Last Monday, December 7, 2015 three protesters locked themselves to a valve they closed along Enbridge's Line 9B pipeline as it enters Québec from Ontario. The valve controlling flow of tar sands bitumen was turned off by one of the protestors prior to the lockdown, effectively cutting the flow of up to 100,000 barrels of the world's dirtiest oil for 10 hours. The 39-year-old pipeline once transported lighter crude oil from east to west, but plans for tar sands expansion requires its inversion to transport more corrosive diluted bitumen eastward to the Suncor refinery in Montréal and, as of this past weekend, shipping some of it along the St-Lawrence River to a second refinery in Lévis.
From an activist perspective, the direct action is a complete success. It demonstrates how easy it is to successfully stop the flow of bitumen through pipeline networks, which can be reproduced elsewhere along active Enbridge or TransCanada pipelines [see video below]. Another indicator of its success is that it confirms shareholder queasiness as to the potential benefit of Enbridge's pipeline 9B in relation to growing opposition, new COP21 carbon emission targets that require tar sands bitumen to stay in the ground, past pipeline ruptures and the non-profitability of tar sands at current world prices. And now that Enbridge is newly pushing tar sands bitumen through this aged and decrepit pipeline, the action revealed the lack of a coordinated emergency plan fraught with response delays that would be devastating in the advent of a spill from Line 9B that, according to pipeline safety expert, Richard Kuprewicz, has a 90% probability of rupturing.
“It is unacceptable that Enbridge can go forward with the Line 9B flow reversal," says Jean Léger, community member from the Lower Laurentians and activist who closed the Line 9B valve "while communities along the route have not received the necessary contingency plans in the event of an emergency.” This became evident considering that representatives from Enbridge did not show up at the valve until three hours after they were called by the activists blocking the pipeline. “Considering the state [and age] of the pipeline, and the corrosive nature of bitumen," continued Léger, "we know that a spill is inevitable and would impact the drinking water and farmland of millions of people in Ontario and Québec.”
Since about two weeks, Enbridge's old Line 9B pipeline transports diluted bitumen from the tar sands through the most densely populated region in Canada, between Sarnia, Ontario and Montréal, Québec passing through Toronto, Oshawa, Belleville, Prescott and Kingston, crossing hundreds of rivers that flow into Lake Ontario, the source of drinking water for millions of people in Canada and the United States, before crossing the Ottawa River, the Rivière des Milles-Îles and the Rivière des Prairies on its way into Montréal. So for activists fighting for climate justice, stopping tar sands expansion by blocking pipeline construction or stopping the flow in existing pipelines is necessary. A favourite poster from the Brandalism project in Paris during COP21 — which replaced approximately 600 public advertisements with oppositional posters critical of climate change inaction — writes "We are not fighting for nature. We are nature defending itself." Indigenous Peoples around the world have been telling everyone else this for a long time. It's now time to listen and act in solidarity with their efforts, as accomplices of their actions and as autonomous affinity groups. And stopping the flow in Line 9B before it ruptures and spills heavy crude into our rivers is clearly an appropriate means of self-defence. Here's why:
Despite Enbridge's confident posturing that Line 9B is safe, evidence revealed in a report on Radio-Canada reveals the likelihood of a major spill. The CBC's francophone investigative journalism show, Enquête, revealed that Line 9B has a number of similarities with Enbridge's Line 6B, which is the source of the United States' worst onshore oil spill.
On July 25, 2010, approximately 3.5 million litres of tar sands oil spilled into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. 5 1/2 years later, clean up and restoration is ongoing. Both pipelines were build in the 1970s using the same types of steel and welding material. They are both of the same diameter and the same thickness and are both covered with polyethylene material which, over time and with pressure cycling, exposes the steel to corrosion. Like 6B at the time of the spill, Line 9B pushes the diluted bitumen western Canadian tar sands at 240,000 barrels per day (bpd). Transcribed audio records from the pipeline control centre during the spill reveal employee incompetence that allowed the heavy oil to spill for 17 hours before before anything was done to stop the flow. As a security measure shortly after the Kalamazoo spill — which can be interpreted as an acknowledgement of the high potential for a similar breech to occur in its Canadian twin — Enquête revealed that Enbridge reduced the pressure of Line 9B by 30% at Terrebonne station, by 36% at Cardinal and by 46% at Hilton.
