Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My take on Line 9

Over the last year, there has been a huge amount of debate over Enbridge wanting to reverse the flow of oil in a major pipeline -- "Line 9" -- from east to west, to west to east.   The claim has been made that an already fractured pipeline could become even more of a threat when raw tar sands oil makes it way from Alberta through our our neck of the woods.   Indeed a lot of the protests have focused around the North Westover section in the mostly rural Borough of Flamborough which turn is part of Hamilton.   This station is one of several where pressure is added on its way downstream -- not unlike compressing stations for natural gas we see along the highways and byways of this part of the world.   A court hearing today around three of the protestors against Line 9 turned particularly nasty.

It's been hard to put a finger on where I should be.   Here are the issues as I see them and they are in no particular order:

First, the federal government has really changed the way environmental assessments are done.    Several groups asking to intervene have been rejected by the National Energy Board.  The decision is rigged -- Enbridge is going to win no matter what anyone has to say about it.    But its refusal to turn over even some basic documents the NEB wants is what I find truly unacceptable above all.   It amounts to contempt for the government and for Canadians, and we deserve better from our energy companies.

Second, the oil that will be shipped through the pipeline is not (contrary to what many protesters claim) raw tar sands.   Bitumen of the kind that is stripped mined in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia would eat away at the line and cause it to be destroyed from the inside out.   Rather it is refined oil, or dilbit (diluted bitumen).   The dilution normally happens with naptha and synthetic crude (what comes out of 'sour' or high sulphur oil after going through an upgrader).

There are also some other chemicals used that we really don't know much about.    Point is, what usually comes out is at best medium grade oil -- which can be used at a refinery but is nowhere near as valuable as "light sweet", the kind that is normally referred to when we talk about the price of oil.   And we don't know nearly enough about those chemicals.   I'm sure Material Safety Data Sheets exist for them but presuming we can access them they could run for pages with dozens of known hazards and side effects.    One only has to think about the disaster along the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010.   It's cost in the tens of millions and several hundred homes still have to use bottled water.

Can't safer chemicals be found, plain and simple?   No answer about that from Enbridge yet.

Third, there's the issue of the company donating about $44,000 to the Hamilton Police Service earlier this year.   The protesters claim the police were bought out and that's why they have been so belligerent in enforcing an order to vacate the pressure station.

Well, it is private property.    If a highway was shut down, then free speech considerations would kick in and the police would then really have no leg to stand on.

But as far as the donation?   It went towards the cost of an improved stable for the city's Mounted unit.   Yes, we have at least four police horses.   They're not just there for symbolic reasons or cuteness for the benefit of the city's kids, the horses do have a major role in deterring crime, particularly for crowd control situations that can get nasty.   They may appear to pace slowly on the urban and rural streets of our city, and they do shit quite often on streets without being cleaned up after (making our poop and scoop law a joke), but they do pursue at a fast pace if a suspect decides to run on foot and one of the horses is within the vicinity.

If it wasn't Enbridge, someone else would have donated the money and they'd also be accused of buying off the cops.    No win situation there for anyone.

Fourth, no guarantees from the company they will fix a decades old line to meet safety standards.    If the Kalamazoo disaster is any indication, one should really be worried about that since Line 9 runs through multiple watersheds -- including the Rouge Valley, which is on track to become an urban federal park, not unlike the Plains of Abraham or Stanley Park (both managed by local boards but still federal property).    Obviously, I think, the line has to be rebuilt from scratch or at least those portions that are in desperate need of replacement, and they run for dozens of kilometers.

So what's fifth?   It's something that could override all of the above.   And sadly, it does for me:   Energy independence.

With all of our oil in Canada, it often shocks many in Central and Eastern Canada that most of the oil used here doesn't come from out west, but rather from OPEC.   In particular, Venezuela -- not a friend of Canada by any means even though it draws a lot of our tourists, especially to Margarita Island.   The oil refined in Saint John, Montréal and Sarnia is foreign oil, not domestic.   And that's wrong.   Because OPEC is a cartel, the pool of petrodollars or increasingly petroeuros is divided up proportionately which means a lot of our gas purchases finance countries in the Middle East that sponsor terrorism, especially Saudi Arabia and Iran.

I happen to think Canadian oil should be used by Canadians first.   I'm not talking about a return to the National Energy Policy which forced the West to sell the oil east at a 20% discount.   By all means, price the oil at the West Texas Intermediate price, which would actually mean less expensive gasoline for those of us in this part of the world (by as much as five cents a litre).   If there is any left, then export it to whomever we deem appropriate (or not, as long as they have the money).

But it does us no good to stay on the current course.   We should not be a slave to a foreign cartel.   We have enough cartels in Canada as it is (i.e. marketing boards which are both a blessing and curse).

My position:   Very reluctantly, I agree the flow does needs to be reversed.   We should all be using Canadian oil, not OPEC oil.   I don't want to support terrorism, period.

But in return, Enbridge has to take out a huge liability policy (say, $10 to $20 billion) in case there are any fuck ups.

Rebuild the entire line too, from scratch -- the jobs will be mostly temporarily, but the line will also use Canadian steel designed to last.

And finally the company has to let us know exactly what's in the dilbit, including the supplementary chemicals and not hide behind the wussy term "trade secrets".   A hazard diamond with a four digit number, the kind we see on 18 wheelers and rail cars, may assist firefighters telling them what chemical they're dealing with in determining how to attack a disaster situation, but shouldn't we know what those numbers mean too?

(There is a HAZMAT guide of this nature that details the rules for hazard diamonds, published jointly by the Canadian, US and Mexican Transportation Departments, but it runs 392 pages -- including a list of 2516 (!) of HAZMATs shipped by all modes of transport on 69 of its pages, with painstaking details on how to deal with disasters on all of them, fire or not.  I'm sure even most shippers want something more straightforward.   We need something simpler, too.).

That more than anything would ensure that if we have to give the pipeline a wide berth, we do so.

1 comment:

bigcitylib said...

How much of this would actually get used in Canada? I've heard it would mostly be exported, which might mean increases at the pump.