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Energy East would mean more dangerous VOCs released in Saint John

No Energy East NB

The Council of Canadians is opposed to the Energy East pipeline project, which includes the construction of an Irving Oil tank farm and export terminal in Saint John. The massive oil storage tank farm would be capable of holding 7.8 million barrels of bitumen and the new deep water marine terminal on the Bay of Fundy would be capable of loading about 115 supertankers a year.

The Globe and Mail now reports, “Vapours can escape during ship loading when fuels are briefly exposed to open air.” Those vapours include volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, such as the cancer-causing benzene and toluene. “Irving Oil records reviewed by Reuters show the vapour recovery equipment at the [existing] terminal on the edge of the province’s largest city [Saint John] was shut 37 per cent of the time between December 2012 and March 2015 due to near-constant mechanical problems, as millions of barrels of gasoline were loaded onto ships mainly bound for New England.”

The article explains that the company installed a vapour recovery unit at their terminal in 2011, but that there were equipment malfunctions. “In 2012, the first full year the equipment was in operation, VOC emissions from the East Saint John terminal dropped to 156 tonnes, from 623 tonnes in 2010. They have since risen, to 181 tonnes in 2013 and 265 tonnes in 2014, according to data compiled by Environment Canada.”

Irving Oil has stated that it expected the unit to recover up to 90 per cent of VOC emissions during loading, and now claims that the average vapour recovery rate is above 93 per cent. These claims are not backed by independent study, nor is an analysis provided on the health impacts of the 7-10 per cent of the VOC emissions not captured at the current terminal.

The Energy East project would represent a dramatic increase in the amount of VOCs that could escape during the ship loading process. Irving Oil’s website notes, “Every day, our [current] refinery produces over 300,000 barrels of finished energy products, over half of which is exported to the US Northeast.” So that’s at least about 150,000 barrels per day now loaded onto ships. A March 2014 report by the Council of Canadians, Ecology Action Centre, Environmental Defence and Equiterre, found that the majority of Energy East’s 1.1 million barrel per day capacity would be exported by supertanker.

Inka Milewski, Independent Researcher and Science Advisor with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, says, “We simply don’t know what impact the existing terminal, tank farm and refinery have had on residents living in East Saint John. What we do know is that lung cancer rates among Saint John residents are more than 40 per cent higher than either provincial rates or rates in Fredericton and Moncton. It would be imprudent to have any further expansion of crude oil transportation, storage or processing in Saint John until the impact of current emissions on human health is properly assessed.”

Beyond this concern, Reuters has also reported on the 19 accidents or ‘environmental emergencies’ experienced by Irving Oil over the past three years. That April 2015 article highlighted, “In one case in 2013, New Brunswick’s Department of the Environment issued Irving a formal warning for taking more than a full day to report a storage tank leak of about 132 gallons of crude at its Canaport facility on the Bay of Fundy, near the site Irving is planning its terminal for Energy East. In back-to-back accidents a year earlier, Irving was reprimanded by regulators for failing to immediately report a release of toxic sulfur dioxide gas from the refinery, and a spill of crude oil at its rail facility near a residential zone in Saint John.”

The CBC has reported, “[Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau has been non-committal about the pipeline proposal… But Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc [the Liberal MP for the riding of Beauséjour, New Brunswick] said on Thursday [Nov. 5] that he recognizes the potential economic impact the pipeline could have on the province.” The next day, the Globe and Mail reported, “The Liberals under Mr. Trudeau have supported TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone project, which offered Canadian oil producers a bigger conduit to ship their product to the U.S. market, but [foreign minister Stephane] Dion said they also back another TransCanada crude export proposal: the Energy East pipeline.”

The Council of Canadians is working with the local Red Head Anthony’s Cove Preservation Association to stop Energy East. On May 30, more than 700 people took part in a march to the End of the Line to oppose the pipeline, tank farm and marine terminal in the seaside community of Red Head.

Further reading
Council of Canadians stands with Red Head residents opposed to the Energy East pipeline (Nov. 27, 2014)