Several hundred students, citizens, and environmental activists gathered last Saturday to find ways of preventing the reversal of a pipeline that could carry Alberta oil into the province of Quebec.
Climate Justice Montreal hosted the day-long community forum at Concordia, which included workshops, panel discussions, and brainstorming sessions, among other activities.
Free to the public, the event attracted a wide-ranging crowd, from eco-conscious CEGEP students to members of the Montreal Raging Grannies.
The attendees discussed the Athabasca tar sands, a collection of oil deposits near Fort McMurray, Alberta, which the Environmental Defence organization has called the most destructive project on earth.
The forum revolved around Line 9, a pipeline that would transport oil from Sarnia, Ontario to Montreal. According to Shona Watt, a professor at Champlain College who attended the forum, the pipeline would complete a series of pipelines flowing eastward from Alberta, giving the crude oil from the tar sands an uninterrupted path to the eastern provinces.
Line 9 was built in 1975 to carry oil eastbound to Quebec, but the flow was reversed in the late 1990s in order to carry imported oil westward. Enbridge Inc., a Canadian energy company, is proposing that the flow be reversed again, to bring Alberta oil to the Quebec market. The company argues that because the pipeline already exists, there will be minimal impact to the environment as a result of the flow switch.
In 2008, Enbridge tried to reverse Line 9 back to its eastbound route as part of their Trailbreaker project. It halted its plans in 2009 due to sub-par economic conditions, and after several years of trying to revive the project, claimed, “the scope and objective of Trailbreaker, as previously contemplated, is no longer being pursued.”
But Watt and other attendees said that the company has broken the project up into smaller pieces in order to get regulatory approval more quickly. Line 9 is one link in the pipeline which carries crude from Alberta to Quebec.
According to Watt, because oil coming from the tar sands is more viscous and corrosive than the kind currently flowing through Line 9, it is more likely to cause pipe cracks, which could lead to dangerous spills.
In addition, Enbridge plans to increase the capacity of oil being pumped from 240,000 barrels a day to 300,000 barrels per day.
Environmental activists say spills, such as the one in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2010, which also occurred on an Enbridge pipe, cause massive damages to surrounding land and communities. If oil spills out of a pipeline, it sinks into the earth and can often go unnoticed. But Watt pointed out that residents near the Kalamazoo River experienced headaches, nausea, and breathing problems as a result of the leak.
Watt became involved with Climate Justice Montreal after discovering that part of Line 9 is located a little over three miles away from her family cottage.
“It’s something that strikes really close to home for me,” she told The Daily. “It just [seems] that if something happened, I’d be able to see it.”
One pair of students also advocated encouraging universities to divest endowment funds away from big oil companies.
“The university is a kind of beacon for what we want society to look like,” said workshop facilitator and McGill student Lily Schwarzbaum. “We’re creating these centres where people can generate a kind of future that is based on passage of knowledge. The endowment, in a sense, should reflect that.”
Divest McGill plans to present a petition within the next two weeks to McGill’s Board of Governors, specifically, under the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social responsibility (CAMSR).
Vanessa Gray, a youth activist from Aamjiwnaang, a First Nations community in Sarnia, Ontario also made a call against the project.
Having grown up on a reserve beside refineries, Gray explained that even though oil projects may not take place on Native land, they still affect nearby communities by polluting the environment. She has lost many family members to cancer and most of the kids she grew up with use inhalers.
“I’m not afraid to say that I feel this is wrong,” she said at the event. “It’s not whether a company will release something, it’s when.”
Gray mentioned that the Idle No More movement has empowered her community to come together for the first time against many of the issues – such as pollution and the environment – affecting life on their reserve.
At the end of the day people broke out into smaller working groups and brainstormed ways to resist Line 9. Most agreed that a priority should be increasing awareness for the cause and attracting more members.
Gaby Rimok, a student at CEGEP John Abbott College, attended the forum with classmates from the environmental club at her school.
“I think we can all work together. All the people here have the same goals, so if we all show up the next time, then it could work!” she said.