(Photo: Mike Fletcher is a volunteer with Ecology Ottawa. Along with other volunteers, he’s knocked on over 6,000 doors to talk to residents about the proposed Energy East pipeline.)
I FOUND OUT ABOUT THE PROPOSED ENERGY EAST PIPELINE TWO YEARS AGO, and after researching it, came to the conclusion that this project must be stopped.
My “get off the couch moment” saw me joining Ecology Ottawa and joining people in Stittsville and West Carleton to oppose the project that’s a complete no win for our community and our country.
Locally, this project involves the conversion of a 42-inch natural gas transmission line from natural gas service to the transport of oil and diluted bitumen. This line runs along the west side of Stittsville approximately two kilometres west of West Ridge road – this is upstream and upwind of Stittsville and sits squarely on the shallow and heavily used oxford aquifer.
Over two summers, with the help of other volunteers, I’ve knocked on about 6,000 doors, with our petition. The following are the four most common questions we hear on doorsteps as we talk with people, along with the answers we give.
THERE WERE PUBLIC HEARINGS QUITE A WHILE AGO, WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW?
The short answer project’s application for approval is stalled. The initial submission was delayed by additional public hearings and extra time that TransCanada seemed to take to get their 30,000-page application before the National Energy Board (NEB). From that point TransCanada encountered additional and arguably more serious problems.
The project’s proposal for a super tanker port on the Lower St-Laurence in beluga whale breeding grounds met with stiff opposition in Quebec from environmentalists and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard. TransCanada bowed to this pressure, but now face the problem of having an application that incorrectly includes a Quebec port which they no longer plan to construct. To make matters worse for them, the Ontario Energy Board weighed in and said that not withstanding the Quebec port issues, the NEB application was incomplete.
TransCanada has said they will spend balance of the year deciding where to build another super tank port (one already exists in St. John, New Brunswick at the proposed pipeline’s eastern terminus). The fact that TransCanada want two export terminals in their proposal puts paid to the notion that this project is mostly about supplying Eastern Canada with oil – the main proposed use of Energy East to export unprocessed bitumen.
The other big wrinkle is for TransCanada is the federal election result. Acknowledging pressure from pipeline opponents across Canada, the winning Liberals stated that they felt that the existing pipeline approval process is broken and requires fixing to improve public input. The problems with the existing approval process (narrow definitions of environmental protection, exclusion of input, not placing company officials under oath, vague approval conditions) could make for a very long discussion. Relating this to a possible approval timeline, however, is an open question. We have no way of know if the liberals “fixing” of the regulatory process will amount to a few quick tweaks in the form of a ministerial directive or new legislation which could take some time.
WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?
Our answer continues to be that the best alternative is the status quo. Namely it’s to leave the 42-inch pipeline in question as a natural gas line. TransCanada has given plans to increase natural gas supply from southern Ontario to eastern Ontario and western Quebec to compensate for the loss of natural gas supply the Energy East project would cause but this scheme would leave us more dependant on gas from hydraulically fractured wells largely from the Marcellus shale reserves of Pennsylvania. These ‘fracked’ wells leave a nasty environmental mess and are subject to high depletion rates. It’s not clear how long high production will continue from this area and as a result, our long term natural gas supply is an open question should Energy East be built.
AREN’T PIPELINES SAFER THAN TRAINS?
This is possibly true, although pipeline safety varies with things like line age, original construction quality, the performance of the operator and the material being transported. The major thing to note, however, is that this project will likely increase train traffic.
This is because highly viscous bitumen can’t be moved down a pipe without thinning it and this thinner (diluent) will be moved by rail. In their NEB submission TransCanada stated that bitumen would be pumped in a mixture that includes 30% diluent. Diluent does not become oil and is in short supply in western Canada. This means that it needs to be returned to Alberta on a continuous basis. As there are no diluent pipelines proposed with “Energy East”, diluent, in huge quantities, will be plying the rails across Canada back to the head of the pipeline should it be built.
If constructed, “Energy East” would be North America’s largest petroleum pipeline and in terms rail traffic, a 100-car train of highly volatile diluent would need to arrive at the head of the pipeline every ten hours to keep it operating. Again the status quo, leaving the existing pipeline in natural gas service, with smaller amounts of oil or undiluted bitumen shipped to eastern Canadian refineries by rail makes more sense.
WHAT’S OUR CHANCE OF STOPPING THIS?
This is by far the toughest question we get. We know that this is a terrible idea and believe that with persuasion we can defeat it. The encouraging news is that there’s wind at our backs. Already our actions have forced some delays which in turn give us more time to get out our side of the story. Opposition is increasing everywhere with the project facing stiff opposition in especially in Quebec. The idea of an export pipeline running along the St Laurence river, the province’s major waterway is a tough sell in la belle province.
Closer to home, the Ontario Energy Board, decided that this project, with the prospect of only 190 permanent jobs and huge environmental detriments and risks, is on balance not in the province’s interest. Locally, an increasing number of local elected officials are expressing doubts or opposing this project. Such positions by local elected officials reflects local public opinion; so far many more people have signed our petition than have told us that they support the proposed pipeline. We will stop this bad idea and in the long run be glad we did so.
More information about the “Energy East” pipeline can be found at Ecology Ottawa’s website (ecologyottawa.ca), along with an online version of our petition.
Mike Fletcher lives near Munster and when not volunteering with Ecology Ottawa enjoys time with his family, gardening and white water kayaking.