08/15/2013 11:15 EDT | Updated 10/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Wynne promises to address environmental concerns before reverse flow of pipeline

TORONTO - Environmental concerns over plans to use pipelines to transport Alberta oil east through Ontario will be addressed before any decisions are made, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Thursday.

Those concerns have to be at the centre of any talk about the movement of fuel through the province, she said, adding that the governing Liberals will work with all groups, including First Nations communities.

"We need to make sure that those concerns are understood and addressed and dealt with upfront, not in reaction to but as part of the beginning of the conversations, so that we're not in a situation where there's lack of understanding and there is backlash," Wynne said.

Anti-pipeline protests have cropped up in Ontario over Enbridge's plan to transport oil from Western Canada to refineries in Ontario and Quebec, including a blockade of an pumping station near Hamilton in June.

Eighteen people were arrested and charged when they refused to leave the station. Seven others were charged after creating a disturbance at the court hearing in Hamilton on Wednesday.

The demonstrators oppose Enbridge's plan to reverse the flow of oil in a stretch of its Line 9 pipeline from North Westover — about 30 kilometres northwest of Hamilton — to Montreal. Line 9 currently carries light crude imported from overseas.

The protesters claim oilsands crude is more corrosive and the move could lead to a possible breach.

Enbridge has said that concern is unwarranted, as the oil in Line 9 is a processed grade of crude.

Wynne said she'll put environmental and First Nations and community concerns "at the forefront," but there need to be "rational discussions" about energy policy.

"We have to make sure that the environmental protections are in place and that communities understand what is being done and why it's being done as those decisions are made," she said.

Ontario also has to work with other provinces with the understanding that they all share energy needs, Wynne said.

New Democrat Gilles Bisson said the Liberals must learn from their mistakes with wind farms, which sparked a backlash in rural Ontario when the concerns of local communities were overruled.

"And we have to ask ourselves very tough questions as a province," he said. "Is this to our benefit?

The NDP want the government to follow Quebec, which has indicated that it plans to conduct an independent review of the line reversal.

The Enbridge plan, which also includes increasing the capacity of the entire line from Sarnia, Ont., to Montreal, raises questions about public health and safety, the party said.

Concerns about the protection of watersheds in the case of accidents or spills, the impact on air quality, the increased use of water in the refining process and greenhouse gas emissions should all be addressed, the NDP said.

The National Energy Board is evaluating the project, but the NDP want it to be subject to Ontario's Environmental Assessment Act. They also want a "full public discussion" about the potential economic benefits and environmental impacts.

"The Line 9 project needs to come under the purview of as many external review processes as possible," Chrapko said.

"Right now we're only going by what internal evaluations are being conducted by Enbridge itself, and going off those test results. And I think that's absolutely ludicrous."

Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner opposes the project, saying it carries "significant risk" and no economic benefits for the province.

He said the proposal would ship raw oilsands bitumen — called dilbit — mixed with undisclosed chemicals through a 38-year-old pipeline not designed to handle such corrosive material.

But Enbridge spokesman Graham White said studies have shown that diluted bitumen isn't more corrosive in transmission pipelines than other crudes.

According to the company, Line 9 was originally built to supply Ontario and Quebec markets with crude oil from Western Canada, and was reversed in 1998 as foreign oil became more affordable.

The National Energy Board approved the reversal of the line from Sarnia to North Westover in July 2012, Enbridge said. The pipeline could also transport oil from the Bakken region in North Dakota, as well as the western provinces.

TransCanada (TSX:TRP) is also proposing a west-east pipeline project, which would transport Alberta crude to New Brunswick.

The Energy East Pipeline project, which still has to clear regulatory reviews, would deliver up to 1.1 million barrels per day from Western Canada to Quebec in late 2017. A 1,400-kilometre extension would be built to ship oil to Saint John a year later.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Enbridge's plan includes Westover, Ont. In fact, the name of the town is North Westover.