the Line 9 reversal, some of whom have staged protests and held sit-ins at pumping stations like the one in Flamborough, worry that Enbridge plans to run a heavier, and what they claim is a more corrosive, kind of oil through the line that will stress the aging infrastructure, which runs through some of Hamilton’s most environmentally sensitive areas.
The oil giant is currently in the midst of expanding the flow through the almost six-decades old Line 7 pipeline, which runs from Sarnia to the Westover Terminal in Flamborough. The line had been carrying 147,000 barrels per day, but will soon be carrying 180,000 barrels per day, an increase of about 22 per cent.