Are the 30 conditions strong enough to protect Burlington if there is an oil spill? Enery Board approves pipeline change.

By Pepper Parr

March 7, 2014


That the National Energy Board (NEB) decided to let Enbridge Pipeline Inc.,  reverse Line 9, a pipeline that runs right through the top of Burlington, should not have been a surprise.  We are talking about oil from Alberta that they want to transport to Montreal and nothing was going to stop that from happening. 

That it is some of the dirtiest oil being taken out of the ground was not a concern; that we spend a tremendous amount of energy getting that oil out of the ground was not a concern either.

Enbridge has an 18 metre easement through the top of the city. A serious break or leak in that line puts toxic bitumen into parts of the city’s water supply.

That the pipe line is close to 40 years old and has had numerous problems – well that was a concern and the NEB did put 30 conditions into their decision – which was a first step.  Ensuring that Enbridge complies with those conditions is like expecting a drug addict to live up to bail conditions – doesn’t happen.

Enbridge is not a nice company; they tend to bully and they have real clout with the federal government and its regulators and they aren’t shy about using that clout.  They aren’t comfortable with the truth and they think their technology can solve every problem that crops up.  They fail to realize they are working against nature – not a win situation for them.

Having said all that – that oil is going to flow and it is going to flow through our back yard and we had better ensure that we have the resources in place to handle any break or leak in that line.  And we need to hold Enbridge accountable and give up on the idea that they are a responsible corporate entity that will do the right thing.  There is far too much evidence saying they won’t and they don’t.

In its media release the city says “it’s encouraging that the National Energy Board has placed conditions on Enbridge Inc. before Enbridge can reverse the flow of its Line 9B pipeline through Burlington and other municipalities.”

That’s a generous interpretation.

These are the creeks that run from the Escarpment towards Lake Ontario. We all know where they are in the city – we just want them to continue to carry clean water to the lake.

“There are 30 conditions Enbridge must meet, including concerns identified by the City of Burlington in July 2013,” said Mayor Rick Goldring who was “cautiously optimistic” and believes “the National Energy Board took the city’s considerations to heart, which is encouraging. The safety of residents and the environment cannot be treated lightly.”

Time is needed to do a closer read of those 30 conditions.  While you and I are reading those conditions Enbridge will be reading them and looking for ways to handle them at the least cost.

In its application, Enbridge requested NEB approval to reverse the direction of flow on a 639-kilometre segment of pipeline between North Westover, Ont. and Montreal, Que., as well as approval to increase the overall capacity to 300,000 from 240,000 barrels a day of the Line 9 pipeline from Sarnia to Montreal.  

When the city sent a letter the NEB in July 2013 asking that Enbridge’s overall approach should minimize the likelihood of a release and that Enbridge should lead an effective and coordinated response in the event of a release; and that Enbridge should be fully accountable financially and operationally if there is a release.

Why does the city use the word “release” – it will be a leak from an old pipeline that was not properly inspected and not effectively maintained.  Time for the city to call a spade a spade and get away from that silky smooth language of the public relations experts.

When there is an oil leak – we want Enbridge to be the first to know and then have them call the first responders in Burlington within in minutes.

Mayor Rick Goldring: He does a pro-active mode and when he’s confident he puts it to good use. Time to get confident on this one Your Worship.

Mayor Goldring got into his pro-active mode and invited Enbridge to provide the community with an overview of the project back in February of 2013.  Showing us more of that pro-activity would be healthy for our Mayor

 Line 9 runs through Halton Region in an east-west direction north of Highway 407 and south of Lower Base Line Road. In Burlington, the pipeline is located in an 18.3 metre easement north of Number 1 Side Road.  There are no municipal approvals or permits required by Enbridge for this project. 

 “In its decision, the National Energy Board has imposed conditions on Enbridge, including pipeline integrity, focus on emergency response, and continued consultation, all of which are important for Burlington,” said Scott Stewart, general manager of development and infrastructure with the city. “The NEB also refers to Enbridge’s need to have ongoing emergency response planning and consultation with municipalities and first responders. I think there is a level of detail in the NEB decision that we can work with.”

Stewart has taken a course in learning how to whistle as you walk past a graveyard.

