The controversial $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline project is hanging by a thread. If it were to be built it would deliver 1.1-million barrels of oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to Eastern Canada refineries and a marine terminal in New Brunswick. Communities from Manitoba to New Brunswick have joined with environmental groups to oppose the pipeline.
The Pembina Institute estimates the annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the Energy East pipeline are the equivalent of putting an additional seven million cars on the road.
Steadfast opposition to the pipeline has intensified this year. In January Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and 82 Montreal-area municipalities announced their opposition to Energy East, saying the potential risks outweigh its possible economic benefits. In total there are almost 300 Quebec mayors who oppose the project.
“We are against it because it still represents significant environmental threats and too few economic benefits for greater Montreal,” said Coderre. He also said, “An oil spill can’t just be turned off, and it would affect multiple waterways, including water basins and groundwater — you have to take all of this into consideration. Call a spade a spade: It’s a bad project.”
According to the Council of Canadians the Energy East oil pipeline has a 15 percent chance of a “full bore rupture” each year it is operational. Over the life of the pipeline there is virtual certainty that the pipeline will leak.
The Liberal government unveiled 5 new principles that proposed pipelines will be measured against including “meaningful consultation” with Indigenous peoples. This is welcome news as many indigenous groups have been at the forefront of pipeline protests. The government will extend the Conservative government’s dictate that pipeline reviews take no more than 15 months.
On June 16, 2016 the National Energy Board (NEB) started its review process for the Energy East pipeline. In September under a barrage of criticism, the NEB panel members resigned putting the future of the pipeline in doubt. As reported by the CBC a bank analysis said the resignations have reduced the likelihood of the pipeline getting built from 33 percent to 25 percent.
The chances of the Energy East and other fossil fuel pipelines ever being built took a hit in January when the federal government announced that it will factor upstream GHG emissions in addition to direct emissions. This is in stark contrast to Harper’s Conservatives who were oil industry and pipeline advocates rather than impartial arbiters. Under that government the NEB provided rubber stamps and did not really take opposing views seriously.
As Kai Nagata, Dogwood Initiative’s energy and democracy director, told DeSmog Canada, “the dark days of the National Energy Board are coming to an end.”
A new era of responsible pipeline assessment is being instituted by the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. When asked about the Energy East pipeline Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau said,
“[W]hat we’ve actually said is we have a rigorous process by which these decisions will be made in a way that reassures Canadians that we’re doing the right things for growth and for jobs, while we do the right things for the environment.”
A serious review of the Energy East and other fossil fuel pipelines will conclude that they simply cannot be built. If these pipelines are put to a climate test that is based on the assumptions set in the Paris Climate Agreement, they will never get build. The accord reached by 186 countries at COP21 states that we must work towards keeping warming below of keeping warming below 1.5ºC.
In its essence the issue is pitting the economy against the environment, but as Prime Minister Trudeau said recently there really can be no dichotomy. Both the economic benefits and environmental impacts must be assessed together.
International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde recently said that she hopes to see Trudeau’s economic policies catch on elsewhere.
“I really very much hope that Canadian economic policies can actually go viral,” Lagarde said in the foyer of the House of Commons after meeting with Trudeau on September 13th.
As the Canadian Prime Minister has stated, economic policy decisions must factor environmental impacts. Pipelines are a threat to clean air, water and land. They are also diametrically opposed to climate action. The Energy East and other fossil fuel pipelines don’t have a chance of ever getting built if the government’s decision is based on science and evidence.