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Building a wall of opposition to Energy East: Reflections on the Prairies tour

Last Friday marked the final day of our Prairies Energy East: Our Risk – Their Reward tour. This was the third tour along the 4400km pipeline path, the first visited Ontario and the second, Atlantic Canada.

At 1.1 million barrels per day, Energy East is the largest pipeline proposed to date. Working with local partners, the public forums provide an important alternative narrative to the one-sided, trade show style ‘open houses’ held by TransCanada.

Maude Barlow joined by Benjamin Gotschall of Bold Nebraska on stopping the Keystone XL pipeline and Melissa Daniels, lawyer and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation downstream from the tar sands, exposed the serious risks involved in Energy East. From the upstream climate pollution impact, to TransCanada’s poor safety track record, they illustrated the risks of a diluted bitumen spill to waterways. They also questioned the benefits, exposing the project as an export pipeline that is unlikely to reduce dangerous oil by rail traffic or produce many long-term jobs.

Prairies tour results by the numbers:


  • 650 Energy East: Our Risk – Their Reward window signs distributed

  • 600+ people attended Prairies Energy East tour public forums

  • 124 tour photos you can see here

  • 16 news stories, including front page news in the Regina Leader Post and Moose Jaw Times Herald and prominent coverage in the Winnipeg Free Press.

  • 11 meetings with First Nation communities along the path, municipal and provincial elected officials and staff, ranchers, farmers and local organizers.

  • 9 blogs, including calling TransCanada out on a lie and Political Director Brent Patterson’s blogs about our public forums.

  • 8 day tour

  • 6 radio interviews

  • 6 TV interviews

  • 4 site visits to: Aurora Farms near Winnipeg, La Salle River where, in 1996, a TransCanada pipeline ruptured in St. Norbert, new Harbour Landing residential community along the pipeline path in Regina, and Saskatchewan’s Great Sandhills where the pipeline crosses through the ecological reserve.

  • 4 public forums held in Winnipeg, Regina, Swift Current and Moose Jaw.

  • 2 visits to: Shoal Lake 39 and Shoal Lake 40 along the pipeline path to better understand First Nations’ concerns.

  • 1 op-ed featured in the Winnipeg Free Press.

 




Visit to Shoal Lake 40

As you see from this list, the tours are more than the public forums. The forums are a gateway for continuing this conversation and mobilizing a wall of opposition to the project. We will be following up with all of the people that signed up for more information as well as all of the local groups already planning events and opportunities to stop Energy East.  

We also engaged in a series of meetings with Indigenous communities whose land is impacted by the pipeline. We held site visits, events, did media interviews as well as met with elected municipal and provincial officials, land owners, students and farmers – all helping to develop further relationships we will continue to build and support. As well, there was strong interest in starting a Swift Current Council of Canadians chapter.


Iskatewizaagegan (Shoal Lake 39) roundhouse, discussing water protection / Energy East

Iskatewizaagegan (Shoal Lake 39) roundhouse, discussing water protection / Energy East

The growing opposition to Energy East has common threads in rejecting the upstream climate impacts and protected waterways from diluted bitumen spills. While the unique local context and narrative as well as avenues of mobilizing opposition – from public education to legal pressure, to election strategies and talk of eventual brocades – are as diverse as the communities we met.

There were many highlights for me on this tour.

Climate impactThis includes standing near the 1996 La Salle river location of a TransCanada pipeline rupture a mere 10ft away from the one they want to convert for Energy East, surrounded by local media, hearing Maude call out TransCanada for a straight up false statement made before the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, “we have never had a failure in a watercourse crossing, ever.”

It certainly includes the meaningful and insightful visits to Iskatewizaagegan (Shoal Lake 39)  and Shoal Lake 40 of Treaty 3. Treaty 3 and it’s declaration against the transport of oil and bitumen without their free, prior and informed consent, marks a significant physical, political and potentially legal barrier to TransCanada’s pipeline aspirations.

While I personally wasn’t present, I am also relieved to see the threat to Saskatchewan’s Great Sandhills coming into public debate. Robert Van Waarden’s Along the Pipeline photo exhibit first brought this threat to my attention. I immediately thought about Nebraska’s Sandhills which forced the rerouting of the Keystone XL pipeline (one of the first major delays) because of its environmental sensitivity. Both Nebraska and Saskatchewan’s Sandhills areas have unique diversity including providing habitat for grassland endangered plants and species a spill in sand would very quickly threaten aquifers below.

Sandhill sign

In consulting the National Energy Board database of applicants for Energy East, I discovered an Environmental Engineer who lives very near the Sandhills ecological reserve who’s own ranch would likely be threatened by a spill in the area. According to him, TransCanada has not completed a groundwater impact assessment for the area, and believes the area is of too high risk for this type of project. Tour panelists were able to meet him at the Swift Current public forum and I am confident we will be hearing more about Energy East’s threat to Saskatchewan’s Great Sandhills in the coming months.

Be part of the growing wall of opposition: