CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Five environmental groups are asking Canada's energy regulator to deny Enbridge Inc's request to reverse the flow in part of an oil pipeline, arguing that the company is trying to avoid a larger review for a bigger long-term project.
The Canadian and U.S. green groups said they believe Enbridge is looking to gradually advance its Trailbreaker project, which it proposed in 2008, by first asking the National Energy Board to reverse to flow of Line 9. The pipeline extends to Sarnia, Ontario, from Montreal.
The company asked the NEB earlier this month for permission to reverse the flow on a segment of the pipeline, which would result in Western Canadian oil moving to its Westover, Ontario, station from Sarnia.
It referred to the C$17 million ($17.2 million) proposal as Phase 1.
"Narrowly scoping a regulatory application in phases precludes the ability of the NEB to carry out its mandate to adequately assess the economic, technical and financial feasibility of the project and its environmental and socioeconomic impacts, many of which have cumulative dimensions," the groups said in a letter to the board.
"It also precludes the ability of the public and stakeholders to adequately assess the same issues and to participate meaningfully in the process."
The letter is signed by Environmental Defense, Pembina Institute, Equiterre, Vermont Natural Resources Council and Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Under Enbridge's Trailbreaker project, heavy crude from Western Canada would have been shipped on Line 9 and a reversed Portland-Montreal pipeline. At Portland, Maine, the crude would have been loaded onto tankers and shipped to U.S. refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
However, an Enbridge executive said in July that new plans call for shipping light oil from Western Canada to Eastern Canadian refineries, which currently buy much higher-priced imported oil.
The environmental groups also said the proposal involves a pipeline built in 1975, which used polyethylene tape as a coating. That was the same material used in Enbridge's Line 6B, which ruptured in Michigan last summer, they wrote.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Jones; editing by Rob Wilson)