Reverse Enbridge oil pipeline, urge Suncor, union

Suncor and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada both voice support for the reversal of Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline at the Natural Resources Committee hearings.

Line 9 currently brings crude to Ontario from overseas

The oil pipeline and tank storage facilities are shown in Hardisty, Alta. Suncor Energy and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada are calling for a reversal of Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline to ship domestic oil back to Montreal. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

The idea of more Western Canadian oil flowing east found backing from Canada's biggest energy company and one of the country's largest unions at the Natural Resources Committee hearings Thursday.

Suncor Energy and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) both voiced support for the reversal of Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline.

"At Suncor, we are proponents of the reversal of a crude pipeline from Sarnia, [Ont.], through to Montreal," John Quinn, Suncor's General Manager of Refining, told the CBC.

"We think what that does is better connects our Montreal refinery with western crudes, take advantage of some of the properties of those crudes and increase our domestic consumption of Canadian crudes."

This wasn't the first time the committee heard about the Line 9 pipeline, which was originally constructed in 1975 at the request of the government to take western Canadian crude to Montreal refineries, but was reversed 13 years ago to bring imported oil into Ontario. Mark Corey, one of the country's top federal bureaucrats responsible for energy policy, spoke of Enbridge's application to reverse the pipe's flow once again to its original direction, shipping domestic oil to Montreal.

Union support for jobs, energy security

For CEP, their support was based on job creation and energy security. The union's main worry is that Quebec and Atlantic Canada source most of their raw crude from overseas.

"Some of our suppliers have faced civil strife in the past. If such problems flare up and intensify in the future, our oil supply could be adversely affected with serious consequences," remarked Joseph Gargiso, CEP's administrative vice-president for Quebec.

Gargiso hoped this wouldn't occur but added, "to rely on good fortune is not prudent policy."

Suncor's opinion is the energy security argument is not a major worry because Canada is a net exporter of crude oil and refined products.

"People are not freezing in the dark and cars are not pulled over at the side of the highway for lack of supply," Quinn argued.

"Yes, prices can spike in short-term supply issues, but the supply is there and it is available," he said. 

When Conservative committee member and Alberta MP Blaine Calkins suggested correcting an eastern Canadian supply disruption would be an easy fix, Quinn agreed.

'Access to guaranteed supply'

"We have put Western oil on a tanker on the West Coast, we've moved it through the Panama Canal and brought it into Montreal to run it," explained Quinn.

That suggestion raised the hackles of both the union and the opposition members on the committee.

"Can we really call that an energy security plan for the eastern part of the country?" asked the NDP's Francois Lapointe.

The CEP doesn't think so.

"A country that is blessed with petroleum resources like Canada should first and foremost assure that the country as a whole has access to a guaranteed supply. Not that we'll maybe get something next week on a boat coming through the Panama Canal," Gargiso said.

This was the second day of hearings the Natural Resources Committee held looking into Canada's refining capacity and pipeline safety. Two more days of hearings on this subject are scheduled for next week.