There’s a lot to be said for TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline project to ship 1.1 million barrels a day of western crude oil to eastern refineries and ports.
It will increase Canada’s energy self-sufficiency by carrying oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick that currently rely on imported oil to make gasoline and other fuels. It will boost Canada’s economic output by $35 billion. Shipping oil by pipeline is safer than by rail or other means. And the bulk of the pipeline already is in place.
All that said, those most affected by the $12-billion, 4,600-km project deserve a say. The people should get their chance to pipe up on a massive project that cuts through their communities.
So it’s hardly a surprise that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec’s Philippe Couillard have banded together to set down a few common sense markers before they give their political blessing, as the National Energy Board begins to review the project. It involves shifting capacity on TransCanada’s existing 3,000-km west-to-east natural gas pipeline between Alberta and Quebec so that it can carry crude, and building new pipeline through Quebec and New Brunswick.
The most contentious marker from Wynne and Couillard involves a requirement that the impact on climate change be taken into account. At root, that’s not saying much. But it raised the hackles of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. On the Toronto Star’s opinion page this week he chided them for staking out “a joint position that at best moves the goalposts for approval and at worst lays out new barriers.” While that’s understandable coming from the premier of an oil-rich province, it won’t wash here.
Canadians care about the environment. They know Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is nowhere near to meeting its own modest pledge to cut carbon output. If they are to buy in they will need some reassurance that Energy East won’t horribly exacerbate the problem. Given that the east coast refineries already use 700,000 barrels of imported oil a day, it shouldn’t be hard to provide that reassurance. Alberta and Saskatchewan can plug any perceived gap by taking steps to mitigate their carbon output.
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice, who has serious skin in this game, is wisely taking the bigger view. He rightly sees Energy East as a nation-building exercise, has no objection to Ontario and Quebec staking their claim, and is confident we can all do business together. And New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant regards the markers as fair and reasonable.
Wynne and Couillard’s other stipulations — that Ontario and Quebec get economic benefits, that communities be consulted, that robust safety and remediation plans be in place and that natural gas consumers don’t face shortages and price spikes — are no more than TransCanada should be prepared to meet.
Energy East is well worth considering, when Keystone XL and other pipeline projects are running into trouble. But let’s get the public’s input, and get it right.