Energy company Enbridge will have to take more safety measures to protect major waterways before it gets permission to start up its Line 9B oil pipeline.
The order from the National Energy Board this week will delay plans to start up the pipeline project by at least three months and possibly longer. It may force the company to do even more work to bring its pipeline up to standards before the oil flows.
Enbridge had applied to the NEB for the final step — leave to open the line — and hoped to have it operating by early November.
Last March, Enbridge received NEB permission to reverse a 639-kilometre section of Line 9 B from North Westover, Ont., to Montreal. The project will carry western oil, including Alberta diluted oilsands bitumen, to Eastern Canada.
The NEB attached conditions to its approval. They include an order that Enbridge identify all major water bodies that its pipeline will cross and outline measures it will take to ensure that there are safety shut-off valves within a kilometre on both sides of where the pipeline crosses.
In a bluntly written letter this week, the NEB said the energy company had failed to do that. In fact only a handful of the 104 major water crossings, or MWCs, had safety valves that met the proper standards, the NEB said.
"The board notes that only six of the 104 MWCs identified by Enbridge to date appear to have valves installed within one kilometre on both sides of the water crossing," the NEB said. "While the majority appear to have valves installed more than 10 km from the water crossing on at least one side."
'Really important' safety measure
Adam Scott from Environmental Defence, one of the groups opposing the pipeline, says these valves are a basic safety feature.
"It's a really important safety measure," he said in an interview with CBC. "Waterways are low-lying often, and so if there was a spill or rupture without one of these valves, you can have huge amounts of oil flowing into the river even if the pipeline had been shut off."
A spokeswoman for the NEB, Katherine Murphy, says that it's entirely possible Enbridge will have to go back and install the safety valves that are missing on all the pipeline's water crossings.
'We are confirming with the NEB what information they require from us'
- Enbridge spokesman Graham White
"They will have to have the valves in place before they get leave to open,” she said in an interview with CBC.
In its letter, the NEB also took issue with the criteria Enbridge used to identify major water crossings.
"The mere assertion or statement that Enbridge has identified all the MWCs is not the equivalent of a demonstration," the letter says. It adds that more water bodies might be added to the list.
'Too early' to say how long delay will be
Enbridge spokesman Graham White said the company now has more work to do.
"We are confirming with the NEB what information they require from us," White wrote in an email to CBC. "We have and will continue to work with the NEB to explain our rationale and address all of their concerns. It is likely this will delay the project in-service date, but it is too early to say how long that delay will be."
Enbridge has worked hard to demonstrate to the public and regulators that it has improved its safety culture.
In 2010, a company pipeline ruptured in Michigan, spilling 3.3 million litres of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River. It was the worst inland spill in U.S. history, and Enbridge was raked over coals by U.S. regulators for how it handled the accident.
"I'm continuously astonished by how Enbridge fails to learn lessons from its previous accidents," Scott said. "They promised up and down in hearings that they were a new company, they had addressed all their safety problems, and 'don't worry, trust us' — and then something like this comes out."