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Major tar sands producer “fine” with one terminal for Energy East exports

The current Irving deep water crude terminal on the Bay of Fundy.

The current Irving deep water crude terminal on the Bay of Fundy.

The largest tar sands producer in Canada says its confident that a proposed marine terminal in Saint John will have the ability to export Energy East pipeline oil by supertanker.

Steve Laut, the president of Calgary-based Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., which produces about 121,000 barrels of oil a day, says, “We would have preferred to have it [a second terminal on the St. Lawrence River], but obviously for environmental reasons it doesn’t make sense, so we’re fine with going to Saint John. It’s a big port. It can handle all the tankers that come in there.”

Saint John mayor Mel Norton has expressed a similar sentiment. In May 2013, he stated, “They’ll never build a ship too big to bring it up the Bay of Fundy. You’ll never build enough capacity to bring to New Brunswick that we can’t fill those ships and take it out to world markets.”

The statement by the CNRL president follows the announcement by TransCanada that it will not seek to also construct an export terminal on the St. Lawrence River. TransCanada had sought to also move tar sands oil on the St. Lawrence River by tanker from a port in Cacouna, Quebec. But public outrage forced them to withdraw their plans for that port (though they continued to look for another location to ship from on the river). The Canadian Press reports, “In April, TransCanada ditched the Cacouna port proposal because of concerns over beluga whale habitat, but it had spent months scouting other potential locations along the St. Lawrence River.”

The plan is to build a 150-hectare tank farm in the community of Red Head in Saint John. That tank farm would be capable of storing 7.6 million barrels of oil and heated bitumen before it is loaded onto supertankers. The plan is also to build a 183-hectare marine terminal complex nearby that would serve those supertankers on the Bay of Fundy.

The Council of Canadians is working with the local Red Head Anthony’s Cove Preservation Association to stop this.

Currently about 100 crude carriers a year bring oil into the existing Irving deep water port in Saint John. There are concerns that if the Energy East project is approved the number of tankers could double or even triple.

The Energy East project poses numerous threats to the Bay of Fundy: a bitumen spill in salt water would likely sink and form tar balls on the ocean floor; bottom-dwelling species like lobsters and scallops would be at particular risk from that; whales in the Bay of Fundy already experience stress because of the high levels of traffic in the Bay of Fundy; increased tanker traffic would increase the risk of whales being hit; and an oil spill clean up could be additionally challenging given the Bay of Fundy has some of the highest tides in the world as well as thick fog.

The day after the Trudeau government was sworn into office, Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc said that he recognized the economic impacts Energy East could generate for his home province of New Brunswick. He hastened to add, “I also recognize in the same breath that in order to get such a complicated project approved, there have to be robust and stringent and independent environmental reviews.”

The 1.1 million barrel per day pipeline, which is scheduled to be operational by 2020, would help spur up to 750,000 barrels per day of additional production from the tar sands when science is telling us that 85 per cent of the tar sands must remain in the ground to keep global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius upper limit.