Line 9 pipeline is a risky business

By Miriam Garfinkle
March 23, 2016

Many people in Toronto are unaware that a pipeline project that could have disastrous consequences for Toronto’s rivers and streams – including the Rouge, the Don, the Humber, and the Credit – was recently approved and put into operation.

The pipeline in question is Enbridge’s Line 9, a 40-year-old pipeline whose flow has been ”reversed’ and is now being used to transport diluted bitumen from the Alberta tarsands, as well as fracked Bakken shale oil. Both of these products are inherently more dangerous than conventional oil and gas. The danger is increased by the fact that Line 9 is an old pipeline which already has many cracks. As well, a U.S. PHMSA Pipeline Alert warns that reversing the flow or changing the product of a pipeline can have significant impact on the line’s safety and integrity.

During the National Energy Board (NEB) hearings on Line 9 in 2013, pipeline expert Richard Kuprewicz said that based on the evidence, there was a 90% likelihood that Line 9 would spill in its first few years of operation.

Such a spill would not be a minor event. Line 6B, a sister pipeline also operated by Enbridge, also carrying diluted bitumen, suffered a major spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010. Thirty-five miles of the river were closed for two years, and, six years later, portions on the river still have not been cleaned up. Part of the problem is that once diluted bitumen has spilled into water, it is almost impossible to remove it. Conventional cleanup methods are inadequate which has been recently documented by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

If Line 9 spills into one of Toronto’s rivers – or one of the many other rivers and streams it crosses on its way from Sarnia to Montreal – this kind of virtually irreversible damage is what we could face here.

Approval for Line 9 was rushed through under an expedited industry-friendly process set up by the Harper government. Richard Kuprewicz’s recommendation that extensive hydrostatic testing be carried out on the 40-year-old pipeline to determine its integrity was set aside and instead testing was done on only three discrete areas, and not at the pressure rating that is considered the gold standard. There was also an exemption made to Enbridge by the NEB for the number of shut-off valves recommended.

There was no environmental assessment of the line. (Enbridge did an environmental assessment only on pumping stations). Toronto city council requested that the province carry out an assessment, but the Ontario government did not act on this request. A recent ruling in January 2016 in a case against the B.C. government by two First Nations regarding the Northern Gateway pipeline, the Supreme Court of B.C. stated that it is a provincial responsibility to assure safety of such a pipeline even if it is in federal jurisdiction.

The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, whose land and water is crossed by Line 9, have taken the lead in challenging Line 9. They have gone to court arguing that their rights as a First Nation to be adequately consulted on a project that crosses their territory, were ignored. Their case is now proceeding to the Supreme Court of Canada.

This pipeline is a risky business for Torontonians. It not only puts our drinking water at risk, but also the natural habitat of significant watersheds. Damage from a spill could be catastrophic, and possibly irreversible. It is also a part of the tarsands megaproject, which is a major contributor to climate change and its disastrous implications for the human and natural world.

There is an online e-petition to the government asking for a halt to Line 9: (or go to the government of Canada’s e-petition website and look for Petition e-248)

For further information you can also write to:

You can also make a fundraising contribution to the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation’s Supreme Court case:

Miriam Garfinkle