Skip to content

Report shows Energy East great risk to Gatineau and Ottawa drinking water

World heritage site and river directly threatened by pipeline spill


Ottawa, ON – A spill from the proposed Energy East pipeline could have catastrophic impacts on the Rideau, Mississippi and Ottawa rivers, and put the region’s drinking water at risk. These are the findings of a new report by the independent Montreal-based technical firm Savaria Experts-Conseils Inc.

“The proposed Energy East pipeline would cross 68 watercourses in the Rideau and Mississippi watersheds, including the Rideau and Mississippi rivers,” says Abdelkader Aiachi, a Savaria Experts-Conseils geoscientist with expertise in geochemical and hydrogeochemical modeling, water quality monitoring and environmental impact assessment, and a Ph.D. in Isotope Hydrogeology. “A spill in one of those rivers would impact water quality, aquatic ecosystems and recreational activities.”

“A spill that is allowed to flow down the Rideau River for 48 hours would run through the heart of the City of Ottawa and reach one of Gatineau’s drinking water sources,” says Aiachi. “Similarly, and this does depend on a variety of factors, a spill in the Mississippi would affect Gatineau and Ottawa drinking water sources after about 60 hours.”

The report reviews case studies of significant spills in North America and finds that the response time to shut off valves is on average 16 hours. Notably, it took 14 hours for Husky Energy to react to the recent North Saskatchewan spill. The trouble the company had controlling and recovering the 250,000 litres of spilled heavy oil resulted in closures of drinking water intakes and the oil flowing over 500 kilometres downstream.

The report also points to the Kalamazoo River spill as an example of how expensive clean-up can be. It took over five years and cost Enbridge over $1 billion (USD) to clean up the 2010 spill and there are still some traces of oil found in the sediments.

“It’s time for the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau to take definitive action to oppose the Energy East pipeline,” says Graham Saul, Executive Director of Ecology Ottawa. “The risk is far too great and it directly threatens the Rideau Canal, which is a World Heritage site, as well as the Ottawa River, which was recently designated as a Canadian Heritage River by Minister McKenna.”

“The Energy East pipeline runs straight through the Baxter ecological conservation area,” says Daniel Cayley-Daoust, Energy and Climate Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “A spill in that wetland could cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem. Energy East is all risk and no reward.”

Savaria Experts-Conseils Inc. is an engineering consulting firm specializing in site characterization and remediation as well as in the implementation of environmental conservation and protection measures.

You can read the full report here.


For more information, please contact:

Graham Saul, Executive Director, Ecology Ottawa, 613-710-2819, graham.saul@ecologyottawa.ca

Dylan Penner, Media Officer, Council of Canadians, 613-795-8685, dpenner@canadians.org

Summary of important findings from the Savaria report:

1. Features of the Energy East Pipeline Project

  • Length: 4500 km.
  • Capacity: 174 million litres of oil per day — largest project of oil products transportation in Canada.
  • Crosses the Rideau river just north of Kemptville, near the Baxter Conservation Area.
  • Crosses the Mississippi River just north of Pakenham.
  • Crosses 68 watercourses in the Rideau and Mississippi watersheds.
  • Will transport 3 types of crude oils: Conventional light crude oil, synthetic crude oil and diluted bitumen.

2. Threat to drinking water of an Energy East spill in the Rideau and Mississippi Rivers

  • Ottawa and Gatineau surface water intakes are approximately 52 km downstream of pipeline crossing on the Rideau River.

    • According to Savaria’s modelling, it would take about 48 hours for oil spilled in the river to reach the water intake sources.
  • Ottawa and Gatineau surface water intakes are approximately 60 km downstream of the pipeline crossing on the Mississippi River.

    • According to Savaria’s modelling, it would take about 60 hours for oil spilled in the river to reach the water intake sources.
  • In comparison, the Husky spill in Saskatchewan travelled over 500 km and the Kalamazoo spill travelled approximately 60 km. Further comparison shows that drinking water sources for over 70,000 people were closed along the North Saskatchewan River for over a month.
  • Data from other catastrophic spills shows that it has taken from 8 hours to 2 weeks to notice and react to spills, and that it was often done by visual confirmation rather than using technology.
  • The pipeline crosses over the Oxford aquifer that many private well owners take their water from. The aquifer is shallow and vulnerable to potential oil spills in certain areas.

3. Direct impact of a spill in one of the rivers

  • Impacts on aquatic ecosystems – e.g. death or injury to wildlife (birds, fish, amphibians, etc.), disruption of parts of aquatic lifecycles, disruption and death of flora, etc.
  • Disruption or interruption of recreational activities – e.g. Beach closures, swimming, canoeing/kayaking/boat use, fishing
  • Loss of economic activity – e.g. lower reputation of city/tourist sites, disruption of tourist sites (e.g. canal, beaches, conservation area, water sports, tour boats, etc.), etc.
  • Oil or bitumen can spread to shore lines – e.g. impacting terrestrial fauna and flora.
  • Can mix in the sediments at the bottom of the river – e.g. can make sediments unlivable or modify conditions for aquatic fauna/insects/plants that usually live there.
  • Clean-up and intervention costs for a catastrophic spills can reach over $1 billion.

4. Potential quantity of oil spilled – catastrophic spill modelling (full pipeline rupture)

  • Scenario 1 – Valves are shut within 13 minutes (TransCanada’s promise): 2 to 10 million litres of oil spilled.
  • Scenario 2 – Valves are shut within 120 minutes: 15 to 23 million litres of oil spilled.
  • These are extremely optimistic scenarios and take for granted that staff are properly trained and won’t make an error, that equipment works perfectly. In other cases of catastrophic spills, reaction time to shut down valves has been much higher than 120 minutes.
  • Because this is a very large pipeline, even in these optimistic scenarios, quantities of oil spilled will be high.
  • Valve placement will impact how much oil will spill.

5. Threat to water in the region

  • A spill in the Mississippi river would reach the Ottawa river in about 14 hours (about 14 km distance).
  • The pipeline goes through many wetlands including the Baxter Conservation Area (80 Ha) — A spill could cause irreversible damage on the ecosystem and could cost up to $250,000 per hectare to clean up, usually by replacing the wetland.

6. Case study #1 – Husky Energy oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River (July 2016)

  • Estimated 250,000 litres of oil spilled.
  • 14 hours passed before the company alerted the government and shut down its valves.
  • Oil traveled over 500 km downstream.

7. Case study #2 – Enbridge Line 6b oil spill in the Kalamazoo River, Michigan (July 2010)

  • Estimated 3.3 million litres of oil spilled.
  • The company shut off valves after a fieldworker alerted the company of the spill 17 hours after the first alarm had gone off.
  • Oil had spread 60 kilometers downstream.
  • It cost Enbridge over $1.2 billion to clean up.

You can read the full report here.