The viral video of Canadian tar sands oil running through a residential neighbourhood in Arkansas has shows the threat of Line 9 and the need to shut down the tar sands.
ExxonMobil reversed the flow through its Pegasus pipeline in 2006 to pump tar sands bitumen from Illinois to Texas, and then increased the flow in 2009. On March 29 the pipeline burst, sending over 300,000 litres of toxic tar sands bitumen through a local neighbourhood in Mayflower, Arkansas—causing an evacuation.
This is the latest in an unending series of spills. Between 1999 and 2010 there were 804 spills from Enbridge pipelines alone, including the mass contamination of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010. Last year a leaking pipeline spilled 1000 barrels into a Wisconsin field, and last week a train derailed and spilled 15,000 gallons of Canadian tar sands oil in Minnesota. Meanwhile Suncor, which didn’t even bother reporting a three day spill into Alberta’s Athabasca River in 2010, had another spill just last week—spilling another 2200 barrels of toxic tar sands.
According to Mayflower resident Warren Andrews, “I didn’t even know the oil pipeline was there” until his wife saw the spill. “She called me and said ‘Honey, something’s wrong.’ I came out and smelled it. Then I saw it coming down the street.”
This could be the experience in Toronto if Enbridge is allowed to reverse the flow of Line 9 in order to pump tar sands bitumen from Sarnia to Montreal. Line 9 avoids going through Bay Street or the wealthy neighourhoods of Rosedale or Forrest Hill, but it passes right through poor and racialized communities like Jane and Finch.
Even without a major spill, tar sands are built on environmental racism. As Eriel Deranger, a band member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), wrote, “Tar sands have been widely recognized as one of the most destructive projects on earth because of the serious impacts on treaty and aboriginal rights, ecological destruction and global green house gas emissions (GHG).” Domestic refining also contaminates indigenous land like the Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia.
That’s why it is nonsensical to propose domestic refining of tar sands, or sending bitumen east rather than west—as the NDP’s leader Thomas Mulcair has done. Millions voted for the NDP to provide a real alternative to Harper's petro-state, and the Official Opposition have the potential of acting as a megaphone for the movements. Tar sands and pipelines violate indigenous sovereignty, destroy the planet, and waste resources that could be spent on the green jobs urgently needed to transition away from the oil economy. Trade unionists mobilized for last year’s indigenous-led sit-in in Victoria against pipelines, and the Hamilton labour council recently passed a motion against Line 9. Stopping Line 9 would not only prevent an oil spill in Toronto, but could be part of a broader movement for indigenous sovereignty and good green jobs for all.
To learn more about Line 9 and how to help stop it, join community forums in Toronto's east end (Sunday April 7, 2pm at East York Civic Centre, 850 Coxwell) and west end (Monday April 8, 7pm at Davenport Perth Community Centre, 1900 Davenport)--both events featuring guest speaker Ron Plain from Aamjiwnaang First Nation.