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Energy East to run across Manitoba, under Winnipeg aqueduct

Premier Greg Selinger will be in Quebec City next week to discuss climate change with the other premiers. He’ll face an important decision: Will he act on climate? Or will he support the Energy East pipeline?

The pipeline’s cheerleaders would like him to believe he can do both. The facts suggest otherwise.

Currently, the Alberta tarsands produces around two million barrels of oil per day. Energy East’s capacity would be 1.1 million barrels per day — this represents about a one-third increase in pipeline-network capacity.

While dropping oil prices have forced the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to scale back its plan to triple production by 2030, the industry is still pushing to expand. The Pembina Institute concluded Energy East would help spur 650,000 to 750,000 barrels per day of new tarsands production.

What does this mean for climate pollution? The crude production needed to fill the pipeline would result in 30 to 32 million tonnes of annual emissions. This is more pollution than the entire province of Manitoba generates, equivalent to adding seven million cars to our roads. Environment Canada’s own projections for tarsands climate-pollution growth predict it would undo emission reductions made by all other parts of Canada’s economy.

But won’t the crude be produced anyways, and shipped dangerously by rail through Canadian communities if Energy East isn’t approved? Most of the crude currently being shipped by rail is fracked oil from the Bakken formation, which is what exploded in the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. Whether Energy East is built or not, rail will remain attractive for shipping this explosive crude because this distributed, flexible and faster transportation option is a better match for fracked oil’s quick boom-and-bust cycles.

Energy East’s competitive advantage lies in transporting tarsands crude to the East Coast much more cheaply than by rail. From there it would be easy to access international markets. Up to one million of the pipeline’s 1.1 million-barrel-per-day capacity is expected to be for export.

Communities should not be forced to choose their poison.

According to U.S. data, rail incidents happened twice as often as pipeline spills from 2004 to 2012. But pipelines spilled three times as much crude oil as trains over that period.

And according to National Energy Board statistics, TransCanada has had more pipeline ruptures in the last 10 years than all other pipeline companies in Canada combined. When Energy East spills, the sheer capacity of the pipeline means it could be the largest pipeline oil spill in Canadian history.

There’s also the issue of the type of oil in the pipeline. Energy East would transport diluted bitumen, created by diluting the thick bitumen extracted from the tarsands with various toxic and explosive chemicals to make it just thin enough to squeeze through a pipeline.

Shipping diluted bitumen is a relatively new process, with new risks that are only starting to be understood. When diluted bitumen spilled into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010, it sank to the riverbed, making cleanup much harder. After five years and $1.5 billion, the Kalamazoo River is still polluted.

In Manitoba, the pipeline crosses or passes near critical waterways including the Assiniboine River, Red River, Little Saskatchewan River and the Shoal Lake watershed. It also crosses two metres below the aqueduct that supplies Winnipeg’s drinking water.

TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline is our risk, with the reward going to tarsands corporations cashing in on crude exports.

What about the jobs and economic benefits TransCanada trumpets? Two independent assessments — one by the Mowat Centre for the Ontario Energy Board and one by the Goodman Group looking at the impacts in Quebec — found the company’s promises to be overblown.

With plummeting oil prices, now is the time to invest in a just transition off fossil fuels, focus on other strengths in our economy and pave the way for green jobs and sustainable energy production and consumption.

This should be the basis of the premiers’ climate talks, not giving a pass to pipelines such as Energy East that put our communities, our climate and our water at risk.

Maude Barlow, national chairwoman of the Council of Canadians, and Andrea Harden-Donahue, energy and climate campaigner, will be speaking at a public forum on the Energy East pipeline on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Fort Garry Hotel.

Op-Ed published in the Winnipeg Free Press, April 8, 2015