What a powerhouse panel and discussion.
Local professor Tom Duck (involved in atmospheric science) provided local context, highlighting Halifax groups like Stop Energy East Halifax and the Council chapter involved locally, and the ongoing student-led campaign to divest Dalhousie University from fossil fuels.
Following an introduction from me describing the project and outlining our core concerns around pipeline safety, marine spills and climate concerns with the pipeline, Cherri Foytlin talked to the audience.
I don’t think there was anyone in the room not moved by what they heard. Cherri gave a passionate warning to stop this before it starts. She described first hand witnessing the aftermath of the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, then a local journalist living 45 minutes from the coast with a husband working in the oil sector.
While the oil spilled in water clearly had an impact, and still is, she warned of the chemicals used to disperse the oil. She described her daughter as having kidney stones, frontline communities that fish in the waters and people eating the fish with lesions, children experience asthma for the first time, autoimmune disorders.
Cherri talked about how the communities can’t even access the scientific evidence to support their experiences because everything is tied up in legal battles. How people are witnessing the impacts on the fisheries, oil still washing ashore in storms, dead marine life, shrimp without eyes and on their health.
This is an important warning. First there is the threat of a spill from a tanker exporting diluted bitumen from the Energy East pipeline, as Maude Barlow highlighted. Energy East would see an up to doubling of tanker traffic in the Bay of Fundy. While industry will highlight tanker spills are not frequent, a doubling of traffic is a significant increase of risk and a large spill would have devastating consequences. The tankers leaving Saint John would carry up to 2.2 million barrels each, eight times the amount of oil that spilled from the Exxon Valdez causing devastating fallout to Alaska’s coast which is still being felt.
As Maude shared, diluted bitumen is not your grandfathers oil. It is heavy bitumen mixed with toxic chemicals so it can flow through a pipeline.We saw how diluted bitumen sank to the bottom of the Kalamazoo River causing devastation. Over four years later and a billion spent by Enbridge, there is still submerged oil in the river. In a federal lab based study, diluted bitumen formed tar balls and sank in conditions like the Bay of Fundy.
Atlantic Canada is also facing the prospect of offshore drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence which industry, and some government are pushing for. Further ahead is a company called Corridor Resources who recently received approval for exploration activities in Old Harry, a very sensitive marine environment in the Gulf north of Cape Breton in the Cabot Straight. It is believe there is up to two billion barrels of oil in these waters and four or five trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The nature of Gulf waters means that an oil spill here would eventually reach the shores of Nova Scotia (shores of Cape Breton), PEI, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Quebec.
While industry and some government like to suggest that we need Energy East and offshore drilling to generate good jobs, a spill would imperil good jobs that already exist. The Gulf of St Lawrence already hosts 50,000 good jobs in the fishing industry. Tourism, whale watching, all very much at stake. Who wants to visit the red or white sands of a beach with oil lapping at the shores?
There is a growing coalition of people from nearby communities, First Nations, from tourism and fishing industries committed to seeing a moratorium on oil and gas develop in the Gulf of St. Lawerence.
Catherine Abreu of the local Ecology Action Centre ended the evening with a message of hope. It is time to stop talking about the dream of becoming fossil free and realize, we are living at a time where this can start becoming our reality.
Cat talked about the many ways in which Atlantic Canada has become a leader in sustainable energy. One particularly salient message she gave has to do with the successful Efficiency Nova Scotia. While TransCanada promises 1000 long term jobs for a 40 year pipeline, in a fraction of the investment Efficiency Nova Scotia has generated 1400 jobs over four years.
The oil and gas industry has a lot of money and power vested in continue to see our reliance on fossil fuels. But the writing is on the wall. Even the typically conservative International Energy Agency (LINK) says two thirds of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground if we are to avoid the worst of climate change.
Investments in public transit, energy efficiency and renewable energy not only help to reduce pollution, they provide more jobs then investments in oil and gas development.
The Ecology Action Centre and Council of Canadians have partnered on a new briefing outlining five steps towards an Atlantic sustainable energy vision. The document provides concrete Atlantic Canadian examples of projects already underway and suggests clear goals policy makers can achieve towards this better, brighter future.
We’re off now to Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, a small community with a population under 500, and Digby (around 2000 residents) area, hosting another public forum tonight. The area is well off the beaten track for TransCanada. Unlike other communities we will visit in New Brunswick, Halifax, Cornwallis and Digby haven’t seen TransCanada open houses or the ever present advertising presence of the company.
Why visit here? The tanker traffic from the Saint John port will travel off the coast of Nova Scotia to export the crude to international markets, to the Gulf of Mexico, Europe, India and China.
Fishing, particularly for scallops, has always been a main economic driver for the community, tourism is increasingly important as well. Both would be threatened by a tanker spill in the Bay of Fundy. In addition to our public forum where we’ll be joined by local fisherman and President of Local 9 Maritime Fishermen's Union, Hubert Saulnier, we’ll be hosting several meetings.