Environmental groups have mounted a campaign against a plan to ship western crude to Quebec, saying it's just one step towards creating an eastern route for "dirty" oilsands crude exports.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, meanwhile, shrugged off concerns that environmental opposition could hinder Enbridge's plan to reverse the flow of its Line 9 pipeline from Montreal to southern Ontario.
He said opposition is inevitable to a project that has otherwise garnered a great deal of "enthusiasm."
"That certainly has been my experience since I became the minister of natural resources — there hasn't been a single project anywhere in the country, irrespective of what it is, that isn't opposed by someone," Oliver told reporters after a speech to a Calgary business audience.
Enbridge announced Thursday it has applied to the National Energy Board to reverse a stretch of its Line 9 pipeline that currently runs from Montreal to Westover, Ont. It also wants to increase the line's capacity from 240,000 barrels per day to 300,000 barrels per day.
However, a group of environmentalist organizations that have been arguing Enbridge wants to create an eastern export route for "dirty oil" from Alberta, said Friday that they view the pipeline reversal as a preliminary step in that plan.
"With this application, the evidence becomes overwhelming that oil companies are planning to send tar sands through eastern Canada, Quebec and New England," the groups said in a statement Friday.
Patrick Bonin of Greenpeace said in the statement that "Quebec cannot count on the Harper Government, Alberta or the National Energy Board when it comes to the environment, and must refuse this project for the common good of Quebecers."
The groups say they don't believe Enbridge's assurances that it has no plans for creating an eastern export route and that the "the full reversal of Line 9 is almost certainly a precursor to a reversal of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline "
Oliver says critics of energy development can be divided into two groups. One is going to be opposed to energy development under any circumstances, he said.
"There's another broader group of people who care deeply about the environment, are uncertain about the facts and are worried about the potential impact," said Oliver.
Communicating with the second group is the "single biggest challenge," which the government is trying to address through advertising campaigns, among other things.
"We need all the help we can get in raising the profile of this issue, making people understand what the critical points are and communicating also on an emotive level," said Oliver.
"I think facts, and information, is crucial, but it's not enough. I think people have to understand how it will impact on them."
An example of ways the government can appeal to Canadians' emotions is looking at the role resource development has played in this country's history, Oliver told reporters.
"That's something I think that a lot of people in this country feel proud about."
Enbridge's Line 9 flowed from west to east when it was built in the 1970s, but it was reversed two decades later to respond to market conditions at the time. Now, Enbridge wants to restore its original flow so that eastern refineries can have access to western crude.
During the summer, the NEB gave Enbridge the green light to reverse a segment of Line 9 between Sarnia, Ont., and Westover, which is close to Imperial Oil's (TSX:IMO) Nanticoke refinery.
The application announced Thursday covers the remaining stretch to Montreal, where Suncor (TSX:SU) has a refinery.
Eastern refineries currently rely on crude imported from overseas, which is more expensive than oil that comes from Western Canada. It's one of the reasons why gasoline prices are much higher in the East than they are the West, though there are many other factors at play.
A lack of adequate pipeline capacity has meant Alberta crude hasn't been able to find its way to the most lucrative markets, leading to a supply glut that has depressed prices and eroded producers' profits.
Enbridge says the environmentalists' claims are "false."
"The market demand driving the Line 9 reversal projects, from Ontario and Quebec refiners, is for light crude oil, which is generally sourced from regions other than the Canadian oilsands," it said.
"However, crude oil derived from the oilsands region of Canada, sometimes called diluted bitumen or dilbit, could also be shipped on Line 9."
Enbridge added that dilbit is safely shipped every day through pipelines across North America.
"Decades of transporting heavy crude proves there is no evidence that pipelines transporting this product are more susceptible to internal corrosion than pipelines transporting other crude oil types."
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Syncrude Upgrader and Oil Sands
The refining or upgrading of the tarry bitumen which lies under the oil sands consumes far more oil and energy than conventional oil and produces almost twice as much carbon. Each barrel of oil requires 3-5 barrels of fresh water from the neighboring Athabasca River. About 90% of this is returned as toxic tailings into the vast unlined tailings ponds that dot the landscape. Syncrude alone dumps 500,000 tons of toxic tailings into just one of their tailings ponds everyday.
