TORONTO — The National Energy Board gave the green light Thursday to energy giant Enbridge’s plan to reverse the flow and increase the capacity of a pipeline that has been running between southern Ontario and Montreal for years.
The 141-page decision on the controversial Line 9 comes some four months after the federal regulator held public hearings on the Calgary-based company’s proposal.
The approval is subject to certain conditions that include Enbridge (TSX:ENB) being required to undertake activities involving pipeline integrity, emergency response and continued consultation.
“The board’s decision enables Enbridge to react to market forces and provide benefits to Canadians, while at the same time implementing the project in a safe and environmentally sensitive manner,” the NEB said in a statement.
“Enbridge will be permitted to operate all of Line 9 in an eastward direction in order to transport crude oil from Western Canada and the U.S. Bakken region to refineries in Ontario and Quebec.”
Line 9 originally shuttled oil from Sarnia, Ont., to Montreal, but was reversed in the late 90s in response to market conditions to pump imported crude westward. Enbridge had asked the board to reverse the flow towards the east once more.
The company plans to move 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day through the line, up from the current 240,000 barrels, with no increase in pressure.
It also asked for permission to move different types of oil, including a heavier form of crude. The board granted permission for the change in product.
Opponents have argued Enbridge’s plan for the aging Line 9 puts communities at risk, threatens water supplies and could endanger vulnerable species in ecologically sensitive areas.
“We are deeply disappointed that the National Energy Board decided to rubber-stamp this risky project,” said Adam Scott, a spokesman from Environmental Defence, which made submissions at the NEB hearings on Line 9.
“The NEB’s decision document was long and complicated, and from what we can see, fails to respond to serious safety concerns raised by governments, First Nations, landowners and thousands of concerned Canadians.”
Line 9’s opponents have often pointed to an Enbridge spill in Michigan, which leaked 20,000 barrels of crude into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. There are concerns the same thing could happen in Ontario or Quebec in the future.
Enbridge has insisted that safety is its top priority and has characterized the scope of the reversal as “actually very, very small.”
A portion of the line has already received approval for reversal and has been sending oil from Sarnia to North Westover, Ont. — about 30 kilometres northwest of Hamilton — since August.