Tar sands pipelines

Energy East: Protecting water is the real test of national unity

Divisive rhetoric by pipeline advocates obscures key issues of common concern
Photo: Globevision

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s announcement opposing TransCanada’s controversial Energy East pipeline has provoked a political firestorm.

Energy East is increasingly being framed as a national unity issue where Montreal and Quebec are standing in the way of Albertan oil reaching Eastern Canadian refineries and a new export port in Saint John, New Brunswick. This is happening at a time when oil workers in the prairies are hurting from dropping oil prices and a lack of new export infrastructure. West is pitted against East. The ghosts of Trudeau past and the infamous National Energy Program are being resurrected.

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While political figures are lining up to argue that Montreal’s opposition to the Energy East pipeline threatens to divide this country, our shared concern for protecting drinking water must serve to unite us.

Water protection is a prominent feature of the Montreal Metropolitan Council’s final report, which followed public consultations where an overwhelming 97 per cent of participants opposed Energy East. In an era of increasing water scarcity and pollution, Canada must unite around caring for water as a fiercely managed public trust based on the principles of justice and sustainability.

The 4400-km path of Energy East, crossing six provinces, threatens over 1000 waterways with a major oil spill. The pipeline route callously runs near and through critical waterways on which Montreal relies. Energy East would cross the Rivière des Mille Îles, which nearly 400,000 residents of Montreal’s northern tier rely on for their drinking water. It also crosses the Ottawa River, the Rivière des Prairies and the Rivière L’Assomption.

The Montreal report finds a major spill could cost $10 billion. This could put the financial viability of TransCanada in question.

The risks presented to Montreal from Energy East are unfortunately not unique.

A recently released study by École Polytechnique de Montréal found the banks of the St. Lawrence, which Energy East runs beside in Quebec, are often unstable. Landslides could cause flooding, impacting the pipeline and polluting nearby waterways.

The pipeline also runs alongside and below the sole aqueduct that supplies Winnipeg’s drinking water. It crosses a highly vulnerable aquifer outside of Ottawa and imperils North Bay’s drinking water source, Trout Lake. Water protection is a key issue being raised by many First Nations along the pipeline path, who are increasingly vocal about the failure to adequately consult on the project.

This is a 1.1 million barrel per day pipeline — the biggest tar sands pipeline proposed to date. TransCanada’s own leak detection system cannot detect spills under 1.5 per cent of the pipe’s capacity. A leak of 1.5 per cent would release up to 2.62 million litres of crude oil per day. In 48 hours this could cause the worst oil spill in Canadian history.

Despite the patriotic rhetoric, this pipeline is for export, not domestic use.

The pipeline would ship diluted bitumen produced in the tar sands. In the most comprehensive review to date, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded diluted bitumen sinks far quicker than conventional oil, and that first responders and the oil industry are not prepared to handle major spills in water.

The controversial pipeline ends in Saint John, where it would dramatically increase the number of supertankers in the Bay of Fundy. Despite the patriotic rhetoric, this pipeline is for export, not domestic use.

The United Nations recognizes the human right to water and the responsibility that governments have to respect, protect and fulfill that right. The obligation to protect means that governments must prevent third parties from interfering with the enjoyment of the right to water. Mayors of the 82 Montreal-area municipalities are doing just that by opposing the Energy East pipeline.

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