Energy East open house in Saint John met with opposition

Written by Tracy Glynn on November 1, 2014

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Elsy Mason spoke of health conditions in her family that she blames on living near the Irving oil refinery in Saint John. She wants jobs in the renewable energy sector. Photo by Tracy Glynn.

TransCanada files pipeline application with National Energy Board

Saint John – On the same day that TransCanada filed its 30,000 page application to the National Energy Board for its Energy East pipeline plan, Thursday, Oct. 30, dozens of people demonstrated outside TransCanada’s open house on the pipeline in Saint John.

Dozens of workers seeking employment in the construction of a pipeline also attended but the numbers of TransCanada’s representatives and police officers often outnumbered members of the public gathered at any one time.

One man was arrested for carrying a sign of opposition into the meeting and a videographer and this writer were escorted out of the open house by a police officer for documenting residents questioning TransCanada officials. A Telegraph-Journal photographer was allowed to stay inside and take pictures.

TransCanada’s proposed pipeline would be the largest in North America, extending 4,400 km. The pipeline would carry an estimated 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day from points in Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Montréal and Lévis, Québec and to proposed new marine terminals in Cacouna, Québec and in Saint John at the Irving oil refining complex. TransCanada and Irving Oil have formed a joint venture to build, own and operate a deep water marine terminal in Saint John.

Environmental groups are concerned that the pipeline will harm waterways, threatened salmon and the endangered North Atlantic Right whale and fisheries in the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine.

The proposed pipeline route would transport crude oil and bitumen across at least 90 watersheds and 961 waterways in Canada. In New Brunswick, the proposed route goes under or across the St. John, Miramichi, Tobique, Salmon and Madawaska rivers, Coal Creek, which drains into Grand Lake, and the Bay of Fundy. The pipeline will also travel over and through drinking water sources.

Climate change activists point out that the project would facilitate a 40% expansion of the Alberta tar sands and increase national greenhouse gas emissions by 32 million tonnes. The greenhouse gas rate does not include the emissions of burning the oil. Greenhouse gas emissions generated by Energy East is estimated to be equivalent to adding more than 7 million cars a year to Canada’s roads, according to the Pembina Institute.

While the proposed pipeline would contribute almost twice as much carbon pollution to the air as all of New Brunswick, the National Energy Board has said that it will not require TransCanada to examine upstream impacts like climate change. The voluminous regulatory application is focused on economic benefits and what TransCanada calls “environmentally responsible development.”

One of Brian Gallant’s first activities as the new premier of New Brunswick was a trip to Alberta and to other Premiers to show his support for Energy East and to promote a second pipeline.

“We just voted out Premier Alward who wanted to champion global warming through unconventional shale gas development. Now we’ve elected Premier Gallant who wants to do the same thing but with unconventional tar sands oil,” says Leticia Adair with the Council of Canadians Saint John Chapter who helped organize a presence at the Saint John open house.

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“We are the people who will stop Energy East!” shouted participants outside TransCanada’s open house in Saint John on Oct. 29, 2014. Photo by Tracy Glynn.

Opponents to Energy East circulated flyers outside the open house that highlighted that a spill is inevitable and that TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline spilled 12 times in its first year.

Adair stopped Saint John Fire Chief Kevin Clifford as he was leaving the open house to express her concerns with public safety if the pipeline was built. The Chief said that he wished to make it clear that he is pro-economic development but that he will continue to push for more resources with such developments in his city. In 2013, $500,000 was cut from Saint John’s fire service budget. Saint John eliminated an engine company including 16 firefighters and a truck because of a budget restraint.

“In ten minutes, a broken pipeline of this size could spew out 1 million litres of dense, sticky oil. We’ve seen in other areas how devastating an oil spill can be to thriving fishing and tourism communities, and how expensive if not nearly impossible they can be to clean up. And tar sands oil is even more trouble,” says Lois Corbett with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

“This proposal comes on the heels of the Harper government gutting all our environmental protection legislation… Bitumen is not your grandfather’s oil. It takes a lot of water to get it and poisons a lot of water to refine it,” said Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians at a public forum in Saint John on Oct. 28.

