By Derek Leahy
UXBRIDGE (ONT), CANADA – Last Saturday (Jan. 26th) I did something I have never done before. I participated in my very first tar sands action in Canada. I have been involved in tar sands events in Europe and Australia, but never in my home country of Canada. Toronto City Hall was the location for the event and oddly enough it was part of an international day of action, but it was not International Stop the Tar Sands Day. Over twenty communities in the Canadian provinces of Ontario, and Quebec and the New England states in the US came together on the weekend to say no to the Line 9 pipeline. This is going to be the next big step in shutting down the Canadian tar sands industry.
Unlike the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline in British Colombia and the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline in the US, the Line 9 pipeline already exists. For over thirty years Line 9 has pumped conventional oil from Montreal through southern Quebec and southern Ontario to oil refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. Enbridge (operator of Line 9 and the company behind the Northern Gateway project) wants to reverse the flow of Line 9 (i.e.. flow from Sarnia to Montreal) so tar sands crude can be sent to Montreal. From Montreal, it looks like the plans are to pipe tar sands crude through Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine to be exported by tanker from Portland, Maine. Plans for the Montreal-Portland pipeline are conditional on the Line 9 reversal being approved. And that’s why Americans are not a big fan of Line 9 either.
Ontario (as well as Quebec) both have a chance and a choice in regards to Line 9. Ontarians could choose to throw their arms up in the air and say “what you gonna do?” The pipeline already exists so there is no way to stop its construction. The vast majority of tar sands crude in Line 9 will be exported so Ontarians can take some comfort in the fact that they will not be filling up their cars with “dirty oil” from the tar sands.
There are risks for both Ontario and Quebec in this project. The pipeline could burst. Line 9 was an old pipeline that is designed to carry conventional oil not tar sands crude. Due to the sludge-like tar sands crude inability to flow through pipelines the same way conventional oil can, chemicals (diluents) are added to make it move. These diluents tend to be on the corrosive side. In 2010, one of Enbridge’s pipeline carrying tar sands crude burst in Michigan contaminating the Kalamazoo River and surrounding waterways. The clean up is still going on and it may go down in history as the longest and most costly pipeline cleanup in American history. I know I have been out of Canada for awhile, but the last time I checked there are A LOT of waterways in southern Ontario and southern Quebec.
Let’s put the oil spill/pipeline burst argument aside for a moment. I think there is a more fundamental question at the heart of this choice Ontario faces; do we really want to become a part of the tar sands industry? By allowing tar sands crude to be shipped through Line 9, Ontario will be helping the tar sands industry expand. An increase in tar sands development means more destruction of the land, more toxins in the waterways, more carbon dioxide expelled in the atmosphere and more disrespect for First Nations culture and way of life in northern Alberta. Do we really want to be an accomplice to this?
With Line 9 Ontario has a chance to join the ranks of those amazing British Colombians who are successfully stopping both the Northern Gateway and TransMountain tar sands pipeline projects. This is our chance to show the world we can do the impossible like the Americans did when they stopped the Keystone XL pipeline the first time. This is our chance to help Alberta and those Albertans who want to see Alberta transition from a “petro-province” to something better, something more sustainable, something as friendly and hospitable as the Albertans themselves. This is our chance to do our bit for the international movement trying to stop the tar sands.
Come on Ontario! Come on Quebec! I know you can do it!
This is a revised version of what was first posted on Sierra Club Canada 30.01.2013.
Derek grew up in the sleepy little town of Brooklin, Ontario in Canada. After his experience as a backpacker in Copenhagen, Denmark during the UN Climate Change Summit in 2009, Derek decided it was time he stood up for the planet. Shortly thereafter he created International Stop the Tar Sands Day (international rallies to raise awareness about the destructiveness of the tar sands) and plans on continuing to raise awareness about the tar sands and the need to act upon climate change this decade in the years to come.