The Line 9 Reversal Phase I Project by Enbridge Pipelines Inc. is the first of many ongoing federal reviews that will likely end under the watch of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEEA), which conducts some 5,000 reviews each year, the vast majority of which involve the study of low-level threats to the environment, the federal Minister of the Environment recently revealed.
As of July 6, 2012, the new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 came into force, leaving the environmental assessment responsibility squarely in the hands of the provinces, unless a substantial risk to the environment is identified.
Minister of the Environment, Peter Kent, expressed these thoughts on changes to the assessment process in a written response to questions raised by Liberal environment critic Kirsty Duncan.
“…Ninety-nine per cent of which are for small projects with little or no risk to the environment," Kent wrote about the federal assessments.
The plan for Enbridge involves an August 2011 application to the National Energy Board (NEB) to reverse the flow of crude oil in its pipeline spanning from its Sarnia Terminal to the North Westover Station in southwestern Ontario. Due to a change in market demand, the adjustments would allow the company’s oil to flow eastward.
According to the CEEA’s notification about the abandoned assessment, it notes the following regarding the Enbridge proposal:
“All proposed work would take place on existing Enbridge facilities and surface leases, with no planned ground disturbance along the pipeline right-of-way itself,” the update says.
However, environmentalists are wary of abandoning the assessment on the heels of a recent $3.7-million civil penalty against Enbridge for a 2010 oil spill in Michigan, which leaked more than 3.03 million litres of crude oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo Riverand a tributary creek.
In addition to that concern, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a strong series of recommendations to Enbridge Ltd. in a July 11, 2012 report about the probable cause of the 2010 spill. Before it pursues new projects, the board warned Enbridge to revise its integrity management program, as well as its emergency response procedures and spill detection measures, to name just a few recommendations.
One of the most controversial aspects of the 2010 spill involved allegations that Enbridge failed to detect the pipeline rupture for 17 hours after it happened during a scheduled shutdown.
Some environmental groups, such as MiningWatch Canada, have started petitions to encourage people to write to their local MP or federal Minister Kent, to express concern over the loss of an environmental assessment tool that’s been working well, they say, ever since 1995.
“Don’t trash the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act!” says MiningWatch Canada in its online template letter to public officials. “This law is critical to understanding and mitigating the adverse environmental effects of developments such as pipelines, tar sands projects, and mines.”
“Eliminating legal requirements and limiting public participation in project reviews makes environmental disasters such as BP’s Deepwater Horizon, Exxon Valdez, and Fukushima more likely,” the letter continues. “I know that you don’t want catastrophes like these to happen in Canada.”
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 includes time-saving measures such as consolidating the number of organizations responsible for assessments from more than 40 to three: the CEAA, the NEB, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Also, timelines for hearings and assessments would be set at 24 months for panel reviews, 18 months for NEB hearings, and 12 months for standard environmental assessments.
On the CEAA website, it describes the new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 as an “updated, modern approach that responds toCanada's current economic and environmental context.”
Despite the end of the old federal assessment process, the NEB must still continue its review of the oil flow reversal request. During February 2012 hearings about the Enbridge proposal, Gaétan Caron, the chair and CEO of the NEB, said the request goes beyond simply reversing oil flow.
"There is some amount of facilities being proposed and it is the wish of Parliament that any facilities applied for be approved or denied by the National Energy Board. So we don't have discretion in that respect," Caron told the committee, when it was suggested that the government was meddling unnecessarily in corporate decisions.
The Enbridge pipeline was originally built in 1975, at the request of the government, to take Western Canadian crude to Montreal refineries. But the oil flow was reversed 13 years ago to bring imported oil into Ontario. Now, speculation has begun to consider that what has essentially become a re-reversal of the oil flow, will eventually mean an expansion all the way back to Montreal.
Enbridge assessment abandoned under new Act | HAZMAT Magazine