Boreal Forest and Coast Mountains / Atlin Lake, British Columbia | 2001
This area, located in the extreme northwest of British Columbia, marks the western boundary of the Boreal region. On the border of the Yukon and Southeast Alaska, the western flank of these mountains descends into Alaska's Tongass Rainforest and British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. Far from the oil sands, the greatest remaining coastal temperate and marine ecosystem is imminently threatened by the proposal to build a 750-mile pipeline to pump 550,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude to the coast. Once there, it would be shipped through some of the most treacherous waters, virtually assuring an ecological disaster at some point in the future.
Tailings Pond in Winter, Abstract #2 / Alberta Tar Sands | 2010
Even in the extreme cold of the winter, the toxic tailings ponds do not freeze. On one particularly cold morning, the partially frozen tailings, sand, liquid tailings and oil residue, combined to produce abstractions that reminded me of a Jackson Pollock canvas.
Aspen and Spruce | Northern Alberta | 2001
Photographed in late autumn in softly falling snow, a solitary spruce is set against a sea of aspen. The Boreal Forest of northern Canada is perhaps the best and largest example of a largely intact forest ecosystem. Canada's Boreal Forest alone stores an amount of carbon equal to ten times the total annual global emissions from all fossil fuel consumption.
Tar Sands at Night #1 | Alberta Oil Sands | 2010
Twenty four hours a day the oil sands eats into the most carbon rich forest ecosystem on the planet. Storing almost twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests, the boreal forest is the planet's greatest terrestrial carbon storehouse. To the industry, these diverse and ecologically significant forests and wetlands are referred to as overburden, the forest to be stripped and the wetlands dredged and replaced by mines and tailings ponds so vast they can be seen from outer space.
Dry Tailings #2 | Alberta Tar Sands | 2010
In an effort to deal with the problem of tailings ponds, Suncor is experimenting with dry tailings technology. This has the potential to limit, or eliminate, the need for vast tailings ponds in the future and lessen this aspect of the oil sands' impact.
Tailings Pond Abstract #2 | Alberta Tar Sands / 2010
So large are the Alberta Tar Sands tailings ponds that they can be seen from space. It has been estimated by Natural Resources Canada that the industry to date has produced enough toxic waste to fill a canal 32 feet deep by 65 feet wide from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, and on to Ottawa, a distance of over 2,000 miles. In this image, the sky is reflected in the toxic and oily waste of a tailings pond.
Confluence of Carcajou River and Mackenzie River | Mackenzie Valley, NWT | 2005
The Caracajou River winds back and forth creating this oxbow of wetlands as it joins the Mackenzie flowing north to the Beaufort Sea. This region, almost entirely pristine, and the third largest watershed basin in the world, will be directly impacted by the proposed Mackenzie Valley National Gas Pipeline to fuel the energy needs of the Alberta Oil Sands mega-project.
Black Cliff | Alberta Oil Sands | 2005
Oil sands pit mining is done in benches or steps. These benches are each approximately 12-15 meters high. Giant shovels dig the oil sand and place it into heavy hauler trucks that range in size from 240 tons to the largest trucks, which have a 400-ton capacity.
Oil Sands Upgrader in Winter| Alberta Oil Sands | 2010
The Alberta oil sands are Canada's single largest source of carbon. They produce about as much annually as the nation of Denmark. The refining of the tar-like bitumen requires more water and uses almost twice as much energy as the production of conventional oil. Particularly visible in winter, vast plumes of toxic pollution fill the skies. The oil sands are so large they create their own weather systems.
Boreal Forest and Wetland | Athabasca Delta Northern Alberta | 2010
Located just 70 miles downstream from the Alberta oil sands, the Athabasca Delta is the world's largest freshwater delta. It lies at the convergence of North America's four major flyways and is a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl and considered one of the most globally significant wetlands. It is threatened both by the massive water consumption of the tar sands and its toxic tailings ponds.
Tar Pit #3
This network of roads reminded me of a claw or tentacles. It represents for me the way in which the tentacles of the tar sands reach out and wreak havoc and destruction. Proposed pipelines to American Midwest, Mackenzie Valley, and through the Great Bear Rainforest will bring new threats to these regions while the pipelines fuel new markets and ensure the proposed five fold expansion of the oil sands.