 The city is reviewing the 141-page decision and will be conferring with its municipal partners to determine the implications. The city will work with the municipal liaison group—which includes Hamilton, Mississauga and Toronto—and Enbridge to address conditions related to coordinated emergency response, pipeline integrity, lifecycle management, watercourse crossing management and post-construction monitoring.

Staff on the Burlington Fire Department receive regular training from Enbridge to be ready to respond should a spill take place. 

 BurlingtonGreen isn’t quite as positive as the city appears to be. They are “disappointed with the announcement of conditional approval of Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline proposal.”

Will this landowner be involved in discussions about what gets done if there is a spill?

BurlingtonGreen “remains concerned not knowing if the public will have a chance to review the plans to mitigate risk to the drinking water of millions of people across Ontario and Quebec” and they want to know what will be done to protect the significant environmentally sensitive areas it crosses including the crest of the Niagara Escarpment in Burlington that has several species at risk.   How, they ask is Enbridge going to engage local right of way landowners and neighbours, local governments, as well as train first responders.  In addition, the position of shut off valves across water courses remains unspecific.

Thousands of citizens have signed petitions asking for full Provincial environmental assessments.  Letters have been written to Provincial and Federal Ministers; people participated in public rallies, agencies formed coalitions, media were engaged, and the message was brought door to door in several awareness campaigns to residents in dense urban communities across the GTA and around Lake Ontario communities that did not realize the pipeline literally travels underneath them. 

BurlingtonGreen with others brought the issue to the attention of the Burlington Mayor and City Hall in several delegations asking them to become involved to protect Burlington’s Niagara Escarpment and watershed system that feeds to Lake Ontario and Burlington resident’s drinking water, which they indeed did.  For that Burlington residents may be grateful to a proactive local government.  Unfortunately the National Energy Board is a federal regulator, so this has been another experience of local government hitting the jurisdictional authority wall and having little power to do more than issue statements of concern.  That said, significant municipal collaboration did occur as the staff of towns and cities across the GTAH worked together to prepare collectively as interveners for the NEB hearing.

Background links:

Burlington not very interested in Enbridge’s plans for changes to the pipeline.

Enbridge passes a cheque along to the city, was it a sin tax?

Emily Ferguson; a community activist who spoke for the public at the NEB hearings.


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2 comments to Are the 30 conditions strong enough to protect Burlington if there is an oil spill? Enery Board approves pipeline change.

  • Maggie Steiss

    “Enbride is not a nice company.” Definitely true. Not particularly efficient in there billing either. I once went 8 months without a bill, then was hit for over $1000. When asked why so long without a bill the response was something about a credit. I was supposed to be on equal billing and if I had a credit why am getting a large bill all at once. Two weeks later I received another bill for even more money and another a few weeks after that. 3 bills in a month after none for 8 months. When I couldn’t pay such a large sum at once I was cut off. I went a few months without hot water and moved, although not because the lack of gas. I was moving anyway.
    I case anyone is wondering why I didn’t call about not receiving a bill I feel strongly that it is not my job to sit on hold for who knows how long to do a billing departments job for them.
    If Enbridge can’t even manage simple billing how can they be trusted to efficiently manage an aging pipeline with proven problems. The answer is they can’t, nor should they be allowed to. The energy board has made a huge mistake. They need to correct that mistake immediately before people and the environment pay the price

  • Gareth Williams

    Interesting take Pepper. I’ve taken some time to read the NEB’s decision and have the following thoughts…

    I agree with the City’s assessment that Enbridge’s commitments to improve its communication with stakeholders, and provide training to local first responders are positive. Provided of course they deliver on those commitments. That’s a big ‘if’…

    One of the other concerns expressed in the letter the city sent the NEB last August was financial accountability. It is notable that one of the board members dissented from his colleagues, going so far as to say he was “not satisfied with the evidence submitted by Enbridge is sufficient to support its forward-looking assurances”

    In terms of integrity (the third concern identified by CoB) there are a lot of unanswered questions such as where new shutoff valves will be installed, whether existing manual shutoffs will be replaced, whether hydrotesting will be required etc. It seems that without answers to these questions the approval was premature.

    I guess all we can do as Burlington residents now is hope for the best.