An eco-hornet’s nest of environmental protests is stirring as TransCanada Corp. works to gain industry support to advance its Energy East Pipeline proposal to convert part of its natural gas Mainline to oil service. Rival Enbridge Inc. stirred up the buzz in an area that straddles the border between central Canada and the northeastern United States with a smaller project across the same region that TransCanada would extend.

Enbridge has only asked the National Energy Board (NEB) to approve a C$129 million flow reversal of its Line 9 for eastbound oil shipments from the northwestern U.S. and Alberta instead of westbound imports from the North Sea, Middle East and West Africa.

The Enbridge line has built up a clean safety and environmental record since its construction in 1976. The reversal project includes only a modest capacity increase to 300,000 b/d from 240,000 b/d. All the planned work and facilities are inside the old right-of-way, which runs for 639 kilometers (396 miles) between Sarnia in southwestern Ontario and Quebec refineries and tanker docks beside the Saint Lawrence Seaway in Montreal.

However, like TransCanada’s Energy East scheme to convert its gas Mainline for up to 850,000 b/d (see related story), the Enbridge project crosses the most heavily populated Canadian region. For the first time since Enbridge last made a change on Line 9 in the 1990s, the energy transporters are brushing up against eastern eco-puritans who disdain pipelines as works of crude, western frontier resource extraction.

The Line 9 flow reversal application set off a buzz in Montreal, where Equiterre, Environmental Defense and the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council called the NEB filing an announcement that “the dirtiest oil on the planet” was headed east.

As the board prepares to hold hearings on the Enbridge project, other groups are stepping forward. Protest missives sent to NEB headquarters in Calgary make it plain that, like TransCanada’s beleaguered Keystone XL project for taking Alberta production south to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, protesters regard west-to-east pipeline projects as front lines in the eco-war against growth in the use of fossil fuels in general and the oilsands in particular.

Toronto.350, a Canadian cousin of a Vermont-based group named after a target for reduced carbon parts per million in the atmosphere, calls for “substantial expansion of the scope of these hearings to include upstream and downstream impacts. Cumulative effects extend well beyond the construction sites associated with a project, and necessarily include impacts on the global atmosphere, crucial freshwater systems, and nation-wide social and economic concerns.”

The Toronto group adds a Canadian wrinkle to the conventional arsenal of green grievances. Oil development infects the country with “Dutch Disease,” an economic malady caught by emphasizing one industry at the expense of others by distorting costs and currency values, say the pipeline critics.

“This has already imposed massive negative impacts on employment in Ontario and other parts of Canada. This ‘Dutch disease’ and its worsening must be considered in the NEB examination,” agrees the like-minded Hamilton 350 Committee, which takes its name from a southwestern Ontario city mired in recession.

Special consideration should also be given to effects on aboriginal communities, adds the Council of Canadians, a group based in the national capital of Ottawa with a long record of challenging business and government leaders.

The Peace and Social Action Committee for the Toronto Quakers calls itself “extremely concerned” and urges the NEB to widen the pipeline case into an inquiry into the state of Canada’s environment, economy and aboriginal First Nations.

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation adds an official voice to the clamor before the NEB by pointing out that the state borders on the Montreal area where western oil will be refined or loaded into tankers or a pipeline connection to Portland, Maine, for exports.

The Vermont agency raises possibilities of “a malfunction or accident resulting in a spill.” The state environmental guardian says, “The pipeline’s orientation — along the southern Great Lakes — is directly aligned with a predominant air pollution transport pathway, which brings high concentrations of fine particles and ozone pollution into Vermont.”

The Vermont agency also echoes fears repeatedly recited by protests against Keystone XL as a conduit for oilsands production. “The increase in capacity and transport of `heavy crude’ would both tend to increase the potential for pipeline spills and tend to increase the resultant emissions of fine particles and ozone precursors like sulfur oxides and volatile organic compounds,” the state environmental watchdog says in its letter to the NEB.

The Line 9 flow reversal case poses an early test of regulatory reforms that the pro-development Canadian government in Ottawa enacted last year. Procedural changes seek to keep the NEB tightly focused on only the projects directly involved in its reviews, confine the cases to practical evidence, and limit or eliminate any role for unsubstantiated opinion.

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