The Conservation Council of New Brunswick today released a report on the risks to the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine from TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Energy East Pipeline. The Energy East oil pipeline is a proposal of Alberta-based TransCanada Corporation to pipe up to 1.1 million barrels-per-day of bitumen from the oil sands in Alberta and Saskatchewan for export out of Eastern Canada.
“It’s critical that the public be well aware of the risks to the Bay of Fundy, and that the discussion around this project reflect the issues,” says report author Matthew Abbott. Abbott is the Fundy Baykeeper, an initiative of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick to spot environmental threats in the Bay of Fundy and work to resolve them.
The report, entitled Tanker Traffic and Tar Balls: What TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline Means for the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine, examines the impacts the proposed pipeline would have on the marine environment and the 75 coastal communities in New Brunswick that depend on tourism and fisheries jobs along the Bay of Fundy.
Abbot explains that the pipeline would affect the Fundy Coast because “Saint John is currently the only export terminal included in the project, meaning the vast majority of oil would pass through the Bay of Fundy-Gulf of Maine ecosystem on an additional 115 to 290 tankers per year.” The higher number is based on the possibility of a second export terminal being built.
The Bay of Fundy already has an industrialized coastline. It is host to a shipping port dealing in crude oil, liquefied natural gas (LNG), container ships and more. If the Energy East Pipeline became a reality, it would vastly increase the ship traffic.
The effect of the increased traffic would place greater risk on both marine life and coastal communities.
The report explains that noise from tanker traffic causes heightened levels of stress on the North Atlantic Right Whale, the most endangered large whale in the world, and impedes whales’ ability to communicate. Studies show whales are forced to ‘shout’ over tanker engines and are unable to communicate when noise reaches a certain level.
The threat to coastal communities on the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine goes beyond the dangers of increased industrial traffic on the Bay alone. Spills could prove disastrous.
The reports highlights that the Energy East Pipeline would bring significant quantities of diluted bitumen to the Bay of Fundy for the first time. A 2013 Canadian federal report confirmed that when diluted bitumen is mixed with sediment in salt water it forms “tarballs” and sinks. The sunken oil would prove harder to clean, and severely disrupt the marine ecosystem, including the coastal fishery. The report notes that Bay of Fundy fisheries employ over 5,000 people.
Previous tanker spills in the Bay have resulted in major losses for affected fisheries, including the spill of the George M. Keller in 1979 and the Carmague in 1989.
The other major industry on the Bay of Fundy that would suffer if the pipeline were to go forward is tourism. The report notes that in 2009 the Bay of Fundy was a finalist in a global competition to name the New 7 Wonders of Nature, highlighting that the Bay of Fundy is internationally recognized as an ecological treasure.
The report explains that both increased industrial traffic, a further industrialized coastline and spills would harm marine animals that bring visitors to the region, as well as make the area less appealing overall.
“With this pipeline proposal, we’re gambling thousands of existing, permanent jobs for the prospect of short-term employment that will leave the Bay of Fundy at risk for the long term,” says Abbott.
The report also draws attention to what is described as a flawed (ongoing) process for approval or rejection of the pipeline.
“The National Energy Board has received the application, but it has not yet been deemed (it) complete … TransCanada has not yet announced whether they will have a second export terminal,” Abbott explains.
But while the application is technically incomplete, the next step has already been activated. “Even though the application is far from complete, the National Energy Board (NEB) has already (closed) the participant application process and has begun naming who will get to intervene (starting with Aboriginal groups).”
The impacts under consideration by the NEB also lack depth, according to Abbott. “A proper process would include cumulative impacts, i.e. not only looking at ‘new’ tankers from Energy East, but in the context of existing activity and other plans that would add more traffic. It would also make it much easier for citizens to participate, would take the time needed to evaluate such a huge project. It would also consider climate change.”
The report makes a number of recommendations to address concerns raised in it. Abbott says that it would be ideal if his organization is able to achieve intervenor status to bring the concerns directly to the NEB.