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Three myths about the Energy East pipeline

Written by Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, and Matt Abbott, Fundy Baykeeper, for the Globe and Mail, November 10, 2014

We just completed a two-week tour in Atlantic Canada along the proposed Energy East pipeline route. Along the tour we met not just the usual suspects – environmental activists – but ranchers, fishers, baykeepers and ordinary folk who could see their livelihoods threatened by the pipeline. A wall of opposition to Energy East is growing.

TransCanada, which filed its Energy East project last week with the National Energy Board, will face many challenges in obtaining the social licence to operate a 1.1 million barrel per day pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick, effectively the largest oil pipeline in North America.

Here are the three common myths about Energy East:

Myth #1: Energy East would displace Eastern Canadian dependence on “foreign crude” imports.

TransCanada continues to claim Eastern Canadian refineries import 86 per cent of their daily needs from overseas sources like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Algeria. This is used to help justify the pipeline, which would purportedly replace these expensive imports with Western Canadian crude.

According to a new data on oil imports, no more than 14 per cent of the refineries imports come from these four countries. More than 50 per cent of the imports are, in fact, from the U.S.

In addition, Energy East is first and foremost another tar sands export pipeline. The three refineries along the route don’t even have the necessary equipment to refine the heavy diluted bitumen from the tar sands.

As the Alberta Federation of Labour concludes in a recent press statement, Energy East is another in a long line of projects aimed at perpetuating the “rip it and ship it” approach that has characterized the Canadian resource sector. Up to one million of the 1.1 million barrels per day is likely destined for export, unrefined from two new export terminals: one in Cacouna, Que., and the other in Saint John, N.B.

Myth #2: Energy East would generate good long-term jobs

The vast majority of jobs promised would be short-term, in construction and secondary industries.

The Cornell Labour Institute found not only would TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. create fewer jobs than promised, but could actually kill more jobs than it creates.

A spill from Energy East could also be a job killer. The pipeline crosses more than 900 waterways, used for drinking water, fishing, recreation, and sustaining farmland.

In Hampton, N.B., the pipeline dissects the properties of organic farmers. One farm employs 100 people in mostly year-round, living wage jobs, and feeds the community with healthy local food.

The Bay of Fundy sustains 2,500 direct jobs in fishing on the New Brunswick side alone. A spill in the Bay’s fast moving waters would easily spread to Nova Scotian shores, also home to a thriving fishing industry. And this doesn’t consider the jobs associated with tourism.

Given the sheer volume of the pipe, up to 1 million litres of crude could spill in just 10 minutes. Diluted bitumen from the tar sands is unlike conventional oil. It sunk when spilled in the Kalamazoo River, costing Enbridge more than $1-billion to clean up, yet submerged oil still remains on the river bed.

An approval of the pipeline would also mean expansion of the tar sands, so more Atlantic Canadians travelling to Alberta for work.

Myth #3: Energy East would slow dangerous oil by rail traffic

The tragic Lac-Mégantic disaster that killed 47 people was a stark wake-up call. This was quickly followed by more train derailments including last January in Plaster Rock, N.B.

There are very serious risks with transporting oil by rail, which has seen an unprecedented rise in recent years. Canada’s regulations lag woefully behind.

Building the Energy East pipeline would not stop dangerous oil shipments from travelling through communities by rail. It would only add to the risks and allow an up to 40 per cent increase in tar sands production, generating more climate pollution than any single Atlantic province.

The dramatic rise in oil by rail is primarily to export Bakken fracked oil, which is what exploded in Lac-Mégantic. Most production is from North Dakota, but the Bakken shale extends into Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Transporting Bakken fracked oil by rail is likely to remain attractive to industry whether or not Energy East proceeds. The quick production and decline peak of fracked oil makes the distributed, flexible and faster transport by rail desirable.

The booms happening in the tar sands and U.S. fracked oil mean the North American oil industry would need every single pipeline and oil by rail project currently planned in order to meet its production targets.

In other words, if Energy East is built, Canadians are likely to face the risks from both the pipeline and the continued use of oil by rail tankers.

But pipeline versus rail is the wrong question.

More to the point, it’s past time for our governments to strongly commit to seeing through a just transition off of fossil fuels.

There are already examples of communities and countries making great strides in reducing fossil fuel dependency. Investing in public transit, energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors generates far more jobs than pipeline and fossil fuel development.

This type of job creation looks like the 1,200 permanent, full-time jobs created by Efficiency Nova Scotia over four years, rather than TransCanada’s own number of 1,087 permanent full-time jobs over 40 years across the country for Energy East.

This is where our future actually lies, not in picking our poison – or in the case of Energy East, shouldering the risk and enabling someone else’s poison.