Earth Day is celebrated around the world every year on April 22nd. For most, it’s a time to raise awareness about the health of our planet. For me, it’s about Advocacy & Remembrance.
This is my story …
I first heard about the proposed Enbridge Line 9 oil pipeline project at a climate conference in Ottawa, Canada in 2012.
The night I requested a Line 9 information package from Enbridge representatives at a public meeting – and was denied – was the night that I became an outspoken environmental advocate.
As a student of environmental politics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, I was interested to understand where the pipeline was located and what the local issues were. I finished class, jumped on a bus and then grabbed a taxi to the remote meeting location.
The meeting consisted of a brief presentation by Enbridge and then questions from Conservation Halton Board members. After the meeting, I approached the five or so company representatives in the lobby. Although attempting to be outgoing, I was still very much a soft-spoken introvert. My hands were shaking as I approached Enbridge and requested a copy of the extra info packages they held in their hands – which had just been provided to Conservation Halton Board members.
Although there were extra packages after the meeting, an Enbridge official denied my request and asked, “Who are you working for”? The Enbridge team then proceeded to ask myself and a fellow community member for our driver’s licenses and said they would mail a package. Something about the encounter just didn’t feel right and we walked away without the information.
The next day, I obtained a copy through a simple request to a personal contact on the Conservation Board. Hardly an “abrupt and confrontational approach” as described by Graham White of Enbridge in the January 2014 Toronto Star special report (who by the way I have never met and was not present at the meeting).
The events which unfolded that evening – tucked away in the Halton Hills – was a turning point. I went home that night with so many questions. Why was I being denied access to information at a public meeting? What were they trying to hide? Why didn’t they want me to know where the pipeline was?
So I took it upon myself to map Line 9. Throughout an unimaginable number of late nights in an already packed senior year of university, I compiled satellite images, integrity data and publicly available information to create detailed maps of the 639 km pipeline.
I did it because they said no.
I did it because I felt the need to inform the public.
If Enbridge wasn’t going to adequately inform and consult … who would?
I quickly discovered that Line 9 traveled straight through the small community where I grew up – Glenburnie, Ontario. I was shocked! The pipeline is also located directly behind Seneca College in Toronto where I attended for three years. I had literally been living beside the line my entire life … and didn’t even know it existed. All of a sudden, things became very personal. Having lived in these communities for over 20 years, I realized my family and friends also had no idea there was an oil pipeline running so close to our backyards.
I started a website with the intention to educate my childhood community. You can actually still see the original website at www.line9glenburnie.wordpress.com. However, within 5 minutes of its creation, I was already thinking much bigger. If my community didn’t know about the pipeline, how many other communities were in the dark? Line 9 Glenburnie rapidly developed into Line 9 Communities and gained instant attraction. The success of www.line9communities.com has been overwhelming! I poured my heart into writing factual articles about the project application and entire history of Line 9, but the main attraction was – and continues to be – the pipeline maps. Essentially people want to know, where is the pipeline and why don’t I know about it?
I contacted multiple City Counselors along the line and sat down over coffee with many to discuss the proposal. The lack of information provided to municipalities shocked me. I proceeded to canvass neighbourhoods along the line to poll residents and provide details about open houses and how to get involved.
I felt compelled to learn everything I could about the project and the responsibility to ensure others had the information as well.
To be honest, I could not be more grateful for the individuals at Enbridge – you know who you are – for denying a young, soft-spoken student access to public information. You gave me the motivation to dig for the answers and to connect with communities through the sharing of information.
My biggest supporter along the way was Eva Simkins – my Grandma.
Although diagnosed with cancer in 2009, two weeks of radiation treatments gave us the gift of four extremely memorable years. We traveled, talked politics, did puzzles, celebrated, smiled and laughed. Through it all though, I knew there was that big question in her mind. Why me?
I wondered the same thing.
Line 9 Communities was launched March 17th, 2013. By that time, it became very apparent that my Grandma was beginning to lose her courageous battle with cancer. She keenly followed my journey with enthusiasm, and supported my ambition to learn and teach others. By April 18th, she was hospitalized. She asked me what I was going to do about the pipeline. She didn’t agree with the secrecy and the lack of information around the Line 9 project. She pushed me to do more. On April 19th, I sat by her bed side and applied to be an Intervenor in the Canadian National Energy Board hearing on the project. Once the application was submitted, she said “Good! You’re going to get in!” At sunrise on April 22nd – Earth Day – she was gone.