TransCanada says the pipeline will create 1,087 direct long-term jobs across Canada. Opponents say that TransCanada’s promises of jobs for Atlantic Canadians are bloated, saying that at least 90 per cent of the oil would be exported due to Canada’s low refining capacity and pointing to a lack of commitment from refineries like Irving’s to refine the bitumen at home.

Albert Hogan Jr., a regional organizer for Labourers’ Union (LiUNA), cooked some burgers with other union members to show their support for the pipeline. Hogan feels that the pipeline can be built safely.

“The pipeline will create more work for our area,” says Hogan. He says that the union has not taken an official position on the pipeline. He is not opposed to looking at supporting job creation in energy efficiency and renewable energy but as far as he knows his union is not there yet.

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Mark D’Arcy (right) questioning Maurice Robichaud of TransCanada (left) about the Energy East pipeline at TransCanada’s open house in Saint John on Oct. 29, 2014. Photo by Tracy Glynn.

Mark D’Arcy with the Council of Canadians Fredericton Chapter traveled to the Saint John open house to show his opposition to the pipeline and to ask TransCanada’s Maurice Robichaud for an open house in Fredericton. Robichaud’s career has included high-level government positions in both the Frank McKenna and Shawn Graham liberal governments. D’Arcy says he will await a response from TransCanada with his request.

Resistance to Energy East pipeline spreads across Canada

“Across North America, communities have been saying ‘no’ to pipelines. People have come together to reject Keystone XL and Line 9. Out west they have rejected Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan, and today we are rejecting Energy East,” says Emma Norton of Stop Energy East Halifax.

In Quebec, the provincial government stopped TransCanada from doing seismic testing as part of the pipeline proposal in order to prevent harm to the endangered beluga population, which is supported by almost 50,000 Quebeckers in a petition. About 2,000 people marched against the pipeline and tar sands expansion in Cacouna, Quebec in early October. Several Quebec communities have passed resolutions against the pipeline.

Ontario voters in Kenora, North Bay and Thunder Bay recently elected city councils with mandates to oppose Energy East. In Ottawa, a majority on city council have expressed concerns about Energy East, while more than 40,000 Canadians have signed petitions opposing Energy East and more than 50,000 people have sent letters to the National Energy Board in recent weeks asking that climate change and community concerns be included in their review of Energy East.

“There is no way Quebecers are going to allow what Canadians in the west and Americans to the south don’t want, and that is unacceptable water and climate risks from an export pipeline that benefits the bottom line of one pipeline company,” says Steven Guilbeault of Equiterre.

Pipeline proponents argue that the pipeline is about nation building and job creation. One of Energy East’s champions is Deputy chair of TD Bank and former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna. In an interview published by The Globe and Mail on August 31, 2013, McKenna admitted the permanent job creation from Energy East “appears modest at the moment, but added it is critical for the region to build its energy infrastructure.” Opponents add that TransCanada’s Energy East plans involve shipping Alberta crude to lucrative global markets. They argue that the renewable energy sector creates seven times the jobs that oil and gas industry do.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, long-time climate justice organizer with Idle No More who recently was reported to be under RCMP surveillance, is convinced of that an unbreakable wall of opposition to the pipeline is being built.

“From Cree, Dene, and Metis lands in Alberta, all the way to Mi’kma’ki lands in Atlantic Canada, First Nations are armed with powerful legal instruments such as Aboriginal and treaty rights, the right to free prior and informed consent and rights of duty to consult and accommodate that promise to mire this project in legal proceedings for years. Investors and shareholders would be wise to consider the clear and present financial risk and uncertainty this constitutionally protected Aboriginal legal regime poses to the EnergyEast proposal,” says Thomas-Mueller.

The Council of Canadians’ “Our Risk, Their Reward” tour on Energy East with Maude Barlow continues next week — in Fredericton on Nov. 4 at 7:00pm at Wilmot United Church and in Edmundston on Nov. 6th at 7:00pm at Centre Maillet. The Saint John public forum with Barlow and others can be viewed here.

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