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Toronto conference takes aim at local tar sands pipeline

November 9, 2012

By John Riddell. A day-long grassroots conference in Toronto on Saturday, Nov. 17 will discuss plans by Enbridge Inc. to pipe dangerous tar sands crude from Sarnia to Montreal through its Line 9. The event, “The Tar Sands Come to Ontario: Stop Line 9,” will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Sidney Smith Hall, 100 St. George St.

Featured guests will include Maude Barlow (Council of Canadians), Art Sterritt (Executive Director, B.C. Coastal First Nations), Wes Elliott (Haudenosaunee land defender), Aaron Detlor (Haudenosaunee Development Institute), and Vanessa Gray (Aamjiwnaang First Nation).

Enbridge built Line 9 in 1975 to pipe imported oil west to Sarnia refineries. On October 11, Enbridge applied to the National Energy Board (NEB) for permission to reverse Line 9’s flow. Enbridge has been evasive as to its purpose.

On October 23, however, it told the NEB that it may use the line for “heavy oil,” a category that includes “dilbit” (diluted bitumen) from the tar sands. In the past, Enbridge has talked of its plans to pipe dilbit to the Atlantic Coast for export via the now scrapped “Trailbreaker” project, and this seems the evident purpose of “Line 9 reversal.”

To make dilbit, tar sands are thinned by a cocktail of chemicals, heated, and put under pressure. The mixture included benzene, arsenic and naphtha, known carcinogens, mutagens and endocrines.

Piping dilbit “is like moving hot, liquid sandpaper that grinds and burns its way along,” says a 2012 Environmental Defence report (“Enbridge’s Tar Sands Pipeline Plan,” p. 2). Aged infrastructure has proven unable to carry dilbit, and in 2010 Enbridge had the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history with the rupture near Kalamazoo of its 6b pipeline carrying tar sands dilbit.

Enbridge plans to pipe hazardous dilbit through Line 9 across twelve major watersheds including the Grande and Thames rivers, violating Haudenosaunee land rights and imperilling our shared water supply. Line 9 endangers many First Nations in Ontario and passes close to the province’s largest population centres, including Sarnia, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, Kingston, Cornwall, Ottawa, before reaching Montreal.

In Toronto, Line 9 angles north-east across Etobicoke and then cuts across the communities of Jane/Finch, Rexdale, and Scarborough and through the Rouge River valley.

Enbridge already processes an estimated 225,000 barrels of dilbit per day in Sarnia. In 2010, when the Enbridge 6b pipeline ruptured in Michigan, it spilt more than one million gallons of dilbit into the Kalamazoo River. “The heavy bitumen sank to the river bottom, leaving a mess that is still being cleaned up,” reports David Sassoon in the New York Times. “Meanwhile, the chemical additives evaporated, created a foul smell that lingered for days. People reported headaches, dizziness and nausea. No one could say with certainty what they should do.”

‘Breakdown of safety’

According to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the 2010 spill showed “a complete breakdown of safety at Enbridge.” Enbridge had left 15,000 known defects on the pipeline uncorrected for up to five years. (“Enbridge Line 9 Fact Sheet“)

Yet Enbridge, unrepentant, now seems ready to expose Ontario, Quebec and New England to these risks, in order to ship dilbit from the Atlantic Coast to overseas markets in Europe.

Meanwhile, the extraction, marketing, and burning of Canada’s tar sands oil is devastating Alberta’s landscape, degrading the atmosphere, and tilting climate change toward disaster. The tar sands industry is part of what Art Sterritt calls a “war on nature, on the very foundation of life — on the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soils that provide us with the food we eat.” (Globe and Mail, co-signed with David Suzuki). Sterritt will be sharing more of his perspective with participants at the event on the 17th.

Speaking alongside Sterritt in Victoria October 22 in an anti-pipeline rally of 4,000, Maude Barlow said, “These pipelines mean that you’ll need to keep them full and that means a massive expansion of the tar sands and that means that we will never be able to get the alternative energy future we need … Going after these pipelines is the most important fight we can have right now.”

Indigenous peoples are leading the campaign against the tar sands menace. Sterritt was a key spokesperson for the massive October 22 action in Victoria by “Defend Our Coast.” This Indigenous-led coalition has united 132 First Nations, 23 municipalities and residents across B.C. in a campaign that poses a huge obstacle to tar sands pipeline projects in that province. In Alberta, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Beaver Lake Cree have taken Shell and the Alberta government, respectively, to court.

In Ontario, the Haudenosaunee Development Institute, Aamjiwnaang First Nation, and Oneida Nation all submitted concerns to the National Energy Board against Line 9. (See “Stopping Line 9: Communities Mobilize“).

The People Versus Line 9 group points out, “Communities in British Columbia and Texas, as well as Indigenous peoples across the continent, all have stopped or slowed down other tar sands pipelines. It’s time to play our part…. Let’s stop Enbridge’s plans for Line 9. Ontario cannot be the weak link in the chain … Take action in your community.” On November 17 the Tar Sands Come to Ontario event will encourage such community action trough workshops and a peoples assembly.

The Tar Sands Come To Ontario: No Line 9! is jointly organized by the Center for Social Justice, Climate Justice Working Group/Science for Peace, the Council of Canadians Toronto, Common Frontiers, Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network, OPIRG-Toronto, Toronto Bolivia Solidarity, and Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church Public Witness Circle. The conference forms part of the November 15-18 OPIRG Toronto+York Rebuilding Bridges conference. For further information on “The Tar Sands Come to Ontario, Stop Line 9” see or go to the event’s Facebook page.

Related article on this website

John Riddell is a Toronto-based activist and writer, and a member of Toronto Bolivia Solidarity. Reprinted with permission from

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