THE BLOG

We Must Stand Firm and Demand Safer Pipelines

01/15/2014 12:11 EST | Updated 03/17/2014 05:59 EDT

The recent oil train derailment and subsequent explosion in North Dakota was yet another reminder tighter regulations and more independent research on transporting oil is needed -- particularly where volatile shale oil is concerned. Last week another reminder hit close to home when a CN Rail train carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire in New Brunswick.

The responsibility of protecting Canadians from an oil transportation disaster has largely fallen to the provinces while the federal government has weakened or eliminated rules and regulations that get in the way of its priority to sell as much Canadian oil as possible.

By the end of this month the federal pipeline regulator, the National Energy Board (NEB), is expected to approve Enbridge's proposal for its 38-year old Line 9 oil pipeline in Ontario and Quebec, which would carry shale oil -- known for its propensity to explode as it did in North Dakota.

The NEB is not in the habit of rejecting pipeline projects (see Northern Gateway's approval). With that in mind, the province of Ontario must hold its ground on Line 9 and ensure its demands for a safer pipeline are met.

While the province could have gone further with its demands, two of the conditions -- a hydrostatic test of Line 9 and a third-party independent review -- have the greatest potential of reducing the risk of a Line 9 rupture.

The first, hydrostatic testing, is the gold standard for pipeline safety. By pumping water through Line 9 at a slightly higher pressure than its proposed maximum allowable operating pressure, the test can help establish if Line 9 can operate safely at the maximum pressure. It can also identify weak points in the pipeline that need replacing.

The third-party independent review would entail an independent expert looking over Enbridge's data on Line 9 and would eliminate reliance on Enbridge's conclusions without duplicating the NEB process.

The least Ontario can do is flex whatever legislative muscle it can muster to ensure compliance with its conditions. Enbridge would do best to adopt these conditions given the company's reputation as the "Keystone Kops" of oil pipeline safety for their bungling of a 2010 oil spill in Michigan, resulting in three-million litres of bitumen spilling over the course of 17 hours.

None of this is to say Ontarians should settle for the Line 9 pipeline. Opposition to transporting oilsands bitumen via Line 9 will continue. The jury is still out on whether bitumen is rougher on pipelines than conventional oil and the difficulties of cleaning up a bitumen spill are well known. Expansion of the greenhouse gas intensive Albertan oilsands completely overshadows Ontario's efforts to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions.

And while Ontario expressed how important proper consultations with Ontario's First Nations on Line 9 are, this was not one of the province's conditions. It would be hard to find a clearer case of the failure to consult with First Nations than that of Line 9.

Still, while the conditions are far from perfect, the province must not be allowed to make demands for pipeline safety they never intend on backing up. Ontario has not breathed a word about its conditions since it presented them to the NEB in a public hearing on Line 9 in October.

Provinces are still responsible for the land, the water and the people within their borders. Failing to act on a pipeline proposal that threatens all of the above would blatantly ignore that responsibility. Oil train explosions and pipeline ruptures cannot be considered the price of doing business.

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