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Pipeline Hearings Begin in Toronto for Enbridge Reversal Proposal

Posted on October 15, 2013

This week hearings begin on the Enbridge application to reverse the flow of the oil pipeline that crosses the riding of York Centre as it makes its way across Toronto and the GTA. The pipeline already exists. If you hike or bike through G. Ross Lord Park or the hydro concession running north of Finch Avenue then you may have noticed the signs that indicate a buried pipeline.
Enbridge pipeline Toronto
What Enbridge is proposing is to increase the capacity of the line from 240,000 barrels per day to 300,000. Currently the oil flows east to west because the oil is imported and refined in Montreal. But now the oil will be synthetic heavy crude coming from Alberta’s bitumen fields. Its density will be different as will its chemistry.

Although the pipeline has been okay for many years (38 years in fact) this change in use is significant and York Centre could be impacted should something go wrong. Enbridge has a history with its pipeline infrastructure. The Kalamazoo River, Michigan spill was undetected for 17 hours and spilled 3.3 million liters of oil. The pipeline involved is similar in age and design to the line running through Toronto.

York Centre constituents can have their say at the hearings at the Metro Convention Centre starting 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, October 16 to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, October 19 at the hearings which are being held in the South Building.

What are some of the questions that York Centre would like answered?
1. Is there any difference in the chemistry of the oil being shipped that is more corrosive than the oil the pipeline has carried for the last 38 years?
2. In increasing capacity does the pipeline require any physical alteration?
3. What is the distribution of shutoff valves along the line in the event of a spill?
4. What if a spill happens near the TTC Finch station which is right next to the pipeline?
5. What is the guaranteed emergency response time to a spill (according to today’s Toronto Star the estimated response time is from 1.5 to 4 hours)?
6. What is the density of sensors attached to the line to detect any potential leaks?
7. What is the current state of the pipeline (stress, corrosion, cracks) after 38 years in the ground?
8. In the event of a spill who will take responsibility for managing the emergency?
9. What should North York residents of York Centre who live near the line expect the company to do on their behalf in the event of a spill?
10. What contingency plans exist for the reservoir at G. Ross Lord and the Don River in the event a spill contaminates the water?

The issue of the type of oil (coming from the oil sands) is quite separate from the aspect of the margin of safety that Enbridge is prepared to commit to. If it is national policy to replace imported oil with fossil fuels from Western Canada then we will need a means to get it from source to consumers. With the Lac Megantic fire and spill we have been made aware of the potential of oil shipped by rail. Of course if we could wean ourselves off oil and replace it with renewable energy, nuclear and biomass sources then the bitumen could stay in the ground, but sadly, our government has not committed to that type of reality in the near future. If, however, we don’t need the oil for domestic use and the intent of this pipeline is to move oil from west to east to be refined and then exported, that raises an entirely different set of issues.