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If Energy East spills, here’s the water you could no longer drink

The Council of Canadians has released a new report documenting the risks of the Energy East pipeline to waterways along its route.

Energy East: Where oil meets water provides preliminary analysis of the risks posed by Energy East to many waterways it comes near, over and under.  From Battle River, Alberta to the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, the report provides profiles with notable characteristics and attributes of these waterways that supply drinking water for millions of Canadians and run through the heart of cities such as Winnipeg, Ottawa and Quebec City.

The report notes a number of ways in which Energy East is risk, from spills contaminating drinking water sources, to passing flood prone areas, waters important for fishing, recreation and tourism and a beluga and right whale habitat threatened by tanker spills. 

This is the first of a series of blogs about this report’s content, starting with a look at how Energy East risks drinking water sources.

 Energy East … when the pipeline spills… 

Energy East crosses waterways that supply drinking water to millions of Canadians.

The southern shore of Lake Diefenbaker which supplies source water for half of Saskatchewan’s population is around 20 km north of the pipeline path.

The 20,000 residents of Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, rely on the Assiniboine river for their drinking water. The pipeline crosses the Assiniboine river just south of Portage La Prairie.

Entering Ontario, the pipeline runs alongside the shore of Falcon Lake which flows into Shoal lake, the source of drinking water for Winnipeg’s 600,000 residents. A spill in this area would further compound the water issues faced by Shoal Lake #40 First Nation. The aquaduct from Shoal Lake to Winnpeg required a canal, which effectively severed the community’s access to nearby land creating human made water isolated conditions (for more information)

It then travels over many waterways in the Kenora area and passes the Nipigon and Black Sturgeon rivers very close to where they flows into Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, and the cleanest and clearest of the Great Lakes. 

Energy East has rightfully been the source of concern in North Bay, where it crosses Doren’s creek (amongst other tributaries) which quickly flows into Trout Lake which supplies 56,000 residents drinking water.

In the Kemptville Ontario area, the pipeline crosses over the highly vulnerable Oxford Aquifer and a groundwater recharge area, which supplies drinking water for around 10,000 local residents.

In Quebec, the pipeline runs alongside, and crosses the Fleuve Saint Laurent which supplies the province with 50 per cent of its drinking water.

Montreal’s northern tier relies on Riviere des mille iles for its close to 400, 000 residents. The pipeline crosses Riviere des mille iles near Terrebonne (106 000 residents).

Further east, the path crosses the Rivere Saint-Maurice, around 20 kms upstream from where it flows into the St. Lawrence River beside Trois-Rivieres whose 130,000 rely on it for drinking water.

In New Brunswick, the pipeline path runs 16 kms from the watershed 14, 000 Edmundston residents draw from, and the well fields supplying 6000 Grand Falls residents lies downstream from the pipeline.

Energy East waterways map

We’ve also pulled together a map of the pipeline route, noting water crossings with exact coordinates provided in TransCanada’s pre-application to the NEB, named water crossing (locations approximated) and some waterways TransCanada fails to mention in their project description.

Find out if the pipeline comes near your community and water source.

What’s the big fuss?

The sheer volume of substance proposed to be pushed through the Energy East pipeline – 1.1 million barrels per day – would mean that when the pipeline spills (and it will spill), it would seriously endanger our water sources. It threatens to be one of North America’s largest pipeline spills.

As discussed in the report, the federal government has left waterways vulnerable in the wake of serious claw backs to important legislation including the Fisheries Act and changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

It is also about what the pipeline would ship. We know that diluted bitumen, or dilbit, will make up a large part of what is shipped along the 4,400km path. Dilbit is created by diluting the thick bitumen from the tar sands with various toxic and explosive chemicals to make it thin enough to flow through a pipeline.

In July 2010, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in Michigan, spilling 3.8 million litres of dilbit which then entred the Kalamzoo River. Unlike conventioanl crude which floasts on top of the water, much of the dilbit sank to the bottom of the river, making cleanup efforts far more difficult. It contamined close to 60kms of the Kalamazoo River.

The Kalamazoo spill happened over the course of 17 hours. The Energy East pipeline would pump that much oil in just 35 minutes.