People say things happen for a reason. I firmly believe that. As she peacefully took her last breath, she held my hand and repeated my name over and over. The following week, we held a small memorial at her final resting place – less than 600m from the pipeline. Exactly one month after her passing, I received a letter that I had been accepted as an Intervenor. My participation in the NEB Line 9 hearing became so much more. I was now working in her memory.
The Journey Continues
In my opinion, we accept the status quo far too often. At one of many Line 9 open houses, an Enbridge official told me, “If we say it’s safe, it’s safe”. But I must question the safety of this pipeline. At almost 40 years old and built to the engineering standards of 1971, why did the NEB approve the project? Enbridge cited over 1400 integrity digs (cracks, corrosion, dents) along the line in 2013/2014 alone! They also acknowledged that their in-line inspection tools do not detect all defects and that their Edmonton control center cannot sense pin hole leaks.
For now, the pipeline is flowing. However the Supreme Court of Canada announced last month that it will hear the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation’s case, which challenges the 2014 decision by the National Energy Board (NEB) to allow Enbridge to reverse the flow of Line 9. The community and legal counsel are now strongly considering a legal injunction which would immediately stop the flow of oil. More on that here. I’m very excited to see how this recent development unfolds!
Until then, Enbridge will continue to ship Bakken crude and diluted bitumen laced with drag reducing agent (DRA) chemicals – which include known carcinogens such as benzene – through our communities.
I often wonder … Why is cancer becoming so prevalent? What are we exposing ourselves to? Whose interest is being served? What is at stake? How healthy is our water, our land, our air? What kind of future will our decisions of today bring?
I have never had any malicious intent towards Enbridge. As a citizen of Canada and student of environmental politics, I have always been interested in energy issues, climate change, and a sustainable future for our planet. I believe in the strength of communities working together to achieve great things.
My mission through this entire process has been to raise awareness and promote a community discussion. We are living in a critical time. Will we continue to accept the status quo, or will we start asking the tough questions and demand a better future?
Rather than hiding behind a fake name and profile picture, I consciously chose to be upfront about who I was and what my intention would be. After all, I was a perfect example of the average concerned citizen. Better yet, I had no idea how the NEB process worked. I filed motions when they were just information requests and thought that the NEB participant funding program was there to provide an honorarium for my time. Needless to say, I received $0 but obtained a wealth of knowledge throughout the process! Although I strongly disagree with several actions taken by our federal government over the past few years, I did not let talk about the new “10 page application to participate” dissuade me from applying. I just sat down and did it.
When any individual speaks up for what they believe is right, they subject themselves to severe public scrutiny. This became very apparent when in the January 2014 Toronto Star report, Mr. White (Enbridge) labelled me as a “stringent opponent of the project and an activist”. Although I do not label myself as an “activist”, I do believe in having your voice heard about a social cause. And if by “stringent” Mr. White meant “not allowing for any exceptions or loosening of standards” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, then I wholeheartedly agree. Why would Mr. White expect anything less than communities along the line to demand Enbridge meet existing standards of operating a pipeline in Canada?
Through the summer of 2013, I was immersed in reading regulatory documents, submitting information requests to Enbridge, keeping up with media coverage and building the Line 9 Communities website. In October 2013, final oral arguments were given in Toronto, Ontario. As I wore my Grandma’s gold angel pin, I delivered what will always be one of the most powerful speeches of my life.
The final hearing was incredibly inspiring. There were so many groups standing united and highlighting the poor consultation and questionable safety of the project. First Nations, Métis, neighbourhood organizations, government and individual citizens brought their concerns to the NEB.
I continue to network with all the incredible people I’ve had the great privilege to meet along the way. One word could describe the whole journey – community. Enbridge Line 9 has re-connected me with my childhood community and the pipeline route has provided me a path to connect with other communities and hear their stories.
Reflecting on my journey, I have realized how much I have grown. I am no longer timid in approaching large players and asking the tough questions. I have a strong interest in encouraging active engagement in social and environmental causes. Through the support of others along the ride, I now personally understand what it means to be empowered. Moving forward, my goal is to take the valuable lessons learned over the past few years and use my experience to help encourage others to get involved and make a difference.
Environmental advocacy is important. One person can make a world of difference. It’s time to stand up and do your part.
Happy Earth Day 2016!