pipelineLate this morning a group of protesters halted traffic on Highway Six to call attention to the pending reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 oil pipeline. Choosing the spot where Line 9 passes under the road (around 7th Concession), they unfurled a fake oil, spill and backed up traffic “for miles”. At least six OPP cruisers were reported at the scene, though so far no arrests/tickets have been reported.

The brief blockade, intended to last 90 minutes for the 90+ “significant” spills Enbridge averages each year, came out of a collaborative effort of Hamilton, Guelph, K-W and Six Nations activists. Hwy 6 was chosen as one of the region’s busiest roads as well as for its proximity to the pipeline’s Westover terminal. Along with signs, a fake pipeline and mock oil spill, they brought muffins to pass out to drivers as an apology for the inconvenience. All reports (so far) suggest high spirits, great weather and no real trouble.

Line 9, a 38-year-old oil pipeline runs from Montreal to Windsor, following roughly parallel to highway 401. Envridge is currently seeking permission to reverse the flows as a part of wider plans to find new export routes for Tar Sands oil. In Hamilton it runs through the Beverly Swamp – the region’s largest watershed – before entering the densely populated Greater Toronto Area. Thanks to Harper’s campaign of environmental deregulation it’s overseen only by the National Energy Board. The NEB has now come under fire due to the new, long and convoluted application process for citizens participation, which few managed to finish by the deadline. Even Hamilton’s City Council voiced concerns, though their request for a full environmental assessment has since been rejected by Minister Kent (ironic, eh?).

Today’s action represents the beginning of a third front of direct actions against the Tar Sands and associated pipelines, joining the Unis’tot’en in British Columbia (Gateway) and Tar Sands Blockaders across multiple states (Keystone XL). Unlike those proposals, though, the “eastern route” re-purposes existing pipes, meaning there’s few if any construction sites to block. With only months left before hearings and “integrity digs” finish, time to prevent the pumping of bitumen through our region is rapidly running out, prompting opponents to ‘step up their game’ and start looking for other options. Line 9 crosses hundreds of other major roads along its route, all offering their own opportunities to draw attention and cause disruption. What’s so brilliant about this tactic, of course, isn’t that it creates chaos but that it doesn’t need to create much – every time any one of these crossings sees a blockade, it calls attention to every other one and the risk that soon enough people in real HAZMAT suits might be blocking traffic to clean up a real spill.

Postscript: Since Posting this, I’ve done a lot of driving, including going to Guelph and back along this very stretch of Highway 6. Heading out, I spent forty minutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic trying to find a detour after a garbage truck ended up on its side on the 401. Heading back much later I saw nary a car until running into a full-blown roadblock, this time for another truck crash (involving several cars and a fertilizer truck), prompting another adventure down sideroads. For all those angry about blocked roads, I hope this gives a little context regarding how often major traffic disruptions take place.

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