Although Enbridge must have known that they would face protest when they first proposed reversing their Line 9B to pump diluted bitumen from Sarnia to Montreal, there’s no way they could have anticipated the ferocity of the opposition that’s resulted.
A massive and widespread citizen campaign to stop the project sprung up across southern Ontario and Quebec, including many First Nations communities. Line 9B’s reversal has been subject to multiple disruptive direct actions interfering with the infrastructure of the line as well as the process of approval by the industry-captured National Energy Board (NEB). The project has also been subject to a massive court case brought by the Chippewas of the Thames First Nations over Enbridge’s lack of proper consultation, a case which is now making its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, as I wrote about a few weeks ago.
For those readers unfamiliar with the catastrophe-in-waiting that is Line 9B, here’s a summary from an older post of mine on the issue:
Line 9 is an already-existing pipeline which runs from Montreal to Sarnia, and for the past forty years or so it’s been transporting refined light crude oil westward. Enbridge, which owns the pipeline, applied to the National Energy Board for permission to reverse the pipeline’s direction, increase the volume it was allowed to transport, and switch over to transporting unrefined tar sands bitumen.
There’s a lot of issues with this plan. Bitumen has to be transported at a considerably higher pressure and temperature than light crude, and there are serious concerns about the integrity of the forty-year-old pipeline. A similar Enbridge pipeline of similar age burst near Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2010, spilling over three million litres of bitumen into the Kalamazoo River. The fact that bitumen, unlike crude oil, sinks in fresh water made the disaster significantly worse, necessitating a complicated multi-year cleanup and causing massive damage to wildlife and the health of local residents.
That the oil spilled in a river is significant, because Line 9 crosses 36 different tributaries of Lake Ontario. A major spill of bitumen could be catastrophic for the world’s fourteenth-largest lake, which is the source of drinking water to over 9 million people in Canada and the United States.
And on top of all that, tar sands extraction is quite literally one of the most short-sided and ecocidal policies the human race could be pursuing right now. Making it easier for Enbridge to bring tar sands bitumen to international markets would be a terrible idea even if the structural integrity of Line 9 was guaranteed.
Despite this tenacious and active opposition and the weight of the arguments against the project, Enbridge was granted final approval to reverse the line a few weeks ago, and the company began pumping bitumen eastwards on December 3.
But even after the NEB’s approval and the line’s full reversal, the opposition to Enbridge’s project continues.
Today, a few brave souls entered a valve site near Sainte-Justine-de-Newton, Quebec, and physically shut down the line. They then locked themselves to the equipment as supporters erected an encampment around the site. They made the following public statement:
The town’s former mayor turned out to support the direct action. The SQ also arrived on the scene but were considerably less supportive. However, as of roughly two hours ago, according to the group’s Facebook page, the occupation was ongoing, with two people still chained to Enbridge’s equipment.
This kind of badass direct action, which directly disrupts Enbridge’s profitability (the company is said to have lost hundreds of millions due to delays to this project) is the single most effective way to oppose the expansion of pipelines, and demonstrates that the unelected, unaccountable, oil-industry-dominated NEB and their preposterous process don’t have to be the final word on the matter.
Perhaps that’s why this type of protest was explicitly targeted by anti-terror law C-51, or why law enforcement and intelligence agencies from the RCMP to Transport Canada see climate change activists as a national security threat.
So it’s encouraging to see that despite these protest-chilling actions and positions taken by the state, folks are still willing to put their bodies and their freedoms on the line to stop these short-sighted, misguided, ecocidal tar sands projects. Ultimately, actions like these are our best hope for stopping Line 9’s transportation of bitumen, and, more broadly, of bringing an end to the extraction and transportation of tar sands oil altogether.
Solidarity with the blockaders in Sainte-Justine-de-Newton!
ICYMI Monday is a weekly examination of newsworthy stories that failed to win the news cycle and are deserving of further discussion. You can reach me by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by leaving a comment below.