Toronto Star
January 30, 2014
John Spears

Enbridge gets go-ahead for $685-million GTA pipeline

Ontario Energy Board tells Enbridge it can proceed with huge expansion of line to run mostly along Highway 407 corridor

Enbridge Gas Distribution has been given clearance to go ahead with a $686.5-million pipeline expansion project in Greater Toronto.

And Union Gas has been granted approval to proceed with another $423 million of projects in the GTA that will help it move gas to customers in eastern Ontario, and improve reliability on its system.

The Ontario Energy Board released the decision Thursday.

Construction is expected to begin in late 2014 and finish in October 2015.

The decision was greeted with disappointment by green groups, who had argued that better energy conservation measures could eliminate the need for the projects.

They also objected that the expansion will let more shale gas flow into Ontario.

Most of the new pipe — which Enbridge says is needed to serve growing customer demand — will be laid along the Highway 407 corridor.

Enbridge had said that the upgrade is needed because its system in the GTA has not had a major expansion since 1992.

“Like adding lanes to Highway 401, we are adding pipe to our distribution system to meet the increased natural gas transportation requirements of our customers,” the company explained on its website.

If the project didn’t proceed, Enbridge warned that a crucial distribution station inToronto’s Port Lands, serving the city core, could run short of gas as soon as the winter of 2015-2016.

In a worst-case scenario, it warned, 270,000 customers might run out of gas.

Reliability isn’t the only factor, Enbridge’s Malini Giridhar said in an interview.

“It also allows us to source lower cost supply,” she said. “This project can also be leveraged for the rest of Ontario and Quebec to have access to these supplies.”

The board accepted the broad objectives of the projects.

“The board finds that the evidence supports the need for the GTA Project and that no superior alternative has been identified,” it said.

A coalition of environmental groups and the Council of Canadians opposed the projects.

One objection is that some of the new supply that the lines will tap is gas from the Marcellus shale deposit in the U.S. It’s extracted by fracking, which has been blamed for polluting groundwater and releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The Council of Canadians said that was a good reason to turn down the project, but the board didn’t accept that argument.

“There are currently no regulations in Ontario or at the Canadian federal level which prohibit shale gas production or transportation,” it said.

Shale gas being produced in the U.S. meets all existing environmental standards in that country as well, it said.

“There is therefore no public policy or regulation governing shale gas production which could form a basis upon which the Board could reasonably deny the application,” it said.

Other opponents said that curbing demand is a better solution than spending heavily to expand the existing pipeline system.

Environmental Defence submitted a brief arguing that all the projected growth in demand in the GTA could be offset and over-all demand could even be reduced, with proper conservation and demand management measures.

The board found that Enbridge’s examination of curbing demand was “cursory at best,” and in fact staff with expertise in curbing demand hadn’t been invited to important planning meetings. But the board said Enbridge had worked within the existing rules.

Jack Gibbons of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, who opposed the project and attended the board’s hearings, called the decision “very disappointing.”

Conservation measures would not only have eliminated the need for the expensive pipeline, he said. They also would have allowed customers to reap significant savings in their natural gas bills.

But the board did say in its decision that going forward, when gas utilities propose expansions, it wants to consider ways that will take more account of conservation and methods of curbing demand.

Giridhar said Enbridge has been “very, very active” in conservation since the 1990s.

“The board’s finding indicates that in this instance it would not have been possible for conservation to achieve the capacity that was needed,” she said.

“But certainly Enbridge has always believed in conservation and we will continue to move our conservation program forward.”