Canadian Military Voices Concerns Over Energy East Pipeline

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As hearings get underway on the proposed Energy East pipeline, documents obtained by the CBC's French-language service, Radio-Canada, show the Canadian military has expressed grave concerns about the possibility of an oil spill.

Memos released under Access to Information show officials at the Canadian Forces garrison in Petawawa, Ont., have been demanding answers from TransCanada Corp., the company behind the project, about a section of pipeline that passes through the base. The pipeline, which is already in place, is designed to transport liquid natural gas, but would be switched to carrying crude oil if Energy East goes ahead.

cfb petawawa
Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in Ontario is show on Sept. 4, 2006. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/CP)

In a series of emails dating back to 2014, Donald Megrath, the hazardous material officer for Petawawa, lays out his concerns about a potential pipeline breach on the nearby Petawawa River.

"A crude oil spill … is a significant environmental event," he writes in one note.

"What is their emergency response plan to cover, control and respond to this?"

Another email from January 2015 raises concerns about the possibility of "an epic, life, environmental and social altering spill."

The documents detail some of the correspondence between the military and TransCanada. The company wrote a letter in April 2014 to answer a series of specific questions posed by defence officials about what sort of emergency planning TransCanada had carried out to respond to a spill along the pipeline, especially near water sources.

In the letter, the company assures the military its pipeline can be shut down "within minutes" in the event of a breach. In further correspondence, the company clarifies just how close its pipeline would come to other military installations, revealing it would pass within 600 metres of the Canadian Forces base in North Bay, Ont., and just 200 metres from the base in Suffield, Alta.

Common concerns

Tim Duboyce, a spokesman for TransCanada, says the questions raised by the military echo those of other groups and individuals who are concerned about pipeline safety.

"Of course, security and safety is the most important issue, at front of mind for people," Duboyce said.

"It's the most important issue for us as well, as a company."

While Duboyce was not familiar with the documents outlining the military's issues with the proposed pipeline, he confirmed TransCanada has had discussions with officials at CFB Petawawa and will continue to do so if more questions arise.

Duboyce also repeated an argument pipeline proponents have made countless times that pipelines are "the safest way that we have at our disposal as a society to move oil to market."

Public hearings

Opponents of Energy East, however, are not convinced.

"National Defence is asking questions that everyone is asking," said Sidney Ribaux, director general of the environmental group Equiterre.

"Unfortunately, like National Defence, most of us are not getting those answers."

Ribaux accuses TransCanada of trying to push through its project without formulating a proper emergency response plan, calling it "very disappointing but not so surprising."

The National Energy Board launched public hearings on the $15-billion Energy East project in Saint John yesterday. If approved, it will transport crude oil roughly 4,500 kilometres from the Alberta oilsands to refineries in Eastern Canada. The National Energy Board must hand in its report to the federal government by March 2018.

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