A pipeline running through the Rouge River area, part of what will be Canada’s first national urban park, will put it at risk, says a Toronto community group.
“An [oil] spill into the Rouge could be potentially devastating,” Sabrina Bowman, campaign coordinator for Environmental Defence, told a meeting held by the group East End Against Line 9 on April 7.
Line 9 was built by Enbridge in the 1970s and runs from Sarnia, Ont. to Montreal. It carries light and medium oil. In November 2012, Enbridge requested the pipeline carry a heavy class of oil known as tar sands oil. It also requested a reversal of Line 9, which means the tar sands oil would travel westbound through Toronto and Scarborough (starting at Victoria Park right through to the Rouge River).
“Diluted bitumen is different than regular oil,” Bowman said. “It tends to sink more than regular oil does which means it gets into the water table more easily. You can’t just use a boom and skimmer which is what they usually use to clean up a regular oil spill.”
Ken Hall, senior adviser of public affairs for Enbridge, disputes the warning.
“The reality is all oil floats,” Hall said. “If you have a lot of sediment in the water, suspended solids for example like leaves or sticks, the oil will actually stick to those pieces of material, make those pieces of material heavier and then it can sink. But the same thing happens with light crude oil as with diluted bitchemn, there’s no difference.”
Bowman compares a potential spill into the Rouge to one that happened in Marshall, Mich. in July 2010 as a result of a ruptured Enbridge pipe. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 819,000 gallons of oil was spilled in Talmadge Creek and flowed 60 kilometres into the Kalamazoo River.
“We have developed systems, and a lot of this really came out of what happened in Marshall,” Hall said. “We have actually taken the science of spill response to a new level, because that incident posed challenges to us from a response point of view so we developed tools and techniques that we can use to address that.”
Hall says Enbridge is still working with the EPA to clean up areas in Marshall.
“The EPA has identified to us that there are still some areas of concern in Marshall where … there is still some oil at the bottom of the river,” Hall said. “We are undertaking over the next couple of months to resolve that problem and we will continue to address that concern.”
Hall says the same could be said for any community in Toronto, if a spill were to occur.
“We haven’t had a spill on the line],” Hall said. “And the reason that we haven’t had a spill is because we are very, very attentive to taking care of it. We have an integrity management program, where we actually look at the condition of our pipeline on an ongoing basis. We can see things on our pipeline that are literally the size of a head of a pin.”
Bowan questions Enbridge’s safety measures.
“For several years Line 9 was actually sticking out into the Rouge, completely exposed,” Bowman said. “I think Enbridge has requested the conservation authority to put some cinder blocks around it but it wasn’t a very good protection. It was just sticking out of the river…totally unprotected, ready to fall victim to any heavy item that came along and smashed into it. It was falling apart and its coating had come off.”
After Bowman’s colleague discovered the exposed pipe, he invited the media to see it. Enbridge has since covered the pipeline.
Hall says that less than 25 per cent of the oil travelling through Line 9 will be derived from the oil sands.
“I can’t say that there’s no risk,” Hall said. “You have to weigh the benefits opposed to the risks, and then you have to have very good systems in place to mitigate and minimize that risk. And Enbridge is a leader in our industry.”
East End Against Line 9 does not believe the risk is worth it, considering it runs through three rivers in Toronto. They connect to Lake Ontario, Toronto’s main source of drinking water.
East End Against Line Nine is dedicated to advocating against Line 9 and educating residents of Toronto about what they believe will be its detrimental effects. Bowman believes now is a crucial time for residents to get involved.
“We are seeing a huge failure on the part of our government to do anything,” Bowman said. “This is the time for citizens to say, ‘despite what our government is saying, we care about this issue.’”