Energy East pipeline debate comes to Ontario and Quebec

Oil pipeline sections stacked outside Morden, Manitoba. Photo: Loozrboy, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Oil pipeline sections stacked outside Morden, Manitoba. Photo: Loozrboy, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Newshounds, the business sector and environmentalists already know many of the arguments swirling around the Keystone XL pipeline project.

Critics call development of Canada’s oil patch (sometimes called tar sands) an environmental nightmare that could be “game over” for the planet. There are so many opposition sites it’s hard to pick just one, but here’s an example from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Meanwhile, supporters call it a “no-brainer”, a fantastic source of ethical oil, jobs and economic growth. TransCanada explains their perspective here.

Some of the debate has turned decidely snarky.

Paraphrased, parts of it sound like this: “Canada, a piddling second-string nation like you is not allowed to mess up our planet. We wiser types, in a more important country, say so. And that’s that.”

To which some supporters in Canada seem to retort: “America, you will buy this oil – if you know what’s good for you. Because if you don’t we’re still gonna dig it up, ship it out and sell it. Maybe to China, maybe to ourselves. We’ll figure it out. Because that energy resource will be developed. So there.”

The jury is still out on XL approval in the U.S. Which means another proposal to make sure the oil goes somewhere is getting serious funding and attention within Canada: the Energy East Pipeline.

Quoting from the TransCanada website for that project:

Called the Energy East Pipeline, the 4,500-kilometre pipeline will carry 1.1-million barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada.

Currently, the project has the following major components:

  • Converting an existing natural gas pipeline to an oil transportation pipeline
  • Constructing new pipelines in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Eastern Ontario, Québec and New Brunswick to link up with the converted pipe
  • Constructing the associated facilities, pump stations and tank terminals required to move crude oil from Alberta to Québec and New Brunswick, including marine facilities that enable access to other markets by ship

While the exact route will only be determined after public and regulatory review, the planned starting point is a new tank terminal in Hardisty, Alta. Three other new terminals will be built along the pipeline’s route: One in Saskatchewan, one in the Québec City area and another in the Saint John, N.B., area. The terminals in the Québec City and Saint John areas will include facilities for marine tanker loading. The project will also deliver oil to existing Québec refineries in Montréal, near Québec City and in Saint-John. New pipeline will be built in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Eastern Ontario, Québec and New Brunswick.

Got that? There’s no need for a massive new pipeline – always an expensive and contentious undertaking. No, this can mostly be done by converting an existing 55 year-old natural gas pipeline to carry oil-sands oil.

That existing pipeline runs smack through parts of greater Ottawa as it crosses Ontario. So what was a serious not-in-my-back-yard issue for land owners and water users in the American mid-west is now a virtually identical NIMBY issue for Canadians just like me. (Yes, certainly, many do care about these issues as larger concerns. But it seems to me some of the most determined and powerful push-back does come from those who stand to be directly affected.)

This past week an informational postcard from TransCanada showed up in my mailbox. It directed anyone with interest or concerns to their website, or to an open house coming to our area soon.

Well, we did visit the website. We don’t watch much TV anymore, so we even played one of the very professional TransCanada video ads, hosted on YouTube.

That was … interesting. I think companies like TransCanada might want to reconsider hosting video on YouTube. Because once the TransCanada spot was done, YouTube offered up a slew of related videos. I didn’t watch them all, but I had fun exploring several. Most of them really do not like this proposal! Here’s one that suggests ways to co-opt the open houses sponsored by TransCanada.

Some of these TransCanada open houses are happening now, as with one held in North Grenville on October 2nd. The Ottawa Citizen reports turn out was about 150 people over the 4-hour event. Organized opposition was there too, from members of a group called Sustainable North Grenville, including Ian Angus:

The group’s main concern, said Angus, is the safety of the area’s drinking water should the oil-filled pipeline leak. Seventy per cent of homes in North Grenville have private wells that get their water from the Oxford aquifer, a shallow permeable rock body. The aquifer, said Angus, was rated highly vulnerable to pollution in a study done by the government after the Walkerton tragedy in May 2000; should a spill occur, North Grenville’s drinking water could be at risk.

“The reason is that in this area the soil’s pretty thin. You know whenever you see pictures from after an oil spill they’re always cleaning up the soil? That’s because soil’s a really good filter. It absorbs like crazy. We don’t have much around here, so (the oil) could get down to the rock layer below that. That rock layer, in this area, is very permeable, lots of holes and cracks in it. Stuff that’s on the surface can easily get down in the aquifer if you’re not careful,” said Angus.

These are preliminary skirmishes. Formal application for the project has yet to be made to Canada’s National Energy Board, and that may be delayed until 2014.

But this issue is now “local” for many in Ontario and Quebec, with all the trade-offs that come with pipeline projects anywhere: we need and use energy – while fearing negative environmental impacts.

A familiar fight about land, water and energy that was taking place somewhere “over there” is now very much right here.

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1 Comment on “Energy East pipeline debate comes to Ontario and Quebec”

  1. Kent Gregson says:

    Life support on this planet is more important than the presence or absence of money. Petroleum is not the way forward. Though we do use and need energy we should remember that the greatest supply of energy worldwide is conservation, not oil, coal, nuclear, wind, water or solar. We are wasting 90% or so of the energy we consume. That is where we should be drilling.

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