Skip to content

The Energy East pipeline and tanker traffic on the East Coast

What could the Energy East pipeline mean in terms of tanker traffic in the Bay of Fundy?

Bay of Fundy

We know that at least part of the plan for the 1.1 million barrels per day pipeline is export. The Canadian Press has reported Saint John mayor Mel Norton saying, “They’ll never build a ship too big to bring it up the Bay of Fundy. You’ll never build enough capacity to bring to New Brunswick that we can’t fill those ships and take it out to world markets.” And TransCanada, the company behind this pipeline, has stated, “If we’re going to be an oil-exporting nation, we’re going to have to get oil exported on the water.”

In the case of the Northern Gateway pipeline, some 525,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen a day would be sent by pipeline to Kitimat, BC to be taken by 225 super tankers a year through the narrow Douglas Channel and then across the Pacific Ocean to Asian markets. It’s conceivable that the Energy East pipeline could result in the same number of tankers travelling through the Bay of Fundy to markets in India, China and Europe.

The Financial Post has reported about 100 crude carriers a year currently bring oil to the Irving deep water port in Saint John, New Brunswick.

But existing tanker traffic in the Bay of Fundy is already raising concerns. The Globe and Mail has reported, “(St. Andrew-based Matt) Abbott, who works with the NBCC Action, the advocacy arm of the New Brunswick Conservation Council, (says) the tanker traffic is already disrupting whales and other marine mammals, and a double or tripling of traffic (with the Energy East pipeline) will only make matters worse. He also worries about tanker accidents and pipeline spills into spawning rivers that feed the bay.”

In 1972, the Trudeau government banned tanker traffic through the coastal waters north of Vancouver Island and later extended that to include all offshore oil and gas activity. In 2004, the Chretien government completed a public review of those moratoriums and maintained those bans. But in 2009, the Harper government concluded that the moratorium on oil and gas activity did not extend to tanker traffic and that the moratorium was a cabinet order, not a legislative requirement, and had expired.

A similar ban is not in place on the Atlantic coast likely because Atlantic Canada is currently reliant on oil imports. Gordon Laxer has written, “Atlantic Canadians are particularly exposed, dependent on imports from dodgy sources like Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Angola for more than 80 per cent of the oil it takes to heat their homes and fuel their cars through long icy winters.” That said, he has also pointed out, “Newfoundland’s offshore oil fields produce just fewer than 200,000 barrels of oil a day, enough to meet all the oil demand in the four Atlantic provinces. Wouldn’t east coasters be most energy secure if they relied totally on their own oil?”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has commented, “The Energy East pipeline would pose serious threats to local water supplies and communities along the route. The option then to export to the much larger and more profitable markets of India, China and Europe with massive tankers from the deep water port is also a major concern of ours. …This pipeline is not being proposed because TransCanada has suddenly discovered that Atlantic Canada imports its oil.”

Further reading
Countering Energy East Pipeline Spin
TransCanada Energy East: Another Broken Pipeline Plan
Will your community be affected by the Energy East pipeline?