A new road has appeared in the middle of a Sarnia cornfield on Mandaumin Road.
If you look hard, way back in the knee-deep stalks, you might just see construction workers digging into the rich earth.
They’re part of Enbridge Pipeline’s preventative maintenance plan for Lines 7, 8 and 9, which run from Sarnia to near Hamilton.
The plan has drawn fire from environmentalists and First Nations, and stopped some digs. But you won’t see protesters here.
One local group has protested the government’s decision to allow the reversal of Line 9, to carry oil from the tar sands to eastern Canadian refineries, but the maintenance work has drawn little attention.
Enbridge spokesman Ken Hall said that after a dented pipe broke spilling 3.3 billion litres of oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010, the CEO of Enbridge vowed it would never happen again and “opened the wallet” to make it so.
That decree led to increased inspections and development of new technology to detect even the smallest crevices in pipelines.
Hall said Enbridge-funded researchers developed new MRI technology to inspect the steel in Enbridge’s lines. Now, the company is using the data to check anything that might be a crack by conducting integrity digs.
Getting the necessary approvals can take six months, and compensation agreements must be signed with landowners to reach the pipelines, which were placed on an easement nearly 40 years ago.
Backhoes can do some work but the diggers must do things the old fashion way, gently with a shovel.
Documents filed with the National Energy Board show on Line 9 alone – the most controversial of the three –308 maintenance digs were done from last July to December.
The camera being sent through the pipeline detects even the smallest crack, and they’re all being dug up, Hall said.
“Good news was the dig on Line 9 … when we dig it up and look, we’re not finding anything,” says Hall. “What the tool is seeing is not a crack, it’s a scratch. There is nothing to fix. We recoat the pipe and we bury it up.”
Hall said “routine” integrity digs can cost $200,000. Complications or the need for an access road can push the bill to $500,000.
Enbridge spent $160 million in Ontario to maintain its lines in 2013 – including projects in Lambton County, Hall said.
“The public expectation is that Enbridge will be perfect,” Hall said. “No spill is tolerable to them, and no spill is tolerable to Enbridge.
Heather Wright is publisher and editor of The Independent in Petrolia