As the narrow window closes on the opportunity to voice concerns about the reversal of a pipeline that could transport diluted bitumen across Ontario – including through major urban centres such as Toronto – some people living near the conduit are taking it upon themselves to alert others to the potential hazards.
One of them is Jan Morrissey, a Toronto woman who is frustrated with the lack of clear information provided about the Line 9B reversal by either Enbridge Inc., the pipeline's owner, or the National Energy Board (NEB), which has been tasked with assessing the project's environmental impacts.
"How do people make comment on something they don't know exists?" she asked. "How can we say what concerns we have and feel good about this pipeline if we don't have the answers and they haven't done due diligence to make sure that we have these answers before the deadline?"
The 37-year-old pipeline runs from Sarnia to Montreal through nearly 100 towns and cities and crosses every major river and stream flowing into Lake Ontario. At the moment it carries light crude in a westward direction. Enbridge wants to reverse the line, increase its capacity by 25 per cent and obtain permission to carry diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands – the substance involved in a disastrous spill in Michigan in 2010.
The NEB has imposed a tight timeline and created a multi-step process for raising objections. Canadians who want to write a letter expressing opinions about the pipeline project must complete a 10-page application explaining how they would be directly affected by it. Copies of that application, which was first made available on the board's website last Friday, must be received by both the NEB and Enbridge by noon on April 19.
But Ms. Morrissey is frustrated with the lack of information provided by either the company or the energy board to the people who could be affected. The NEB has held just one sparsely attended information session in Toronto about Line 9B. Enbridge has held none – and has no plans to do so until after the April 19 deadline has passed.
When Ms. Morrissey asked at a January meeting of her local Bayview Cummer Neighbourhood Association whether anyone was aware of Enbridge's plans, just one person raised their hand. So she has created a flyer asking questions on behalf of the association, which she plans to distribute to all of the homes backing onto the pipeline between Yonge and Leslie streets.
The NEB has not set out criteria to explain whom it considers to be directly affected by the pipeline. Environmentalists point out that millions of people who get their drinking water from Lake Ontario could be affected by a major break at the wrong place in Line 9B.
When the federal government organized hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would carry crude from the Alberta oil sands to Kitimat, B.C., thousands were granted the opportunity to voice their concerns. Those who wanted to appear at the hearings were given five months to state their intentions. Those who merely wanted to write a letter were given 10 months – and there was no application process.
But the federal government complained that the Northern Gateway hearings had been hijacked by foreign environmental radicals and passed legislation to streamline environmental assessments. Line 9B is the first test of the new method.
John Bennett, the executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, said: "I think they are just trying to make it as difficult at possible. It's really a cumbersome process." Even seasoned environmental campaigners have had difficulty finding the application on the NEB website.
Mr. Bennett is also concerned about the NEB's stated refusal to consider the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with the upstream activities, the development of the oil sands and the downstream use of oil transported by pipeline.
"If you are talking about reversing a pipeline," Mr. Bennett said, "the cumulative effects of that pipeline have to include what's happening in terms of where the oil's coming from and what happened where the oil is going."