Canadians who wish to voice concerns on the Enbridge Line 9B oil pipeline proposed to pass through their neighborhoods will have to sharpen their pencils and fill out a 10- page application by tomorrow’s deadline at noon MDT.
This is the first time concerned residents must ask permission to send letters by filling out lengthy applications to the National Energy Board (NEB).
Environmentalists say it’s a complicated and confusing procedure directed by the Conservative federal government in an attempt to suppress public comment.
“The whole point of all of the changes is to make it impossible for the public to stop the pipeline projects,” Adam Scott of the Environmental Defence group said.
“They’re basically trying to block public participation.”
Environmental Defense and Greenpeace Canada note residents have been given only 15 days to send in their forms. Usually the government gives 60 days of notice for projects like these, Scott said.
The board can reject applications, and those that do pass approval will be contacted to present their comments at the public hearing in late August.
Applicants are encouraged to attach their resumes and reference letters to support their forms.
Those who miss the deadline won’t be allowed to comment in the future.
“Since when does someone’s resume determine if they have the right to be concerned about what’s happening in their home community?” Greenpeace Canada’s Keith Stewart said in a statement.
Enbridge is proposing to reverse its oil eastward from Sarnia, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec. The 639 km pipeline waiting for approval from the NEB would pass through the Greater Toronto Area- Canada’s most populous area.
Line 9B crosses through neighborhoods, major parks and every major Canadian river flowing into Lake Ontario.
Enbridge also proposes to increase the flow from 240,000 barrels of oil a day to 300,000 barrels a day.
At an application-signing event organized by Environmental Defense in Toronto on Tuesday, half a dozen people showed up in the first hour and a half.
“No one really knows about this form,” said Emma Wang, an environmental studies student at the University of Toronto.
“It’s a strategic move. [The form] makes it weird and complicated for people to participate and voice their concerns… it’s sad that there aren’t that many of us here [at the event].”
Another young lady at the event stated she was under the impression that people had to apply as groups not as individuals.
“I don’t think a lot of people are going to apply because they’ve been scared off by the process,” Scott said at the event.
Whitney Punchak, the NEB’s spokesperson said the new form was made in response to Bill C-38, the omnibus budget bill passed last year by the Conservative government.
Under the new rules, the form seeks “those directly affected by the project or those who have relevant information that could help the board in making a final decision,” Punchak said. “So, it’s very important that we hear from those groups of people.”
But environmentalists say it’s unclear as to who falls into the “directly affected” category and on what basis applicants will be accepted or rejected.
Bill C-38 gutted environmental laws in Canada. Environment Canada used to conduct 6,000 environmental assessments every year, but now under the new rules, the NEB conducts 20-30 assessments per year.
“Projects of this kind no longer need to have environmental assessments,” Scott said.
Environmentalists have contacted Ontario’s environment minister to step in and hold an independent assessment of risks. The request is being studied.
The form also includes technical jargon such as on page four:
“Before you continue with this form, refer to the Board’s Guidance Document on Section 55.2 and Participation in a Facilities Hearing attached to the Hearing Order OH-002-2013 as Appendix VI, and again as Appendix III of Procedural Update No.1 for OH-002-2013.”
“Even though it does appear long, a lot of it is instructions,” Punchak said. “Quite a bit of it is blank space as well that is there just to put your name, address.”
The NEB has also provided a process supervisor who the public can contact if they have questions or need guidance in filling out the form, Punchak added.
Not many people are aware there is currently a buried pipeline running through Ontario, Scott said.
“If everyone finds out about the issue and speaks up about it, I have no doubt that the project could be stopped.”
Environmentalists have been canvassing in Toronto neighbourhoods where the pipeline directly runs through to spread awareness.
Environmentalists say the 38-year-old pipeline wasn’t built with tar sands oil in mind. Tar sands oil with its high acid concentrations-20 times higher than normal oil- makes it more likely to rupture weakened pipelines.
On July 26, 2010, an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan burst, spewing more than three million litres of tar sands oil. The oil spread down 50 km of the Kalamazoo River and contaminated a lake. The pipeline wasn’t shut down until almost twelve hours after the spill began. The clean up is estimated to have cost $725 million along with health problems for hundreds of locals.
According to Enrbidge’s own data, between 1999 and 2010 there were 804 spills that dumped 161,000 of fossil fuels.