Red Head: end of the line for Energy East?

Written by Tracy Glynn on May 5, 2015


Lynaya Astephen, resident of Red Head, at the Quebec Act on Climate March in late March 2015. Photo by Tracy Glynn.

Lynaya Astephen settled in Red Head seven years ago because of its natural setting along the Bay of Fundy. Astephen describes the East Saint John community as family-friendly where 1,500 people co-exist with wildlife. She never imagined that an oil tank farm would move in and be her neighbour.

“The field and forest that surround our home will be replaced with an oil tank farm, part of the Energy East tar sands pipeline,” says Astephen. “We’re the end of the line for Energy East. Many people in our community oppose it because of fears of cancer and the wiping out of nature.”

Astephen is part of a new association called the Red Head and Anthony’s Cove Preservation Association that aims to protect Red Head in the face of TransCanada’s Energy East proposal.

TransCanada plans to pump 1.1. million barrels of crude bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to a new marine terminal in Red Head. Besides a marine terminal, an oil tank farm is planned to be built to store the oil prior to export. TransCanada will lease land from Irving for the oil tank farm. The tank farm would receive pipeline and rail line crude oil. Irving has already purchased 16 properties in the Red Head area.

The association is organizing a march for Red Head on May 30 with the support of organizations like the Council of Canadians, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick and the newly formed Peace and Friendship Alliance. The family-friendly march will include a barbecue and bonfire by Saint John firefighters.

Premier Brian Gallant has been an ardent supporter of the Energy East pipeline. But according to the Red Head and Anthony’s Cove Preservation Association, the risks of the pipeline will outweigh the benefits, noting that the pipeline will create only a handful of permanent jobs after its construction.

What is planned for the “end of the line”

Red Head is already affected by the oil and gas industry. Besides oil and gas pipelines, a total of 11 million barrels of crude oil is already stored in large tank farms at the Irving Marine Terminal and the Irving Oil Refinery within a 9-km radius of Red Head. Energy East would add another 6 to 8 million barrels of bitumen in heated oil tanks.

Volatile gases build up in the heated tanks full of bitumen. Once vented into the air, the toxic fumes can travel for miles downwind. According to a 2003 Shell Bitumen Handbook, bitumen fumes from heated storage tanks can “result in the irritation to the eyes, nose and respiratory tract and headaches and nausea.” Emissions from storage tanks can include benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and hydrogen sulfide, a deadly neurotoxin.

A 2004 World Health Organization study on bitumen fumes reported that health effects are understudied but serious. Workers exposed to fumes can suffer from a variety of respiratory and skin ailments. Studies on road workers exposed to bitumen fumes say long-term health effects can include cancer, reduced lung function and DNA damage.

Residents of Red Head and East Saint John, including Champlain Heights and Forest Hills, already breathe air with benzene and other VOCs at levels that exceed safe human health guidelines. Air quality monitoring done in 2012 and 2013 reveal that air in this area had benzene levels of around 0.45 ppb. Ontario has set safe benzene levels at 0.14 ppb. New Brunswick, like Canada, has not established a safe guideline for the amount of benzene, a known carcinogen, in the air.

“Residents of Saint John are already subject to 38 times the industrial pollution released in Fredericton and 243 times the amount released in Moncton,” says Inka Milewski an independent researcher who has studied the links between cancer and industrial pollution in New Brunswick.

“Saint John is already home to the largest oil refinery in the country, yet remarkably, there has never been a community health assessment done in the city, as was done in Belledune in 2005. The only health study done to-date found that residents of Saint John had lung cancer rates more than 30 per cent higher than the provincial rate and rates in Moncton or Fredericton. Prior to allowing more polluting industries into the community the full and real health impacts of existing industries on residents and workers should be assessed. Relying on industry to use hypothetical health risk models to predict the health status of residents is simply not enough,” maintains Milewski.

Six families moved away from Alberta’s Peace River region after similar oil tanks moved near their community and affected their health. “I see the health effects on my boys, the tremendous traffic on the roads and I can smell the bitumen,” Thea Breau told Andrew Nikiforuk for a story for The Tyee in 2013. Air pollution from Baytex Energy’s heated bitumen storage tanks south of Peace River is believed to have sickened many people, including farmers.

Astephen’s local fight has made her a climate activist. She promotes the transition to renewable energy and has joined the Peace and Friendship Alliance, a newly formed alliance of indigenous people and allies in New Brunswick that are working to honour the Peace and Friendship Treaties and fight destructive projects like Energy East. Astephen marched for climate action with 25,000 others in Quebec City in March.

“Being with 25,000 all for the same reason made me realize that we are all fighting for our environment together. What moved me was the urgent yet positive vibe that made me feel there is hope. All of us had the same purpose that day to move our provincial and federal government to take action,” says Astephen.

The Red Head Anthony’s Cove Preservation Association will hold a public meeting on Thursday, May 14th at 7:00pm at Exhibition Park Raceway, Building 1, Saint John. A large March is also organized for Saturday, May 30th at 1:00pm at Red Head (the starting point is the intersection of Red Head Road and Hewitt Road). This will be a large regional march with individuals and groups coming from communities across New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Maine. The purpose of the events will be to provide public education about the impacts of the proposed Energy East on our community of Red Head and the Bay of Fundy.

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