A 2013 interview with pipeline safety expert, Richard Kuprewicz, stated that “existing SCC (stress corrosion cracking) on Line 9 can worsen due to the increase in pressure cycling associated with shipping diluted bitumen (dilbit). This could lead to a rupture,” explains Kuprewicz. 'Pressure cycling', as described in the DeSmog article are "the variations in operating pressures of a pipeline [that] increase with dilbit" because its composition is variable and this variability affects pipeline pressure. "The greater swings in the levels of operating pressures can create cracks in a pipeline," adds Kuprewicz.
The decrepid state of the pipeline reported in documents submitted to the National Energy Board by Enbridge, makes Line 9B an understandable shutdown target for activists wanting to stop its flow and prevent a disastrous spill. The November 2012 in-house technical evaluation of Line 9B, examined by Enquête, revealed thousands of "anomalies of varying degrees". A more recent study using more precise instruments as reported in their investigation revealed an increase in the number of anomalies: 4738 anomalies related to the formation of fissures and 8223 anomalies related to corrosion.
Enbridge's submitted documents, as reported by Enquête also revealed that "25 of these anomalies will reach critical levels by December 2013" [author's translation]. For concerned populations living along the Sarnie-Montréal corridor, daunting questions remain: Now that we are two years past that critical threshold and Enbridge has just started to pump diluted bitumen through the pipeline, how many more anomalies have reached critical levels on the 39-year-old pipeline and when will one of the "fissure formations" result in a major oil spill and where? For activists, a question might be: what tactics best pressure Enbridge shareholders, federal and provincial governments and the public that will lead to the pipeline's shutdown before it is too late?
Enbridge has been given permission by National Energy Board — padded with former-Prime Minister Harper's oil industry lobbyists — to raise the flow beyond the 240,000 bdp of heavy crude through the pipeline. According to Enbridge Line 9B is currently under a, so-called, "voluntary pressure restriction". It is unclear exactly what that means but Enbridge's plan to increase the pipeline's flow from 240,000 to 300,000 bpd would certainly entail an increase in pressure to levels higher than the levels in its twin pipeline 6B when it spewed the millions of litres of toxic tar sands bitumen into Michigan rivers.
With "world leaders" having just signed a deal at the UN Climate Conference in Paris, COP21, to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, it is increasingly self-evident and blatently obvious that tar sands expansion must be stopped. Corporations seeking short-term profits and governments under pressure by corporate lobbyists can not be trusted to provide solutions against climate change [or much else]. Populations are increasingly organizing to stop fossil carbon extraction. Indigenous communities and social justice activists are at the forefront of these efforts and they need to be supported.
In a July 10, 2015 article in Le Devoir, writes that Québec's provincial government has given a grant of nearly $350K to Canadoil Forge, a corporation that builds pipeline parts for TransCanada's Energy East pipeline project. Like Line 9, Energy East's sole purpose is to support tar sands expansion by transporting bitumen eastward through Québec for export to foreign markets. Successive provincial governments are planning for an oil boom in Québec, so the eastern door is the new front line against tar sands expansion and export of its filth. In a deeply cynical move of blatant greenwashing, the transfer of public funds to private hands was made under the Québec government program called "ÉcoPerformance", put in place by current Québec Natural Resources Minister, Martine Ouellet to reduce the province's greenhouse gas emissions, to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.
Alyssa Symons-Bélanger, an activist lending her support to the Dec 7 blockade of bitumen through Line 9B suggests, “The Enbridge pipeline particularly aggravates climate change by promoting the expansion of tar sands, which increase greenhouse gas emissions generated by [an] industry that profits from the destruction of the climate.”