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Green Eggs n’ Protest calls out TransCanada at Ottawa Chamber of Commerce on Earth Day

Sales pitch for a 1.1 million barrel per day pipeline on Earth Day? Whose brilliant idea was that. 

Today, on Earth Day, The Ottawa Chamber of Commerce invited TransCanada’s Stefan Baranski (Ontario Director) to deliver a speech called “Energy East: New Jobs, Investment and Growth for Ontario.” It’s part of the organization’s regular Eggs ‘N Icons breakfast series.

In response, Ecology Ottawa hosted at least 60 people outside the hotel where the chamber event was taking place, greeting participants with leaflets and signs outlining Energy East risks (which threatens local waterways and communities with a major spill), our 8 foot inflatable elephant (exposing the 32 million tonne climate pollution elephant in the room), and there was even a pipelines (leading down to oil spills) and ladders (representing by geo thermal, solar and wind turbines) life sized game with some familiar ‘participants’ (thanks to the creativity of l’Outaouais pour la Justice Climatique).

TransCanada is running a very slick promotion campaign, investing huge sums of money to encourage municipal councils, chambers of commerce, local groups (from hunters to water source protection organizations) to support their project. We’ve even seen a case where a TransCanada donation to a community along the pipeline route in Ontario came with a clause against publicly speaking out against the project.

While the pressure from TransCanada for Energy East is intense, it is critical that people mobilize in communities along the route, using opportunities like today’s to speak truth to power.

The good news? We have the facts on our side. The risks presented by Energy East far outweigh the benefits, be it the impacts filling the pipeline would have on our climate or the risk to over 5 million Canadians drinking water from a pipeline spill.   

I was invited to speak at today’s green eggs n’ protest event and took the opportunity to dispel the myths we commonly hear in support of Energy East.

Myth #1 Energy East is Canadian oil is for Canadians

Actually its another export pipeline (more here). And that whole argument that it will displace ‘foreign imports’ that started with Ezra Levant’s ethical oil pitch, carried on the by the I heart oil sands crowd? Not according to the Irvings quoted in a recent Financial Post article. Their refinery (one of three along the route, the two in QC are also unlikely to use the crude from Energy East ) “But Whitcomb said his refinery would continue to purchase foreign oil even if Energy East goes ahead because it wants access to diverse suppliers. Imports from Saudi Arabia, which started when the refinery opened in 1960, are compelling because of the low cost of transportation on large tankers, he said. “We will add Western Canadian crude to our portfolio as the economics dictate, but probably not at the expense of our Saudi barrels,” he said.

Myth #2 Energy East will reduce oil by rail transport

First of all, Energy East will primarily transport tar sands crude and with oil prices as low as they are now, shipping by rail is prohibitively expensive (see cost for Fort McMurray to Saint John by rail  here), a key reason why industry wants a pipeline! When oil rebounds, it’s not going to be a matter of Energy East or oil by rail, the push will be on for both again. This is a scapegoat argument being used to scare people (and the fear of oil by rail is very legitimate!) into supporting a controversial project. The solution? Getting oil off the rails and freezing expansion of the tar sands.  

Myth #3 Energy East will be a safe pipeline 

Based on TransCanada’s track record in Canada, Energy East would have a 15% chance of a full bore rupture somewhere along the pipeline route every year. Bearing in mind the total capacity of 1.1 million barrels of crude per day, Energy East would transport 2,024 litres of oil per second. This means more than one million litres could spill in 10 minutes. A huge amount of oil remaining in the pipeline between valves could also leak. For example, at the Nipigon River crossing of the current natural gas pipeline there is 11.8 km between valve stations. This means more than 10 million litres of additional oil could leak after the pumping has stopped. 

When we looked at the 9 ruptures on their mainline pipeline system (one of which is slated for conversion from natural gas to oil for Energy East) only 1 was discovered first by their leak detection system. Others were found by TransCanada staff, passerbys and even an OPP officer witnessing a fireball in the sky while driving along a highway. Their response times for cutting off natural gas supply to the affected area ranged from minutes, to 3 hours, even six hours in the case of a rupture near Beardmore Ontario. 

Myth #4 We need to get oil to tidewater.

Idea here is if we get tar sands oil to tidewater, this will undercut the discounted price it has been selling for. Problem is, this discount is disappearing and a new pipeline doesn’t equate to higher prices for tar sands crude. But hey, don’t take my word for it (more of my take here), here’s what a former senior manager with one of Canada’s top energy companies, Ross Melot, has to say: “…Premier Notley just became the latest Canadian politician to play games with pipelines. She’s telling Albertans a pipeline to tidewater can cure what ails the industry. It won’t — it can’t — because the problem a pipeline to tidewater was intended to address doesn’t exist anymore…. Money spent on a pipeline right now would be money wasted. But Notley can’t say that aloud — not while also delivering the bad news on her province’s finances.” 

Then there is the whole climate change thing. Energy East is proposed as infrastructure that will last 40 years. TransCanada would like it to be operational by 2020 (I think this is overly ambitious) which means Canada will be producing and shipping 1.1 million barrels of oil at least until 2060. This is past the 2050 deadline in the Paris climate agreement set as a goal for weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels, which many climate scientists support. It runs in conflict with more than 100 scientists in Canada who have publicly called for no further expansion in the tar sands.