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Energy East pipeline still too risky

Op-ed by Maude Barlow and Donna Sinclair, Published in the North Bay Nugget, April 24, 2016

A lot has changed in the three years since TransCanada first proposed converting an aging and accident-prone natural gas pipeline to carry tar sands crude through North Bay to an export terminal in New Brunswick.

Average global monthly temperature records have been broken 11 times, the federal government committed in Paris to drastically reducing our carbon emissions and TransCanada has had six pipeline ruptures – four in Canada and two in the U.S.

Topping it all off was the discovery by a passerby of a 65,000-litre spill of diluted bitumen in a farmer’s field in South Dakota earlier this month, caused by a pinhole leak in the company’s only oil pipeline – the Keystone 1.

And even though the estimated price tag for Energy East has gone from $12 billion to almost $16 billion in the last three years, the company keeps pushing for it, deploying a growing army of paid lobbyists and making donations to cash-strapped communities along the route in order to undercut local opposition.

The National Energy Board is expected to declare the Energy East application complete in June, which will set the clock ticking on a decision from the federal government within two years.

Despite being more than 30,000 pages long, the application fails to give credible answers to the most pressing questions asked by the people of North Bay.

The Council of Canadians has produced a report outlining the impacts of an oil spill in local watersheds. Its main findings include:


  • Energy East would have a 15 per cent chance of rupture per year. A catastrophic rupture could produce the largest oil spill in recent Canadian history.

  • TransCanada is unable to detect oil spills of up to 2.6 million litres per day.

  • A spill in the Trout Lake watershed could cost more than $1 billion.

  • TransCanada greatly underestimates the challenges posed by an oil spill in winter conditions.

The more people hear about Energy East, the more they are organizing against it.

In Quebec, TransCanada was forced to cancel plans to build a second export terminal on the St Lawrence River. First Nations and other affected communities are standing up and declaring their opposition to this pipeline proposition.

They are challenging the backward thinking that would lead to an increase in climate pollution equivalent to adding seven million cars to our roads. They are spreading the word about

TransCanada’s safety record. They are challenging the company’s vague assurances that Energy East is safe. They are coming together to protect their water and their children’s future.

The Energy East pipeline is a big risk to North Bay and to every other community along its route. The drinking water of more than five million people is downstream from the pipeline.

TransCanada underestimates the likelihood and potential costs of a spill, and fails to show that it is prepared to deal with the challenges of cleaning up a spill in winter.

TransCanada expects the public to take on the risks of the project while the company reaps the rewards.

Energy East was a bad idea three years ago. It’s even worse today. Expanding our fossil fuel infrastructure will slow our conversion to renewable energy – and we have no more time to waste.

Maude Barlow is national chairperson of the Council of Canadians and Donna Sinclair is a member of Stop Energy East North Bay. The two groups are hosting a free town hall about Energy East Tuesday at 7 p.m. at St. Andrew’s United Church. For more information, visit canadians.org/energyeast-north-bay.