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A Primer on TransCanada’s West-East Pipeline

Last week, TransCanada announced that it is moving ahead with its proposed Energy East pipeline which would carry oil from Alberta to Atlantic waters. If you are among those getting confused by all the different pipelines making headlines—Northern Gateway, Line 9, Kinder Morgan, etc.—this primer is for you!

What is TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline?

TransCanada wants to convert its natural gas pipeline, called the Eastern Mainline pipeline, which is currently operating at half capacity, into an oil pipeline which could carry up to 850,000 barrels per day. At the moment, the Eastern Mainline serves Quebec, but the company and some politicians want to extend it all the way to the Irving refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.

80% of the pipeline (between Saskatchewan and Quebec) already exists and it would need to be extended on either end: in the west to connect the pipe to Hardisty, Alberta; and in the east it would be extended to either Montreal, Quebec City, or Saint John, NB—pending approvals and finalized shipping contracts. Why these three cities? All of them are port cities, which helps industry get the crude to international waters.

So much of the pipeline is already there, what’s the big deal?

To explain why this is a “big deal,” I’m going to direct folks to an article in InsideClimate News about a recent rupture in Exxon’s Pegasus Pipeline which spilled up to an estimated 7,000 barrels of bitumen in Mayflower, Arkansas.

“The Pegasus pipeline that ruptured and spilled thousands of gallons of tar sands crude in Mayflower was 65 years old, and was initially built to carry thinner oil at lower pressure in the opposite direction than today.”

Why do old pipes fail? And did you know that over 50% of hazardous-liquid pipeline failures occur in pipes that are over 44% years old?

Like the Pegasus Pipeline, the Eastern Mainline Pipeline was built in the 1950s and would also carry a substance (oil) thicker than the material for which it was originally made. The article continues to cite a study by the National Petroleum Council for the U.S. Department of Energy which states that “pipelines operating outside of their design parameters such as those carrying commodities for which they were not initially designed, or high flow pipelines, are at the greatest risk of integrity issues in the future due to the nature of their operation.”

Converting an existing gas pipeline to an oil pipeline may mean less effort put into construction and materials, but it also means more risk for the many rivers and lakes along the route such as the Trout Lake Watershed which supplies drinking water for the City of North Bay.

Providing oil to Eastern Canada?

Politicians and right-wing pundits keep trying to convince us that they want to get tar sands to Eastern Canadians; however, there is reason to believe that pipeline is really meant to get tar sands to Atlantic ports so that the crude can be easily exported. Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver has said that the Energy East pipeline could deliver Canadian oil to large energy consumers and new markets. In the end, the oil will go to the highest bidders as shippers are looking to the US’s East Coast and Gulf Coast, Europe, India, and China—not just eastern Canada.

Additionally, there is not even enough refining capacity in eastern Canada to refine the bitumen, and there are no talks of new refineries being built or of old refineries getting the capital investments required to process the oil. This means that the crude would need to be exported to even get to refineries that could make the crude useful for people in the East. The claim that the Energy East Pipeline will service Eastern Canada is mere propaganda.

Reducing dependence on oil imports

We have also been hearing that this pipeline will help Canada reduce its dependence on oil imports, but transporting oil to eastern Canada is not the best strategy. Reducing dependence on all oil, in general, is! The Energy East pipeline is a massive $5.6 billion project, and the fossil fuel sector in Canada receives over a billion dollars in subsidies even though it is an industry that generates corporate revenue. These subsidies could be redistributed and put into projects that reduce emissions on oil and put less strain on the environment, communities, and the atmosphere. Investing in public mass transit, community-based renewable energy projects, and green building retrofits are some of the solutions to reducing dependence on oil imports and tar sands expansion.

Creating jobs

Creating a more sustainable and stable economy does not come from expanding the fossil fuel industry and associated pipeline systems. Studies have shown that investments in renewable energies and community-owned power generation produce more jobs and local revenue. Public and community ownership ensures that power generation is accountable to the public interest and contributes to decent job creation and reduced inequality. For more information, you can refer to Green, Decent, and Public. Fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks can instead be directed to public mass transit and green building retrofits that not only reduce reliance on fossil fuels and create jobs. This one solution alone prioritizes local jobs and more permanent jobs.

Communities have the Right to Say NO!

Communities along the routes of the Pacific-bound export pipelines, the Enbridge Northern Gateway project and the Kinder Morgan expansion, are saying “No” to having tar sands crude shipped through their communities and threatening rivers, lakes, and salmon spawning grounds. First Nations have also called on allies to help them stop the pipelines at the source–the Alberta Tar Sands. Tar sands mining operations have threatened drinking water supplies and food sources, and have been linked to increases in rare cancers and cardiovascular diseases in nearby communities. Indigenous peoples from the region have called the Tar Sands a “slow industrial genocide.

Under the United Nations Declaration om the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous people have the right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent which means that they have the right to say “No,” to any industrial project taking place on their traditional lands (consent). This decision must also be made free from any state or corporate coercion (Free), before the project takes place (Prior), and with full information (Informed).

Given that the original pipe was built in the 1950s, and consultation with communities did not begin until the original Mackenzie Valley Pipeline proposal in the 70s, communities along the route were likely not consulted nor did they give their consent to the original pipe. If TransCanada moves ahead with their plans, communities along the route of the pipe and in the Tar Sands will have to pay the true costs to their water, health, and safety.

What can I do about this?

There is currently a petition on change.org about stopping this pipeline from bringing tar sands through Ontario; however, this is about more than bringing tar sands crude through Ontario. Not only would the pipeline also run through the Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, and potentially New Brunswick, but this pipeline is part of a larger agenda of extracting and exporting natural resources for corporate profit regardless of the impacts to our friends and families. It will jeopardize freshwater supplies and enable tar sands expansion, increasing climate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Canada, a highly industrial country, has a responsibility to be cutting its emissions to stop runaway climate change and the social and environmental impacts that result such as droughts, floods, loss of agricultural land, and forced displacement.

But returning to what you can do about this…start organizing in your community! Contact your neighbours, friends, and families and tell them about this pipeline. Write letters to the editor and tell politicians and the company that you don’t want this pipeline. Consider contacting your local Council of Canadians chapter, Regional Organizing Office, or myself madrangi [at] canadians [dot] org.