The National Energy Board has approved a controversial plan by Enbridge to reverse the flow of oil through an underground pipeline between Ontario and Quebec. The board is also allowing the energy giant to add capacity to the 38-year-old pipeline.
The line cuts across the GTA, in Toronto running a little north of Finch Ave.
The change-up will see crude move from Sarnia to Montreal, the opposite of the way it's been flowing since late 1990s. Enbridge will move 300,000 barrels of crude through a day, up from 240,000 barrels.
The board is satisfied that the project is safe, but opponents like action group Environmental Defence are unconvinced, calling it "a recipe for disaster".
Climate and Energy Program Manager Adam Scott says the issue is with the material flowing through the pipeline, not which way it's headed.
Enbridge plans to run heavier diluted bitumen through the line that needs to have chemicals mixed in to keep it flowing.
"Those chemicals can evaporate and make people sick" says Scott. He says if the oil gets into water, it sinks, making cleanup tough.
Pointing to research of independent experts, Scott says heavier crude in higher volumes dramatically increases risk of rupture. If a line did break, opponents worry the water supply of millions of people could be at risk.
"For example, if it spilled into the Rouge River in Toronto which it crosses, it could easily have oil flow all the way down into Lake Ontario and reach drinking water intakes for the city", said Scott.
The energy board's approval is subject to a number of conditions, which include Enbridge being required to undertake activities involving pipeline integrity, emergency response and continued consultation with stakeholders and the public.
The board wasn't unanimous in conditions set out for Enbridge tied to financial ability to deal with a spill, with one member saying he would have liked Enbridge to be required to show it has "legally enforceable access to financial resources which are and will continue to be adequate to fund any reasonably foreseeable NEB-regulated obligations which arise as a result of a spill."
Enbridge says it's already working on a plan to fulfil those requirements, saying the NEB's approval will allow "reliable, competitive North American crude oil" to be delivered to refineries in Ontario and Quebec.
"The benefits of the reversal of Line 9 are clear,'' said Enbridge CEO Al Monaco. ``We've listened carefully and we're acting on stakeholder input to address concerns and further enhance safety. The approval of this project is not the end of the process for us."
But Environmental Defence is sceptical of Enbridge's safety record. They along with other opponents point often point to a 2010 Enbridge line break that leaked 20,000 barrels of crude into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.
Scott says the group is looking into what legal avenues are left to fight the project.