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None of your business

Jul 14, 2013

Enbridge is refusing to answer multiple written questions from a group of municipalities led by Toronto that includes Hamilton and Burlington, and is treating many queries from the provincial Ministry of Energy and others in the same fashion. The pipeline company also accuses both levels of government of engaging in a “fishing expedition”.

The National Energy Board process offers the opportunity for intervenors to ask questions in advance of the late fall hearings on Enbridge’s application to expand its Line 9 pipeline flows by 25 percent, to reverse the flow direction, and to add diluted bitumen (dilbit) to the products shipped between Sarnia and Montreal. Toronto has registered as an intervenor and is also representing municipal staff of Ajax, Hamilton, Burlington, Kingston and Mississauga, all of who only have commenter status.

Enbridge has deemed that more than two dozen of the questions from this group are objectionable, irrelevant or compromising the company’s proprietary rights, and labelled nine as fishing expeditions. These include queries on Enbridge’s spills record, and how often dilbit was the product involved. The company is also refusing to release either its Engineering Standards and Guidelines or its Integrity Management Plan or to explain how the latter has been modified to deal with dilbit.

Queries related to the disastrous July 2010 Enbridge pipeline rupture in Michigan were also rejected, including at least one that the company promised to provide – a formal response to the findings of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that slammed Enbridge’s safety procedures. Cleanup of the pipeline rupture that contaminated 60 kilometres of the Kalamazoo River and sickened more than one hundred people is still ongoing on its third anniversary with the bill now expected to exceed $1 billion.

The municipal governments point to the NTSB conclusion “that Enbridge’s integrity management program was inadequate because it did not consider the following: a sufficient margin of safety, appropriate wall thickness, tool tolerances, use of a continuous reassessment approach to incorporate lessons learned, the effects of corrosion on crack depth sizing, and accelerated crack growth rates due to corrosion fatigue on corroded pipe with a failed coating.” They note that Enbridge said it wouldn’t respond to the NTSB report until it was released – something that occurred in July 2012 – and ask the company to now provide its detailed response.

Enbridge replies that it “objects to filing the information requested on the ground that it is confidential information and Enbridge has consistently treated it as such.”

Among the rejected questions from the Ministry of Energy were ones that seek details of the cleanup costs of 13 leaks and ruptures that have already occurred on the aging Line 9 since it was installed in 1976; the quantity of electricity used in operating the pipeline and associated greenhouse gas emissions; and the lessons Enbridge has learned from other pipe failures.

The Ministry was also turned down in its request for “the environmental and socio-economic impacts of the project for all of Line 9”, not just the seven worksites reviewed in the company’s environmental impact statement. Specifically the province asked for lists of major features that Line 9 passage across including: “all major water crossings including tributaries to the Great Lakes”; “all Environmentally Significant Areas”; “all Provincially Significant Wetlands”; and “the proximity of the pipe to the Great Lakes shorelines themselves.”

Enbridge responds that it “objects to the request as the information sought is not relevant to the issues in this proceeding.” It takes the same position in reply to questions on what the company will do to “reduce the risk of a pipeline rupture resulting in the contents of the pipeline reaching local drinking water sources”.

The province also has questions about Enbridge’s plans to relocate the Line 9 crossing of the East Don River because of erosion that was evident even before last week’s disastrous flooding that trapped over 1200 GO Train passengers. Enbridge is asked to “provide details and specifics on where the line would be relocated”, whether it would impact an officially designated “vulnerable area”, and to “describe the process, including approvals and permits required, for the pipeline relocation.”

Enbridge refuses to answer any of these questions, arguing that “the information sought is not relevant” to the current approval process. Although the company doesn’t elaborate, the mandate of the NEB on environmental impacts is limited, and it has specifically excluded examination of many impacts of the Line 9 changes including the “the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with upstream activities, the development of oil [tar] sands, or the downstream use of the oil transported by the pipeline.”

In the past, those matters could be considered in a federal environmental assessment or governed by regulations under the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, but all of those laws have been dramatically curtailed by the Harper Conservative government’s omnibus legislation. Pipelines have been specifically exempted from both the completely re-written Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and from the replacement Navigable Waters Act, and the latter legislation has also eliminated coverage for the vast majority of Canadians waters including all but one river crossed by Line 9.

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