A third shutdown of an Enbridge pipeline

Activists locked to Line 9 pipeline Dec 21 Photo credit: The Indignants – Mike Roy

Early yesterday morning, someone shut down Enbridge’s Line 7 oil pipeline near Cambridge Ontario by activating a shutoff valve. This is the third time in less than a month that an Enbridge pipeline was turned off- but the first time that it was done anonymously.

On December 7th, activists in Quebec closed a valve on Line 9 and locked themselves to the equipment putting the controversial pipeline out of service for most of the day and resulting in three arrests.

Then, on Dec. 21, at about 7:30 in the morning, three land defenders – Vanessa Gray, Sarah Scanlon and Stone Stewart entered a fenced-off Line 9 valve site east of Sarnia and turned a manual valve wheel to shut down the 300,000 barrel per day pipeline.

They telephoned Enbridge just before the action took place (the company's emergency contact number is 1-877-420-8800), then Gray, Scanlon and Stewart used bike locks to fasten themselves to the valve wheel. They were charged with trespassing and mischief over $5,000 and mischief endangering life (the maximum sentence for the latter charge is life in prison).

The Canadian Press reports, "[Enbridge] spokesman Graham White says the line was shut down remotely from Enbridge’s control centre as a safety precaution shortly after the protest began." And Vice News notes, "Although Line 9 is running below capacity in its first year of operation (as a safety precaution), manually closing a valve is not a no-risk maneuver. The buildup of pressure can cause problems including, in worst cases, a spill. However, engineers do tests to make sure pipelines can handle valve closures, as it is not an altogether uncommon occurrence."

Providing context for their action, Gray, a member of Aamjiwnaang First Nation, said, "I defend the land and water because it is sacred. I have the right to defend anything that threatens my traditions and culture." Scanlon added, "The Crown is failing in their obligation to consult with First Nations about pipelines. As settlers it's our responsibility to respect Indigenous land rights and support those protecting the land and water on the frontlines."

The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation is attempting to challenge in the Supreme Court of Canada the government's failure to consult First Nations along the pipeline route. The Chiefs of Ontario, representing 133 First Nations in Ontario, is supporting the Chippewas of the Thames in this legal battle.

By the evening of the action, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow stated, "The charge of 'mischief endangering life' brought against three activists for shutting down Enbridge’s Line 9 oil pipeline is a blatant abuse of power by the authorities intended to intimidate communities that have fought against that pipeline for years. They have legitimate grievances and concerns about the process that allowed [this pipeline]. ...The extreme criminal charge against them is clearly an attempt to prevent other people from engaging in similar acts of non-violent civil disobedience. It is completely antithetical to a free and democratic society and the charge should be dropped immediately."

In addition, the Council of Canadians London, Montreal and Peterborough-Kawarthas chapters all signed a 'Solidarity with Enbridge Line 9 Resisters' statement that highlighted, "We assert that all those who are concerned about the safety and well-being about the land, water and life, have the right to defend our communities from this disastrous project, whose consequences can already be felt in our daily lives. When people decide to undertake such actions at the risk of being criminalized, it is only because a serious situation demands a serious response. Protecting Mother Earth is not a crime, it is a responsibility."

And the Sarnia Observer reported, "Roberta Cory, co-chairperson of the Council of Canadians chapter in London, said she supports the protests. 'The risk of having that pipeline there at all is huge', and not just for landowners along the route, she said. Cory said the risk includes a pipeline break that could result in oil from Line 9 reaching the groundwater, as well as waterways along its route. She said she's hopeful the Chippewas of the Thames court action will be successful, and that the pipeline will be shut down and decommissioned. Cory called the protests 'an action of freedom of speech' coming after opponents of the pipeline reversal tried every available means of accessing the government approval system."

Council of Canadians chapters in London, Hamilton, Guelph, Peel, Toronto, Peterborough and Northumberland have also taken direct action against the reversal of Line 9.

A pipeline safety expert with over forty years of experience in the energy sector, Richard Kuprewicz, has stated that the probability of Line 9 rupturing is over 90% in the first five years of operation. This is due to the large number of fractures in the aging pipeline and the fact that Line 9 will carry various different kinds of crude- including diluted bitumen- which adds additional stresses to the pipeline.

The Council of Canadians has grave concerns about the likelihood of Line 9 rupturing and the consequences of a diluted bitumen spill in the heart of the Great Lakes region. In July 2010, Enbridge’s Line 6 in Michigan ruptured, spilling millions of litres of diluted bitumen from the tar sands into the Kalamazoo River system.  After five years and more than $1.5 billion dollars in cleanup costs, the river is still significantly polluted and Enbridge argues that further cleanup will do more harm than good- essentially admitting that tar sands oil cannot be effectively cleaned up in the case of a spill. 

For further updates, you can check out the Facebook page The People versus Enbridge Line 9.

Click here for a report on other evidence presented to the NEB against the Line 9 proposal