Research by CTV W5 has uncovered that Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline has almost had a spill a year over the course of its history, some small but some as large as thousands of litres.

When W5 began our research the National Energy Board, responsible for regulating the pipeline, said it only knew of seven spills along the pipeline over the course of its lifetime and Enbridge, the pipeline operator, claimed that there have been 13.

Information obtained by W5 has found the line has had a total of 35 spills, about five times as many as disclosed by the regulator.

The pipeline runs through some of the most populated areas of the country. It has drawn attention recently since Enbridge applied to reverse its flow, increase its capacity and start shipping different types of crude through it, including diluted bitumen.

Data collected from the National Energy Board, the Ontario government (The Quebec government refused to release this information) and the company itself show that the amount of spills reported can vary widely depending on who you ask. This raises questions about how much the federal regulator, municipalities and the public know about the pipeline leading up to an upcoming decision on the reversal, which, according to Enbridge, will be made in March. The National Energy Board told W5 that they believe they have a clear idea of what is happening with Line 9.

W5 called the municipalities where these spills occurred and the majority of them were not aware of the incidents. The Mayor of Sarnia, Mike Bradley, where thousands of litres of product have been released at a terminal, said he wasn’t informed of any incidents and said regardless of the fact that they were on Enbridge property he thought the city should be informed.

“If you want to have a good relationship with your community, and you want to get rid of the distrust that is out there for the pipeline industry, you disclose everything,” said Bradley.

The National Energy Board told W5 that they only record an incident when the volume of the spill is over 1,500 litres, the amount of roughly 25 tanks of gas on a small car or 7.5 bathtubs full. When W5 revealed our findings to the regulator their response was: “I guess I would have to look at what you’ve got and validate it, make sure that we’re not missing anything,” said Patrick Smyth, Business Leader of Operations for the National Energy Board.

After this story was first published, Enbridge spokesperson Graham White sent an e-mail to W5 saying that the pipeline company has reported all incidents along Line 9 and insisting that incidents inside facilities could not be considered spills along the pipeline.

"There are differences between spills at facilities and spills along the mainline, which is why they are reported to different regulators, or some regulators in common," wrote White.

It is a distinction neither the National Energy Board nor Ontario's Ministry of Environment made. When asked about all releases for Enbridge's Line 9, the NEB and MOE provided W5 with information about spills along both mainline (pipeline) and at Enbridge facilities.