Ecojustice Blog – Climate change Posted on November 21, 2012 (updated: February 17, 2015)

It’s all connected: Pipelines, oilsands, environmental rollbacks and global warming

Albert KoehlLawyer

Ecojustice was connecting the dots before Enbridge won approval to change the direction of its oil pipeline in Ontario. While we unsuccessfully opposed the application, we want to share a small victory with you. The National Energy Board told Enbridge that it must file an additional application if it wants to ship oilsands crude through Line 9. The approved application only covers light and medium crude. This provides the opportunity for a public hearing if Enbridge decides it wants to move oilsands crude from Sarnia to Hamilton — an approval normally given quietly behind the scenes.

That’s why we were representing Equiterre and Environmental Defence at the public hearings. Because Ontarians and Quebecers must have a voice on issues that may harm their environment or impair our ability to fight global warming, and that conversation needs to happen in public.

The NEB approval, issued July 27, allows crude oil to travel along Line 9 for the first segment (Sarnia to Hamilton) of a pipeline running from Sarnia to Montreal. Enbridge has already made it public that it will next apply to have the second segment (Hamilton to Montreal) reversed. When oil comes from the east, it originates from offshore and overseas sources and runs through Montreal. Changing the direction will open the door for Enbridge to make Ontario and Quebec pathways for oilsands expansion by accessing eastern oil refineries — and perhaps to eastern shipping ports and beyond.

Ottawa recently announced that it won’t limit emissions on the Alberta energy sector. That could allow oilsands production to double, according to Globe and Mail writers Shawn McCarthy and Nathan Vanderklippe.

We’ve also been told that pipelines are the most efficient way to get this oilsands crude to markets in North America, Asia and beyond. But the problem with shipping oil sands crude — in addition to the obvious one of rising greenhouse gas emissions due to oilsands expansion — is that it’s more corrosive to pipelines. Corrosion is often a contributing factor when pipelines leak. And yet, when we asked Enbridge at the NEB hearings if they intended to ship oilsands crude through Line 9, they ignored our questions and said Enbridge ships oil safely.

From 1999 to 2008*, Enbridge pipeline spills totalled 610. You’ve probably heard about the July spill in Wisconsin or the U.S. report condemning Enbridge’s actions in a 2010 Michigan incident called the “largest inland spill in U.S. history.” And you’ve definitely heard of the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would trample thousands of kilometres of pristine wilderness in order to transport crude from the Alberta oilsands to the British Columbia coast — and then by tanker along sensitive coastal areas.

Line 9 … Northern Gateway … the dismantling of key environmental laws … and global warming. These issues connect to the oilsands. This year alone we’ve seen alarming drought in large parts of the U.S. and heat waves in Canada. The only way to address these issues is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, kibosh oilsands expansion and embrace renewable sources of energy.

That will protect endangered wildlife and wilderness, our air and water, and ensure that our energy industry isn’t harming vulnerable communities around the world who are already facing rising food prices. For months, the federal government has touted the jobs and economic growth angle of the Northern Gateway pipeline while muzzling or firing many of the scientists that safeguard our environment. But Canadian opposition through protests, Blackout/Speakout and pipeline expansion hearings may be whittling away at the government’s position.

“The only way governments can handle controversial projects of this manner is to ensure that things are evaluated on an independent basis scientifically, and not simply on political criteria.”

That’s what Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Aug. 7, during a trip to B.C. If you see the connections, keep applying the pressure to our politicians. Maybe then we can hold the prime minister to his promise.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story read from “1998-2008” instead of “1999-2008.”

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