Brad Nimijohn had a gaping hole in the middle of his farm field for a month and a half this summer.
Enbridge Pipeline workers dug up about 25 by 100 feet of the family-owned Flamborough Farm Supplies to investigate possible corrosion inside an oil pipeline that runs through the Nimijohn's property.
"It turned out to be nothing," Nimijohn said. "They added a full sleeve and coating... they did a fair bit of work."
Enbridge plans to reverse the flow of oil passing through Line 9, which runs from Montreal to Sarnia. As a result, the oil company performed "integrity digs," like the one on the Nimijohn's farm, to find possible weak spots along the 38-year-old pipeline in preparation for the flow reversal.
The National Energy Board (NEB) has already approved the reversal for Line 9A, the portion from Sarnia to Westover. Line 9B, which runs from Westover to Montreal, is still pending NEB approval.
Opponents to the project argue the flow reversal could cause a rupture in the pipe and an oil spill. But people who live along the pipeline say the oil company is doing their job.
"They've been good," Nimijohn said, whose property is about a five-minute drive east of the North Westover Pump Station.
Willy, Nimijohn's father operates the farm with his son, and lives on the property. He says they have "super relations" with Enbridge since the pipeline was constructed in 1975. The family farm has been there for about 100 years.
"They came in, sat down with us, consulted with us," Willy remembers from when the pipeline was being built. "They are pretty good corporate citizens."
When Enbridge has dug up parts of the farm for previous digs, Willy said he's been compensated for the trouble, including money to pay for the extra fertilizer needed to get the land back up to producing grains.
Pipeline safety from the neighbour's perspective
Betty Ann Elgersma's dairy farm is directly across the road from the pump station. Her family lives in a quaint brick house at the front of the property, with about 100 dairy cows in a barn at the back.
"[Enbridge is] on top of safety," Elgersma said. "They've always said to give us a call, even if we smelled something funny.... They've been in touch if they thought they detected something."
Elgersma points out the company is taking the flow reversal seriously.
"They are doing a lot of work right now," she said, motioning to the full staff parking lot across the street.
Elgersma made it through the first time Enbridge reversed the flow about 13 years ago without problem, and doesn't expect any this time either.
"I believe there will be less of a problem," said Maurice Dusseault, a professor of engineering at the University of Waterloo. "During the process, they will be inspecting carefully and they will be compressing and upgrading pumping stations... I'd expect it to be a better quality pipeline after the reversal."
Since 20,000 barrels of diluted bitumen oil spewed into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan because of a ruptured Enbridge pipeline in July 2010, Brad Nimijohn said he's seen a "huge increase" in safety checks on Line 9.
"As soon as the spill in Michigan happened, [Enbridge's presence] increased by 100 per cent," Brad said, noting more safety checks and helicopters surveying the site nearly every day.
Brenda Bieleckie, manager of Gulliver's Lake Park near Safari and Brock roads, said Enbridge crews came to check on the pipeline across her property "three or four times" this past summer. She's not concerned about a spill either.
A 'different product'
Elgersma thought about what Enbridge told her about the oil product moving through.
"It's a different product, a thicker one," she said, speaking of the diluted bitumen (dilbit) that now might run through Line 9 along with a light crude. "So it won't seep down as fast."
"It's certainly not worse [than light crude]," said Dusseault, who has worked in the oil industry for 45 years. "There is no reason for alarm because of heavy crude coming through."
Line 9 runs through several environmentally-significant areas like the Beverly Swamp and Spencer Creek, Hamilton's largest watershed. Dusseault said there is no "good" scenario when an oil spill happens, but dilbit has a higher viscosity and moves slower.
As a test Dusseault put some dilbit from the oil sands in a jar after a trip to Alberta and placed the jar upside down to see how slow it would move. It took 3 weeks for the oil to fall.
"In the case of underwater or in wetlands, heavy oil does not float to the top like a light crude oil," he said. "It may be in fact less dangerous, because it won't seep into the ground as fast."
Enbridge hopes to confirm the digs in the next month, prior to the next NEB hearing at the end of August, said spokesperson Graham White. Willy Nimijohn said he is "very aware" there is a chance there could be more integrity digs on their Flamborough farm over the next year.
But the Nimijohns are also very aware a gaping hole in the middle of their farmland is the least of their worries.
"Realistically, the digs are a pain in the butt," Brad said. "On the same note, it would be a far bigger pain if there is a spill. In the grand scheme of things, we can live with it. The last thing we want to see is an oil spill."