Public Requests for Basic Line 9 Safety Test Denied in NEB Pipeline Approval

Enbridge Line 9

Last week’s approval of the Line 9 pipeline project by the National Energy Board (NEB) hinges on thirty conditions being met by the pipeline’s operator, Enbridge. The conditions are meant to enhance the safety of the project that involves shipping 300,000 barrels of crude oil and oilsands bitumen everyday from Sarnia to Montreal. Critics of the project say the requirements are not “meaningful conditions” and do not protect communities living along the 38-year old pipeline.

“By giving the green light without actually imposing conditions, the NEB is complacent towards the oilsands industry and demonstrates its inability to protect [our] health, public safety and our environment,” Sidney Ribaux, executive director of Équiterre, says of Line 9’s approval in a statement from Montreal.

The NEB may pretend to have put adequate safeguards in place but it has only safeguarded the profits of pipeline companies and externalized the risks associated with pipelines onto landowners as the Board always does,” says Dave Core, president of the Canadian Association of Energy Pipeline Landowners Associations (CAEPLA).

The conditions largely require Enbridge to provide the NEB – Canada’s independent energy regulator – with the most recent information about the Line 9 project. This includes information regarding the current state of the pipeline, revised emergency response plans and the pipeline company’s updated pipeline leak detection system manual.

Why this information was not required before the NEB decided the Line 9 project was in “the public’s interest” has baffled critics. The difficulties of participating in the eighteen-month decision-making process frustrated participants who were unable to review and comment on the most recent and relevant information about the project.

The decision and its conditions do not reflect the concerns raised by the public about Line 9 and shipping tar sands bitumen through their communities,” Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager for Environmental Defence Canada told DeSmog.

Public’s Concerns Absent from Decision

Scott points to a hydrostatic test of Line 9 as the one condition the governments of Ontario and Quebec, environmental groups, and landowners asked for, but the Board chose not to impose:

The Board elects to make no order at this time regarding hydrotesting of the pre-existing portions of Line 9,” reads page 49 of the NEB’s 140-page document on the Line 9 decision.

A hydrostatic test or hydrotest involves flushing a pipeline with high-pressure water to determine if it can safely operate at maximum pressure.

Line 9 has not operated at its maximum pressure in recent years. Evidence submitted to the NEB by an international pipeline safety expert indicated the best way to ensure the existing cracks on Line 9 do not turn into a rupture is to conduct a hydrotest.

Protests London, Ontario against Line 9's approval 

Enbridge needs to conduct a hydrostatic test on Line 9. It is the gold standard for pipeline integrity and safety. Canada has a well-established history of hydrotesting its pipelines,” Richard Kuprewicz, pipeline safety expert told DeSmog Canada in an interview last October.

The Board did not disagree with the argument for a hydrotest, but appears to have sided with Enbridge’s view the test could have “detrimental effects” or damage the pipeline. The decision to order a hydrotest was punted to a later time and date. 

Safety Tests to be 'Revisited'

The Board has imposed Condition 11…[and]… may revisit the issue of requiring hydrotesting prior to granting LTO (leave-to-operate),” concludes the Board.

Before ordering a hydrotest the Board wants to review Enbridge’s approach to hydrotesting (Condition 11) and the company’s updated engineering assessment of Line 9’s state (Condition 9). The assessment must include a reliability study of the inline pipeline inspection tool Enbridge uses to evaluate the threat of cracks and corrosion to the line.

The engineering assessment Enbridge submitted during the Line 9 hearings is primarily based on the pipeline's condition ten years ago.

Two other conditions strongly recommended by critics of the project and the government of Ontario – a third party independent review of Enbridge’s data on Line 9 and the requirement of $1 billion in liability insurance in the event of a spill – were also absent from the Board’s conditions.

There’s nothing of substance [in the conditions]. It’s pretty basic stuff that’s already required in legislation that already exists, like how you’re going to mitigate the damage you’re going to do to water crossings when you dig up a pipeline,” said Adam Scott of Environmental Defence in an interview with NOW Magazine.

Canadians Need To Determine Their Energy Future Outside of the NEB

With these conditions, the Board is of the view that the IMP (integrity management plan) which Enbridge has implemented to date, and proposed steps going forward, sufficiently protect the facilities from cracking to enable safe operation of Line 9,” the NEB decision reads.

Although Line 9’s approval surprised no one, critics of the project held out hope for stronger conditions.

Dave Core, president of the Canadian Association of Energy Pipeline Landowners Associations (CAEPLA), has been dealing with pipelines, and the NEB for over twenty years and thinks Canadians need to rethink the regulator.

Canadians need to realize the NEB is doing exactly what it was designed to do over sixty years ago – protect pipeline company shareholder profits and protect politicians from the public. The Board cannot be relied on to protect the public, the environment, or landowners’ rights,” says Core, who is originally a farmer from southwestern Ontario where Line 9 lies.

“We need to have a discussion about the future of the NEB and whether there even ought to be a future for the Board. It is only through ironclad contracts with the discipline of the courts and insurance that our safety, the environment and landowner stewardship responsibilities will be protected,” Core told DeSmog Canada from Vancouver. 

The fate of Line 9 now depends on the NEB deciding whether Enbridge has met all imposed conditions on Line 9’s approval. Because Line 9 is an existing pipeline the project does not require approval from the federal government. 

Image Credit: Enbridge, Robert Cory