I remember the day that Energy East officially died, October 5th, 2017.
The decision was a long time coming. Were it not the failings of the National Energy Board and the threat of the federal government considering the project's climate impacts, it would have been the protection of drinking water, Indigenous consent and community opposition that killed Energy East.
But you’d never know this from the coverage of TransCanada’s cancellation, the wicked backlash against project critics that followed or the rhetoric flying around in recent months trying to revive this zombie pipeline project.
Rally 4 Resources and Canada Action, so-called ‘grassroots’ groups with, at least in the case of Canada Action, ties to the oil industry and Conservative Party of Canada, will host a pro-Energy East rally in Halifax tomorrow. The location just so happens to be a few blocks from the Conservative Party of Canada’s Convention (which will be on a lunch break). An anti-Energy East rally has been quickly called in response.
Energy East not about getting Canadian oil to Canadians.
As I argued in an op-ed shortly after TransCanada’s cancellation, Energy East was never about getting Canadian oil to Canadians, nor was it about reducing imports of so-called foreign oil.
Even if the three refineries along the pipeline route had used only crude from Energy East, a whopping 428,000 barrels per day was still for export. But this wouldn’t have happened. Quebec refineries have access to cheaper Canadian and U.S. oil sources, meaning more like 90 per cent of Energy East’s 1.1 million barrel per day pipeline was for export.
Ian Whitcomb, President of Irving Oil, openly admitted to the Financial Post’s editorial board that Energy East would not stop the company from importing oil from Saudi Arabia.
A real conversation about energy security would mean talking about redirecting Newfoundland oil exports to Atlantic Canada. It would mean Prime Minister Justin Trudeau renegotiating the restrictive energy provisions of NAFTA that lock Canada into energy exports to the U.S.
Energy East is not compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement.
Any energy security plan would, of course, need to happen as part of a broader effort to address our rapidly changing climate.
Energy East infrastructure would have locked us into production of 1.1 million barrels per day for at least 40 years. This is past the 2050 deadline referenced in the Paris agreement for weaning our economies and societies off of fossil fuels in order to limit temperature rise to 1.5 C.
Simply put, the fossil fuel industry is big enough.
Existing fossil fuel production globally is enough to takes us past 2 degrees of warming, let alone industry interests for expansion.
We need to take seriously our responsibility to transition to sustainable energy production and consumption seriously. We need to plan this transition and not leave it to the whims of the market. We need to find ways to support impacted workers, families and communities while respecting Indigenous rights and consent.
Jobs, jobs, jobs.
There is no doubt that workers and their families, even whole communities, are hurting in Alberta. No one wants this. The problem is that more of the same is not the best medicine.
Export pipelines like Energy East would not be the economic boon some suggest they would be. Jeff Rubin, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and a former chief economist at CIBC, questions the need for new export tar sands pipelines. As reported in a BNN article, “...the claim that additional pipeline capacity to tidewater will unlock higher prices is not corroborated by either past or current market conditions. Rubin says overseas markets pay even lower prices for bitumen than in North America, so there is no economic case for additional pipeline capacity to tidewater or expanded oilsands production. He says international commitments to reduce global carbon emissions over the next three decades will also reduce the size of future oil markets.”
When it comes to jobs, pipeline projects produce primarily short-term jobs during the construction phase and secondary industries. TransCanada also has a terrible track record on job promises. There are also the jobs put at risk with a major spill.
The Bay of Fundy for example sustains 2,500 direct jobs in fishing on the New Brunswick side alone. A major 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.
There are also the jobs that we can and should be supporting in climate solutions ranging from energy conservation and efficiency measures to renewable energy, public transit and sustainable agriculture. This is only the tip of the iceberg though, the truth is the solutions to climate change are many, and typically generate more jobs than investments in the fossil fuel industry. Solutions include efforts like Reclaim Alberta, a campaign led by two Albertans calling on the oil industry to pay for the efforts to clean up Alberta's expansive aging and expired oil and gas infrastructure (which continues to pollute people's land and generate methane emissions), helping put thosands of workers back to work across the entire province.
Opposing new fossil fuel projects and infrastructure is not hypocritical.
Undoubtedly, tomorrow’s rally will feature some version of the argument that anyone opposed to any fossil fuel projects and infrastructure is a raging hypocrite (did anyone else hear a collective sigh from the environment movement just now?) because their [insert iPhone, car, clothes, glasses etc] is derived from fossil fuels. Rather than give this argument too much credence with a fuller response, I’ll leave you with this helpful and articulate response from Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes in her interview with The Nation:“[responding to the question - but we all use fossil fuels] Of course we do, and people in the North wore clothes made of cotton picked by slaves. But that did not make them hypocrites when they joined the abolition movement. It just meant that they were also part of the slave economy, and they knew it. That is why they acted to change the system, not just their clothes.”
There are many ways that individuals, groups and movements engage in this bigger collective challenge we face in realizing a just transition off of fossil fuel production and consumption. Stopping further expansion of the industry, literally while forest fires burn the world over, Arctic ice melts and we brace for another season of intense storms, is a non-starter.