Ontarians concerned about Enbridge's plans to ship tar sands bitumen through the 37-year old Line 9 pipeline will hold a rally in Sarnia on May 21st.
Aamjiwnaang + Sarnia Against Pipelines (ASAP) are the organizers of the event. ASAP is a group made up of members of Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia and residents of southwestern Ontario.
Community members of Aamjiwnaang will begin the rally with a water ceremony at Sarnia's town hall followed by a march through downtown Sarnia.
Mere minutes away oil executives, bankers, engineers, politicians, and labour group leaders will be sitting down for day one of the industry-sponsored Bitumen-Adding Value: Canada's National Opportunity conference at Sarnia’s Best Western Guildwood Inn.
“Sites like the Bitumen - Adding Value Conference are key players in the glorification of industrial expansion and fossil fuel dependency and need to be challenged when they happen and where they happen,” says Wolf Chrapko, who was born and raised in Sarnia and is the co-founder of the Guelph Anti-Pipeline Action Group.
Ontario's Oil Country
The first commercial oil well in North America was established in Oil Springs less than fifty kilometers south of Sarnia in 1858. The Sarnia-Lambton County area also known as “Chemical Valley” is the largest oil refinery centre in Canada and home to 40% of Canada's chemical industry.
The two-day ‘bitumen’ conference claims it will “provide a vision of Canada as a sustainable energy superpower.” Processing bitumen in Canada will be the focus of the conference. Most of Alberta's bitumen is exported to the US.
Conference participants include the mayor of Sarnia, and members of the Ontario and Alberta governments. Major tar sands industry players such as Suncor, Imperial Oil and Enbridge are some of the sponsors.
Imperial Oil’s (Exxon's Canadian subsidiary) refinery in Sarnia is the only refinery in eastern Canada capable of refining bitumen. A major cash injection is required for a refinery to be outfitted to process the heavy bitumen.
Chemical Valley has the worst air quality in Canada
The community of eight hundred Aamjiwnaang First Nation members is a few kilometers south of Sarnia. They are surrounded by 62 industrial facilities on either side of the border (Sarnia shares a border with Michigan).
“It is the cumulative impact of emissions from these 62 facilities on both sides of the border that has made the Sarnia area Ontario’s worst air pollution hotspot,” concluded the Canadian legal group Ecojustice in a 2007 report.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2011 found Sarnia had the worst air quality in Canada. A hydrogen sulfide leak from Shell’s refinery last January resulted in Aamjiwnaang community members suffering from headaches and nausea.
Ecojustice is representing two members of Aamjiwnaang – Ron Plain and Ada Lockridge – in a lawsuit against Ontario’s Ministry of Environment (MOE) over cumulative impacts of pollution from Chemical Valley’s industrial facilities.
The plaintiffs argue the MOE’s approval of pollution levels in Sarnia and Aamjiwnaang is a violation for their human rights to life, liberty, equality and security to the person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A court hearing is expected in 2014.
“Unfortunately Canadian courts have not yet recognized a right to clean air or clean water under Canadian law,” says Justin Duncan who heads Ecojustice’s Chemical Valley Charter Challenge against the MOE.
“We hope this case can set a precedent not just for people living in Sarnia but for all Canadians that we have a legal right to live in a healthy environment,” Duncan told DeSmog.
Sarnia – Bitumen's Gateway to Eastern Canada
If the tar sands are “Canada’s Mordor” as some have suggested, Mordor’s reach in Canada ends in Sarnia. The shipment of bitumen in Canada via pipeline does not go any further than Sarnia. Enbridge’s Line 9 may change this.
In recent years Line 9 has carried a small amount of conventional crude oil from Montreal to Sarnia. Enbridge is seeking approval from the National Energy Board (NEB) – Canada’s independent energy regulator - to reverse the flow of Line 9 and have the pipeline carry “heavy crude” such as bitumen for the first time.
Concerns have been raised in Ontario and Quebec about the potential for a Line 9 pipeline rupture similar to Enbridge’s Kalamazoo spill in Michigan. Line 9 crosses major waterways leading to Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. In March, the NEB found 117 of Enbridge’s 125 pipeline pumping stations did not meet safety standards.
A group of forty people on May 6th temporarily shut down a highway in Ontario to protest the federal government restricting public participation in the final decision on Line 9. On May 14th, groups in Quebec demanded their government conduct an exhaustive and comprehensive review on the potential impacts of the Line 9 project.
“It's Ontario's turn to really challenge Tar Sands-based industrial expansion,” Chrapko told DeSmog.
Perhaps Sarnia, the place of Canada’s first oil well and bitumen’s only entry point to eastern Canada, is a fitting place for this challenge to begin in earnest.