“TransCanada has botched both their public relations strategy and their official application to build Energy East, so it's not surprising that they seem desperate to get some shovels in the ground prior to the federal election.” – Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada climate campaigner.
An open letter was released today by 20 groups in New Brunswick opposed to TransCanada’s plans to begin drilling in the Bay of Fundy. The signatories cite a six-page document obtained outlining TransCanada’s work plans for exploratory borehole drilling related to the Saint John, New Brunswick terminal of the proposed Energy East pipeline. TransCanada has confirmed to Ricochet that drilling work is slated to begin shortly.
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The open letter warns the drilling could begin as early as today: “This procedure is invasive and has the potential to hurt resident's foundations, drinking water, along with the natural environment that we all value and protect. Why are boreholes being drilled before this project is approved without consultation with residents and others affected?”
Hotly debated pipeline
Concerns enumerated in the open letter include potential impacts on nearby homes and roads, and on shorebirds and marine life. A recent study by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick found that the increased tanker traffic associated with Energy East would increase stress levels for the Bay of Fundy’s endangered North Atlantic right whales.
The letter also alleges the company has not received free, prior and informed consent from local Indigenous communities, noting “this shore and seabed is on unceded Wolastoq territory.”
The signatories say they were only informed of the drilling plans by “a last-minute release of a letter from TransCanada on August 25.”
Energy East would be the largest tar sands pipeline in North America, carrying an estimated 1.1 million barrels per day from Alberta to the Atlantic coast. The proposed mega-project has been one of the most hotly debated issues in the federal election campaign.
The Conservatives support Energy East, while the NDP and Liberals have taken more ambivalent positions. All three major parties have been targeted by protesters opposed to the pipeline. The Bloc Quebecois have made opposition to Energy East a signature of their campaign efforts.
In New Brunswick, visible opposition to Energy East has been growing in recent months, despite strong political support for the pipeline and marine export terminal from the provincial government led by Premier Brian Gallant.
“As a resident of New Brunswick my biggest concerns are about water as it goes through nearly 300 waterways in this province and then on to the Bay of Fundy,” local organizer Lynaya Astephen told Ricochet by email. “It's not if but when a pipeline spill happens.”
In late May, over 500 people marched through the Saint John, N.B. community of Red Head to the Bay of Fundy to oppose the pipeline.
Drill first, get approval later?
The open letter complains that TransCanada’s drilling is proceeding without Energy East first completing the National Energy Board review process and receiving the necessary federal and provincial permits. (The TransCanada work plan document, it’s important to note, describes this new drilling as “an extension of preliminary work conducted in 2014.”)
Under the Conservative government, the NEB review process for major projects like pipelines has been significantly weakened.
“Any assessment that includes a rigorous assessment of climate impacts will have to reject this project,” Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada told Ricochet by email, noting that the NDP in particular has promised to include climate impacts and Canada’s ability to meet international greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments in a revamped NEB process.
With the election campaign underway and a pivotal United Nations climate summit beginning at the end of November, the timing of TransCanada’s work in the Bay of Fundy is potentially inflammatory.
“I believe the work being done right before an election is not a coincidence,” Astephen told Ricochet.
“TransCanada, with the support of the Harper Conservative government, continues to operate in a way that does not respect democracy in Canada or the right to free, prior, and informed consent of First Nations affected by this ludicrous proposal,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller, a climate justice organizer with 350.org.
UPDATE Aug. 27 1:05 PM EDT: Energy East spokesperson Tim Duboyce has replied to our request for comment, sending us the following statement by email:
“To answer your question this geotechnical work is a critical part of the design process for the proposed Canaport/Energy East Marine Terminal. The sampling the barge will be collecting is the continuation of work which we began in 2014. This work will help determine things like composition of rock and soil to ensure the Canaport/Energy East Marine Terminal is planned and designed in the safest manner possible.
We first made land owners located adjacent to the proposed Canaport site aware of this work back in mid-July. It is important to note the work will not be disruptive. We simply wanted to keep people informed of what the barge was doing there.
The actual beginning of the work will depend on weather and some other factors, but it will be starting soon.”