By Richard Leitner
METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
The Hamilton Conservation Authority is backing the city’s call for a federal environmental assessment of a plan to reverse the flow of an oil pipeline that runs underneath Spencer Creek near the Beverly Swamp in Flamborough.
“I think the public deserves to peek in behind the curtain and say, ‘What’s going on back there?’” vice-chair Jim Howlett said of Enbridge Pipeline Inc’s bid to change the flow of crude oil between Westover and Montreal to an easterly direction.
He said an environmental assessment can answer concerns about the potential for a rupture like the one that occurred on an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan in July 2010, sending more than three million litres of oil into the Kalamazoo River.
But Howlett said he’s also troubled that Enbridge is seeking federal approval to use the 37-year-old Ontario pipeline, known as Line 9A, to ship up to 200,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to Montreal.
Doing so will only spur further development of the tar sands, which a recent study found “beyond the shadow of a doubt” is already damaging the surrounding ecosystem, he said.
“That to me says that the reversal of flow aids a bad practice in Alberta and I wouldn’t want to be a party to that,” Howlett said, expressing concern about the tar sands’ impact on global warming.
“Climate change is destroying the Earth. Reckless use of fossil fuels causes climate change and we have to wean ourselves from oil, especially reckless oil.”
Authority directors unanimously backed the city’s call for an EA following a presentation by members of Hamilton 350.org, a group dedicated to fighting climate change.
They also directed staff to outline concerns about the project in a letter to Conservation Ontario, the umbrella organization for the province’s 36 conservation authorities.
Enbridge has already received federal approval to reverse the flow for the section of the pipeline that runs between Sarnia and Westover.
Matt Nash of 350.org said despite the company’s assurances the public has nothing to worry about, it has had more than 800 pipeline spills since 1999, with the one into the Kalamazoo River being the biggest and costliest in U.S. history.
He said it took workers more than 17 hours to turn off the pipeline there and the cleanup has cost more than $700 million to date.
“They were essentially asleep at the switch,” Nash said. “I just want you to take a second to think about what that impact would be in the Hamilton-area watersheds and all the positive things the HCA has done in terms of making our watersheds clean, protecting them from climate change.”
Reached for comment afterwards, Enbridge spokesperson Graham White said his company has already done “a rather extensive environmental assessment” of the flow reversal and made many changes to avoid a repeat of a Kalamazoo River-style leak. The company “absolutely” takes spills seriously and reviews each one to make improvements where necessary, he said, calling most of those cited by Hamilton 350.org minor.
“We have more than 25,000 kilometres of pipeline,” White said. “The vast majority of those releases are small and they are cleaned up very quickly, usually in less than 24 hours, and that is because (of) the seriousness with which we take all spills.”