Should the Reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 Have an Environmental Assessment?

A couple of months ago, Enbridge had submitted an application to the National Energy Board (NEB) proposing the second phase of the reversal of the flow of oil in one of its pipelines towards Eastern Canada. Phase I included the reversal of the flow in a segment of the Line 9 pipeline that stretches from Sarnia to North Westover, ON. Phase II therefore entails the reversal of flow through a segment traveling from the North Westover to the Suncor refinery in Montreal’s East End, passing through 99 towns and cities and 14 aboriginal communities [2]. Below is a picture of the pipeline’s path:

Path of Line 9: The blue segment represents Line 9A, for which the reversal of oil flow was part of Phase I, and the red segment is Line 9B, for which the reversal of flow is part of proposed Phase II and terminates in Montreal's East End

Path of Line 9: The blue segment represents Line 9A, for which the reversal of oil flow was part of Phase I, and the red segment is Line 9B, for which the reversal of flow is part of proposed Phase II and terminates in Montreal’s East End

The troubling part of it is that the pipeline will carry heavy crude oil (at a flow increased by 25%), which will likely contain tar sands oil – a form that is a lot more corrosive and toxic [1,2] than the oil the pipeline has been carrying westward so far (Quebec currently imports oil from the Middle-East and has actually never had heavy crude oil cross its borders)[2,4]. It is the same type of heavy crude oil Enbridge was transporting into the US through one of its other pipelines that ruptured in Michigan in 2010, resulting in the devastation spill of 3.3 million litres of heavy crude into the Kalamazoo River [2]. Although the cause of the rupture was attributed to the failure of the company to fix cracks in the pipeline they knew existed, the spill was problematic due to the nature of the oil [6]. Heavy crude oil is known to be extremely environmentally damaging and a spill is very difficult to remediation [6]. Severe ecological effects and immediate adverse health impacts on the resident population due to inhalation of toxic hydrocarbon vapors were reported. The clean-up is still on-going [2], and the EPA has labeled it the largest spill in North America and most expensive inland pipeline pill in history [1]. The points raised in the following two videos sum up the situation well.

Video 1: Trajectory of pipeline and dangers of the reversal and transport of heavy crude

Video 2: Potential environmental and social impacts of pipeline reversal

While it is pretty obvious that the NEB will approve Phase II of the Reversal Project, this project has many citizens and environmental groups very worried about the impacts a potential spill can have on the rivers in the south of Ontario and Quebec, like the Saint-Lawrence Rivers, home to many ecosystems and species the provincial government is fighting to protect. Critics of the project suspect that Enbridge is holding back an underlying agenda that aims to reverse the flow in a third pipeline segment that starts in Montreal and reaches Portland (Maine) in order to export heavy crude to the US and overseas. This is a very different purpose for the reversal project than that of providing Eastern Canada with a more secure energy source, and would bring into question whether this project can bring any significant economic or social benefits to Eastern Canada [4]. Many make reference to the infamous Enbridge Kalamazoo spill and to Enbridge’s poor emergency spill response track record in their arguments against the reversal project [1,2,3,4]. Despite the fact that this project does not possess any characteristics that would make it a Designated Project under CEAA2012 [5], and that approval of Phase I acts as a precedent for the approval of Phase II, The NEB claimed that it will hold public consultations [1] (but truly, who knows if that will be done ‘meaningfully’, if done at all). The provincial government is standing up to the project, and Daniel Breton, Minister of the Ministere du developpement durable, de l’environnement, de la faune et des parcs (MDDEFP), announced that it will not let Enbridge go through with the reversal until public consultations have been held and the Quebec government feels they have enough information to make a decision about the project (in the form of an independent environmental review)[1,3,4]. However, it is an unfortunate situation that public consultations will not be carried out by the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) [3,4], but by some other means which have not yet been announced.The uncertainties and criticisms of this project call for a thorough public consultation process to be done, and especially in order to inform the public that this is being proposed. Because the pipeline already exists, it is easy for citizens to remain uninformed, making it that less challenging for the project to move forward. In addition, the process needs to be transparent, letting stakeholders know exactly what kind of oil will be flowing through the pipeline, and what the true purpose of the pipeline will be.

Although I am an environmental assessment student and therefore am aware of all the negative impacts energy development projects can have, this project hits especially close to home since Montreal is the city I’ve lived in most of my life. Hearing of this proposed project has lead me to actually feel threatened by a development project, and I fear that the effort concerned citizens and environmental groups will put into preventing this project from going forward will not be enough. This in turn has made me realize how much of a luxury it would be to have strong EA legislation (which we do not quite have) and a government that is not in cahoots with the industry (which, sadly, we surely do not have either at the federal level). At this point, the only protection we have is the current position of our provincial leaders. I am actually starting the feel first hand the negative impacts of the alteration of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, especially since it is less stringent that the previous Act that would not have required an EIA for this particular project either way. CEAA 2012 may therefore in fact suggest that Canada is moving several steps backwards in terms of its environmental protection laws and regard for its citizens.


[1] Équiterre (Nov 20 2012). Enbridge Officially Announces the Arrival of the “Dirtiest Oil on the Planet” in Quebec on its Way to Export. Retrieved Jan 23 2012 from“dirtiest-oil-on-the-planet”-in-quebec-o

[2] Paris, M. (CBC News Environment Unit; Nov 9 2012). Enbridge’s Line 9 reversal touted as good oil sands PR. Retrieved Jan 23 2012 from

[3] Van Praet, N. (Nov 14 2012). Quebec Minister lashes out against plans to bring Alberta oil to province. Retrieved Jan 23 2012 from

[4] Chouinard, T., Bellavance, JD, Croteau, M. & De Grandpré, H. (La Presse; Nov 15 2012). Québec soumettra le projet d’Enbridge à une consultation. Retrieved Jan 23 2012 from

[5] Government of Canada (2012). Regulations Designating Physical Activities SOR/2012-147. Retrieved from

[6] CBC News (July 10 2012). Enbridge failed to fix cracks in leaking Michigan pipeline. Retrieved March 22 2012 from


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