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TransCanada's Energy East: Another Broken Pipeline Plan

08/06/2013 05:12 EDT | Updated 10/06/2013 05:12 EDT

Imagine that you step out your door for the morning commute, but your street is flooded. Not with water, but with bitumen from the tar sands.

This is precisely what happened with Exxon's Pegasus pipeline when it spilled over 1 million litres of tar sands crude into the Arkansas suburb of Mayflower earlier this year. And it's the potential future facing communities along the route of TransCanada's recently announced Energy East pipeline, if the plan moves ahead. The project would see oil, including diluted bitumen, transported from Alberta's tar sands to Québec and Atlantic Canada.

PIPELINE SAFETY IN QUESTION

"What I have documented from the pipeline industry is that the mix of politics and commercial interests has resulted in false public claims of exceptional industry practice when the reality is that industry struggles to comply with code and regulation." This recent testimony at Senate committee from a former TransCanada engineer who made headlines last year raises serious questions about TransCanada's promises.

Tar sands crude (diluted bitumen) is unlike conventional oil. It is thick, requiring dilution with toxic chemicals. The devastating spill of over 3.8 million litres of tar sands crude in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan underscores how tar sands spills are far more devastating. Conventional cleanup methods haven't been able to address the heavy crude which sunk to the bottom of the river bed. Three years and over $800 million later, the river is still polluted.

The impacts of a spill in the Bay of Fundy could be even worse, given the strong tides.

The Energy East project would see the conversion of an existing gas pipeline, the Mainline, from Saskatchewan to Québec, to carry crude oil. The Pegasus pipeline that flooded the streets of Mayflower was also designed to carry a lighter substance.

According to a study by the National Petroleum Council for the U.S. Department of Energy, "pipelines operating outside of their design parameters such as those carrying commodities for which they were not initially designed, or high flow pipelines, are at the greatest risk of integrity issues in the future due to the nature of their operation."

These are the risks communities along Energy East are being asked to bear.

ENERGY SECURITY & JOBS CLAIMS ARE QUESTIONABLE

While there has been a lot of talk about Atlantic energy security, this crude will actually go to the highest bidder and the U.S., China, India and Europe are in line. This would threaten the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy with supertanker traffic carrying diluted bitumen. Additionally, just because crude may be refined in Québec and New Brunswick does not mean that it will be consumed there. The majority of oil produced in Atlantic Canada is exported - how can we trust that this will be different?

We need to look critically at job promises for this project. Studies have shown that TransCanada's Keystone XL job promises have basically been a smokescreen to win approval of an unwanted pipeline. TransCanada claimed Keystone "would create 20,000 jobs." However, President Obama says construction of Keystone XL would create 2,000 short-term jobs and only 50-100 long term jobs.

Generating jobs that support families in the Atlantic region and across the country is absolutely crucial, but this doesn't mean we shouldn't question the quality and types of jobs being presented and the environmental and social toll these jobs will have. The adverse long-term effects a spill would have on peoples' livelihoods need to be considered too, particularly related to fisheries jobs in the Bay of Fundy and Passamaquoddy Bay.

ENERGY EAST WOULD FACILITATE TAR SANDS EXPANSION

With members, supporters and allies along the pipeline route, the Council of Canadians intends to build awareness and work with those who would be directly impacted by the project. We will be present at upcoming TransCanada project open houses along the pipeline route, intend on participating in the forthcoming National Energy Board proceedings and support local opposition that has already emerged.

Energy East and other pipelines are being pushed through to lock in expansion of the tar sands. Since people are increasingly aware of the dangers tar sands bring to their communities, it is no surprise that people are raising their voices to stop it.

We keep hearing that this pipeline is about energy security, but real energy security means prioritizing a transition off of fossil fuels, particularly carbon intensive crude like the tar sands. There is an abundance of potential for generating decent, green jobs in provinces like New Brunswick. These jobs, such as work improving building's energy efficiency, can provide for families while reducing emissions. TransCanada's Energy East pipeline however, is part of the problem, not the solution.

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