A Pipeline in the Post – The Development of the Waterdown to Finch Pipeline

A reaction piece to the development of a new pipeline in the GTA, known as the Waterdown to Finch project.

I have lived in Mississauga, Ontario for over 10 years. I have seen it change over time, as any suburban dreamscape can—the construction for new commercial lots, housing development, all types of “progress” for a sub-rural paradise. But today, I received a notice in my mailbox about the replacement of a pipeline.

A well-known oil company, Imperial Oil, had its name in a bold white font at the top of the letter. The name of the project was Waterdown to Finch and it gave a detailed, yet brief, account of the replacement of an existing pipeline (Sarnia Products Pipelines) in six municipalities within the GTA; Toronto, Mississauga, Milton, Oakville, Burlington, and Hamilton. And of course, the project predicted the impact of removing “some” vegetation and trees.

Source: Imperial Oil

Had I been anyone else, but a writer for Alternatives Journal or an environmental activist, I am sure I would have turned a blind eye. Predictably, I took the notice to my writing nook and started my research immediately. I had two main questions to answer:

  1. How did the replacement of a pipeline that spanned over 60 kilometers and five jurisdictions not catch my attention when it was first being proposed in 2018?
  2. What information existed about the environmental repercussions of such a development?

The first question had more to do with how “big oil” and general construction groups actually receive permission to develop on municipal land. The process is relatively simple if done correctly and discreetly. In Canada, oil companies have to follow the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act. The legislation suggests that proper operating licenses and permits to developing near or on natural spaces (as regulated by a conservation authority) must be acquired prior to construction.  Additionally, the developer also has to notify the Ontario Energy Board for the construction and (if applicable) comply with the Navigable Waters Act. Imperial and the Waterdown to Finch Project received regulatory approval from the Ontario Energy Board in March 2020.

After receiving confirmation and required approvals from federal, provincial, and environmental authorities the company must then start a consultation process with residents in the development area (i.e. the people near the pipeline). 

The consultation process could be done in any manner deemed appropriate by the head developer. In the case of this project, two community information sessions were conducted in each municipality and two separate online sessions were conducted in 2018. The company did not release the results of these sessions to the public nor did they continue such consultations in the future. And many people, me and my neighbours included, only found out about this pipeline replacement from our post box three years later. At that point there was nothing we could do; it was just a decision that had been made and not a discussion to be had.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with this consultation process from a legal standpoint, however, it is socially dubious. A fair process would include multiple sessions to contact community members prior to construction. Even if Imperial Oil has promised to continue the engagement with residents in the development area, this now only pertains to present construction activities. In short, our hands are tied, but our eyes are definitely not covered.

In Imperial’s environmental report on this project, the line would likely affect the following directly: numerous wetland crossings or watercourses, significant woodlands and wildlife habitat, animal movement corridors, and species at risk. The company has yet to release the results of environmental surveys on the aforementioned affected groups, so currently, the true impact of such a development remains unknown. They have mentioned in this report that “Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA)” would be protected from the development and remediation/mitigation would occur if damage were done in construction. An example of this could be the planting of new trees and vegetation if these entities are impacted. However, there is always a considerable risk when working with ecologically sensitive areas and often remediation only aids certain species in a geographical area and not the whole ecosystem that was disrupted. Nature is illogical and random, but complex overall and people may try to replicate natural systems, however, often do so insufficiently.

So, what is the point of me describing to you the construction of yet another pipeline, of seemingly hundreds being developed currently in North America, and its impact? Well, firstly if you were in the GTA area and wanted to be involved as a concerned citizen with this project that seemingly appeared out of nowhere, perhaps this article will alert you to monitoring its development—I have provided the contacts for Imperial’s consultation team below and I urge you to ask them any questions you have about the implications of this development, I know I will.

Although, my true reason for this article was more selfish. I received news of something that would affect my hometown and its nature, in a simply worded letter. Something as big as a 63km pipeline shortened down to a few words and delivered through post. I knew I had to write something about it. If only to appeal and remind others:

Let’s stop running lines through the places we grew up in and let’s hold groups accountable when they try to. 

Contact Imperial Oil About the Waterdown to Finch Pipeline Project:

Imperial will also be hosting a virtual public information session for community members in Mississauga that are adjacent or nearby the Project footprint to share important information about the construction phase and answer questions. Keep on the lookout for this session!

Email: questions@imperialon.ca  or  Phone: +1 (416) 586-1915

Information about Project: https://www.imperialoil.ca/en-ca/Company/Waterdown-to-Finch

*This article has been edited on May 18, 2021, to reflect some information provided to us by Imperial Oil

Ishani Dasgupta is majoring in Environment, Resources, and Sustainability (ERS), while also pursuing a minor in English & Literature Studies, at the University of Waterloo. She is a dedicated environmental writer and has worked throughout the course of her career to write about the challenges faced by communities, natural spaces, and activists alike regarding the destruction of the natural environment–she is interested in exploring global inequities created by the current Anthropocene. In her free time, Ishani likes to make music, read, and go on nature walks. Ishani is taking on the role of an editorial intern for Alternatives Journal (A/J).