Our very own Keystone tar sands transport in our backyard
Tens of thousands of people, myself included, have demonstrated, signed petitions, or written letters protesting construction of the Keystone pipeline for transporting tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. But none of us knew we had our very own version of Keystone proposed for our virtual backyard.
It's called line 9B and the thirty inch line currently carries crude oil from Montreal to Sarnia and runs along the north shore of Lake Ontario. The owner, Enbridge, wants to reverse the oil flow, increase the volume and start shipping tar sands oil east to refineries in Montreal. A decision by the Canadian regulators is due any day now.
Line 9B crosses hundreds of creeks, rivers, wetlands, and stretches of other highly sensitive habitat near Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence. It's 38 years old and of the same relatively thin walled construction as the pipeline that corroded and burst in 2010 in Michigan. That spill released over a 100,000 gallons of tar sands crude into a tributary of the Kalamazoo that feeds into Lake Michigan. That clean up has cost about a billion dollars so far and it's not over yet.
According the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper a leak was discovered in 9B during construction this past spring. And the CBC reported a few weeks ago that hundreds of maintenance digs many of them for cracks in the line had been conducted by Enbridge. This does not make one eager to see how the higher pressure impacts the old war horse. A McMaster University engineering professor associated with a pipeline safety consulting business says that Enbridge should do a complete hydro-test of the pipeline before the reversal is approved.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper filed comments with the Canadian regulators on 9B last summer. They pointed out in that document that Enbridge has a terrible safety record-871 spills between 1999 and 2007- and that it took them 17 hours to respond to the Kalamazoo River leak even though the alarms went off in their control room shortly after the break. They also point out that 9B has only 6 safety shut off valves some of which are over 300 kilometers apart.
Waterkeeper has suggested that before the reversal is allowed Enbridge should install modern protective technology along this nearly forty year old pipline. Safety shut offs should be placed on either side of each river crossing and double walled pipe should be installed in all sensitive areas such as wetlands and waterways as is required in New Mexico and Montana. Technology to speed up leak detection such as fiber optic monitoring sensors is recommended in these same sensitive areas. Waterkeeper would also like to see the entire pipeline replaced with thicker walled new pipe. Tar sands oil also known as dilbit or diluted bitumen, is thinned down with various chemicals and heated and is known to be more corrosive than regular crude oil.)
Given the track record of the current Canadian federal government on unfriendly environmental policy I would guess the chances of any of this best protective technology ever being put in place are about equal to the proverbial snowball's chances of surviving hell. We shall see.