McMaster student warns councillors about Enbridge pipeline

Emily Ferguson has been writing to city councillors across the province to raise awareness.
The red dotted line represents the Enbridge pipeline flowing between Safari Road and Concession 6 West in Flamborough. (Hamilton Conservation Authority)

A McMaster University student is petitioning city councillors across the province to take a closer look at the Enbridge Line 9 Pipeline oil flow reversal proposal.

Enbridge has already received approval to reverse the flow of Line 9A. It has applied to the National Energy Board (NEB) in a bid to reverse the flow of 9B, which crosses through Hamilton. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for the week of Aug. 26.

Emily Ferguson, a 24-year-old geography and environmental studies student, has written letters and spoken in person with councillors in Burlington, Hamilton, Whitby and Kingston in an attempt to persuade them to look more closely at the proposal.

"Enbridge is going ahead with this proposal and the NEB hearing without the complete picture," she said, pointing to the fact that it's not known what effect the dilluted crude could have on the 37-year-old pipeline.

Her biggest concern is the lack of awareness from those who live closest to the pipeline. She walked the line close to Kingston and many of the residents as close as 300 metres from the line didn't even know it was there.

"I think the people who live right along the line will be most affected if something goes wrong and they should know what's going on."

One of the councillors Ferguson spoke with was Coun. Brian McHattie. Last week, he and other councillors passed a motion drafted by McHattie to find some clarity on the reversal and apply to the NEB to participate at the hearing on the project. Council has until April 11 to say whether or not it plans to intervene in the hearing or not, and it will be, McHattie says.

He also pointed to a lack of information as a problem in the process.

"They're doing integrity digs along the pipeline in area where they've noted issues through internal testing. They're going to make the results of those digs available to us, but not for 12-18 months, which would be after the hearing in August," he said, noting the Hamilton Conservation Authority would likely be the best body to demand those results before the hearing.

He said while there is more awareness among residents now than when the proposal first appeared, there are still questions about the integrity and safety of the pipeline, particularly after recent disasters like the oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michegan. About three million litres of oil leaked from an Enbridge pipeline that ruptured in July 2010 near Kalamazoo. According to Ferguson, conditions around that spill were similar to the conditions of the current pipeline.

"It was the same age pipeline and it have the same product going through," she said, noting she's not for or against the proposal, but wants the process to slow down enough for everyone to fully understand what's happening.

"I'm very neutral on the subject, I just want people to know what's going on."

Her biggest concern is that residents won't be informed properly, which could cause a small spill to quickly grow into a disaster like Kalamazoo.

"The Kalamazoo spill lasted for 17 hours and they believe 14 of those hours could have been avoided is residents knew it was an oil spill sooner," she said.

"If there was an oil spill (in Ontario), these people are more likely to go check their lawn mower or check their car if they smell oil, rather than think it's the Enbridge pipeline because they don't even know it's there."