Native and Occupy protester have brought to a halt a hearing by the National Energy Board that environmentalists feared would bring oilsands oil to Ontario and eventually the United States.
Minutes after the hearing began protesters in the hearing room at the Hilton London began screaming chants with followers repeating the words of a leader.
Board members and Enbridge quickly cleared the room and natives from the Six Nations replaced them at the front of the room to speak out and detail their grievances.
One London-based protester was arrested and put in a police van after not leaving right away when requested.”
London police say they are planning how to re-gain control so the hearing can continue.
Enbridge, which was to speak first, wants to reverse the flow of oil in a pipeline in London’s backyard so it moves from west to east, from Sarnia to Westover near Hamilton. Whether that’s a boon to Ontario’s economy or a threat to its environment is a matter of fierce debate at the hearing that began Wednesday and was expected to last three days.
Environmentalists point to a rupture two years ago of an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan and say Londoners should be alarmed because the pipeline here crosses under the Thames River just north of the city.
Oil from the oilsands is heavier and more corrosive than lighter crude, environmentalists say, a claim disputed by Enbridge. As for the pipeline break in Michigan, investigators haven’t determined a cause, the company says.
Environmentalists also argue Enbridge’s push to reverse the flow of oil near London is just the first step toward moving oil to the U.S. east coast, something they fear would speed extraction and oilsands production and further degrade the global environment.
In a conference call this month with media and analysts for the benefit of investors, Enbridge’s leaders said it might someday renew efforts to get oil to the east coast. Environmentalists have asked the energy board to consider the broader effect of moving oil across Canada and in the U.S., but the board has repeatedly refused to do so, most recently Friday.
That’s frustrated environmentalists convinced Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives want to make Canada a petrostate — more than 40,000 have written the energy board, many from south of the border.
But Enbridge says current market conditions don’t support moving the oil to the U.S. east coast.
Enbridge last week said it would also apply to reverse oil flow as far east as Montreal. The energy board won’t give a thumbs-up or down on Enbridge’s proposal but will decide on the breadth of the environmental review, said Albert Koehl, a lawyer with Ecojustice representing environmental groups at next week’s hearing.
Native groups unhappy with pipeline reversal plan
LONDON, ONT.—The impacts of reversing the flow of an Enbridge oil pipeline between Sarnia and Hamilton are “minimal and manageable,” the company’s lawyer told a National Energy Board hearing Wednesday.
But aboriginal groups disagreed – both inside and outside the hearings at a London hotel.
Traditionalist members of the Six Nations reserve near Brantford forced the hearings to adjourn for several hours just as they got going Wednesday morning, as they complained the hearings were illegitimate and undemocratic.
Once the hearings had resumed in the afternoon, Chief Christopher Plain of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia complained that his members “have not been consulted in a meaningful way” in the energy board process.
Enbridge wants to reverse the flow of crude oil in its pipeline. It now flows westward to refineries in Sarnia, after being imported by tanker into Montreal.
Enbridge wants to reverse the flow eastward, bringing crude oil from western Canada eastward to the Westover terminal near Hamilton.
It says Imperial Oil wants the oil for its refinery in Nanticoke.
While the hearings only deal with the Sarnia-Hamilton portion of the pipeline, Enbridge said last week that it would like to reverse the pipeline for its entire length, all the way to Montreal.
It also said the line might carry heavy crude – which could include oil sands crude – as well as light crude from traditional oil fields.
Critics of the project have said that oil sands crude is more corrosive than light crude, and increases the risks of spills and breaks. Oil sands crude it also harder to clean up.
But Enbridge lawyer Douglas Crowther insisted that’s not the case, calling those statements “ill informed and unsubstantiated.”
He also denied that the project is part of a plan to bring oil sands crude to east coast ports, and send it to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
Rather, he said, the plan is to supply eastern Canada with western Canadian oil instead of imported oil.
That boosts Canadian energy security, he argued. It also gives western oil producers access to a market with higher prices than they are currently receiving.
The Six Nations traditionalists didn’t wait to hear Crowther.
Before the hearings could get past the preliminaries, they and their supporters were on their feet chanting objections to the process, and arguing that they had been cut out of meaningful consultations.
The energy board panel beat a retreat out of a back door, leaving the room to the protestors until police cleared it a few minutes later.
A protestor who had led the chants was taken in custody, and released without criminal charges.
About two hours later the board reconvened, permitting only registered participants and accredited journalists into the hearing room.
After a lengthy discussion about whether other members of the public should be allowed in if they promised to behave, the panel discovered the question was moot: Spectators who hadn’t been allowed into the room had given up and left.
Chief Plain told the hearing that he’s worried the pipeline reversal will carry new, more harmful oil to storage and treatment facilities near his community of 2,500.
They’re already living in Sarnia’s “chemical valley” with dozens of industrial facilities polluting the air and water, Plain said.
His people already suffer from high rates of cancer, asthma, and skin diseases he said, while women have high rates of miscarriages and stillbirths.
His community hasn’t been consulted “in a meaningful way,” about the pipeline reversal Plain said, arguing that the energy board’s process is more concerned with efficiency than thoroughness.
The hearings are scheduled to run through Friday.