TORONTO — Canada's National Energy Board approved Thursday a plan by Enbridge to reverse the flow of a pipeline that would allow for Western Canadian oil to be transported to Eastern Canada.
The board's decision allows Enbridge to move 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Sarnia, Ontario, to Montreal.
Line 9 originally shuttled oil from Sarnia to Montreal, but was reversed in the late '90s in response to market conditions to pump imported crude westward. Enbridge now wants to flow oil back eastward to service refineries in Ontario and Quebec.
The capacity of the line will also increase to 300,000 barrels a day from 240,000 barrels.
"The board's decision enables Enbridge to react to market forces and provide benefits to Canadians, while at the same time implementing the project in a safe and environmentally sensitive manner," the NEB said in a statement.
Canadian Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver applauded the decision because it will allow Western Canadian crude to flow east to two refineries in Quebec. "This will protect high-quality, skilled jobs in Quebec and create market opportunities for Western Canada's oil producers," Oliver said in a statement.
Opponents argued the plan — which involves transporting a heavier form of crude — puts communities at risk, threatens water supplies and could endanger vulnerable species in ecologically sensitive areas. They pointed to an Enbridge spill in Michigan, which leaked 20,000 barrels of crude into the Kalamazoo River in 2010.
Pipelines like Line 9 and the more controversial proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas are critical to Canada, which needs more infrastructure to export its growing oil sands production. Alberta has the world's third largest oil reserves, with 170 billion barrels of proven reserves. Daily production of 1.8 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to increase to 5.2 million barrels in 2030, which the oil industry sees as a pressing reason to build the pipelines.
Critics, however, dislike the whole concept of tapping the oil sands, saying it requires huge amounts of energy and water, increases greenhouse gas emissions and threatens rivers and forests.
The NEB decision was being watched by environmentalists in Maine, who feared that reversal of another pipeline between Portland and Montreal could bring the oil into Maine. There are no current plans to seek to reverse the 236-mile Portland Pipe Line, company officials said, but environmentalists remain worried that the company will try to do it. The Portland-to-Quebec pipeline currently delivers crude oil to a refinery in Montreal.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker toured Enbridge's facilities in Superior for the first time Thursday. He says he's impressed by safety precautions at the Superior facilities, where Enbridge can store nearly 14 million barrels of oil in 64 tanks.
Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge is planning to build or expand three crude oil pipelines from North Dakota and Canada to Superior. a ``tremendous opportunity.''
Walker says the pipeline projects are "the right fit"' and would help provide for energy independence in North America.
Environmentalists are fighting Enbridge's plans, saying they will contribute to climate change by carrying more of Alberta's tar sands oil to U.S. refineries.