Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Securing Tar Sands Circulation: Risk, Affect, and Anticipating the Line 9 Reversal

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Securing Tar Sands Circulation: Risk, Affect, and Anticipating the Line 9 Reversal

Article excerpt

Abstract. "It's not a question of whether a spill happens--only when", rings an oft-repeated slogan of oil pipeline opponents in Eastern Canada. Meanwhile, pipeline proponents are adamant that Canada must either "pipe or perish". Through a case study of a controversial tar sands pipeline project (the Line 9 reversal), this paper examines the workings of risk in environmental politics. I explore the similar anticipatory logics that undergird both support for and opposition to the Line 9 reversal, and query the blurry lines between environmental precaution and security preemption. I ask what a preoccupation with emergent risks enables, and what possibilities it might foreclose. As securing the future necessarily raises the question, 'for whom?', I suggest that one troubling consequence of a preoccupation with security is the potential to overlook which lives and ways of being in the world might be neglected in the rush to secure others. The analysis draws on ethnographic interviews and observations to explore the (necro)biopolitical dimensions of pipeline debates, and asks how we might anticipate otherwise.

Keywords: pipelines, biopolitics, environment, security, anticipation, affect Introduction

Birds soaked in black goo; dead turtles on the riverbank; a kaleidoscopic sheen on the water; small children with skin rashes. These are just some of the frightening images that circulated in July 2010 after Line 6B--a pipeline owned by Canadian energy giant Enbridge--ruptured, spilling over one million gallons of diluted bitumen (dilbit) from the Alberta tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in Southwest Michigan. Three years later, across the border that separates Michigan from the Canadian province of Ontario, a motley crew of activists, municipal politicians, and landowners are deploying these same images to express concern about what might happen if another Enbridge pipeline that runs through Ontario is repurposed to begin carrying dilbit.

This anxiety has been spurred because Enbridge is seeking regulatory approval to reverse the flow of its Line 9--a pipeline that runs westwards from Montreal, Quebec to Sarnia, Ontario, passing through ninety-nine towns and cities and fourteen First Nations communities along the way (Paris, 2012). Line 9 has been carrying imported conventional oil for over a decade, but if the reversal is approved, the pipeline will carry dilbit eastwards. This change in the pipeline's contents is alarming for environmentalists because dilbit production is extremely energy intensive, and some suggest that dilbit pipelines are particularly prone to rupture (Swift et al, 2011). Moreover, dilbit spills are more difficult to respond to than releases of conventional oil. At room temperature, bitumen is thick and heavy, about the consistency of peanut butter. In order to flow through pipelines, it must be diluted with a mixture of volatile chemicals (the diluent). As response agencies learned in the aftermath of the Kalamazoo River incident, dilbit behaves differently than conventional oil when spilled. Most of the diluents will evaporate, exposing surrounding communities to intense airborne fumes, while the heavier bitumen will sink into water or soil. This makes for a very challenging cleanup process.

Public opposition to the transportation of dilbit to Eastern Canada is mounting, and is propelled by increased attention to the rate of pipeline spills, which has tripled since 2000 (Hildebrandt, 2013).(l) However, the Canadian government is adamant that the expansion of pipeline networks is necessary in order to maintain economic and energy security. It argues that the Line 9 reversal "would make the country much less vulnerable to a supply disruption, particularly those resulting from geopolitical events" (NRCAN, 2008, page 54). Moreover, as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) explains, the "current lack of global market access [to transport tar sands] costs the Canadian economy approximately $40 million/day" in forgone economic activity (2013, page 17). …

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