In the wake of British Columbia’s recent announcement that it cannot support Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, conservative pundits and oil companies are turning their sights to TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline and tanker proposal. But there’s no reason to believe that Energy East — the last pipe plan standing — will get built.
By opposing Kinder Morgan, B.C. Premier Christy Clark has shown that her priority is protecting the best interests of the people of B.C. Ontario should learn from this.
B.C.’s opposition to the proposal was based on five conditions, ranging from spill response to First Nations consultation, to guaranteeing economic benefits for the people of B.C. Kinder Morgan failed to meet these conditions, especially when it came to putting in place a “world class” spill prevention system and emergency response plan.
Oil companies and politicians are now shifting their focus to the last mega-pipeline proposal on the table — Energy East. But its prospects look even worse than Kinder Morgan’s.
On Thursday Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, on behalf of 82 Montreal-area mayors, voiced official opposition to the proposal. After an extensive review and public consultation, Montreal municipal leaders said the potential risks outweigh any possible economic benefits to communities. The review showed that the project could have unacceptable social, economic, environmental and public security impacts.
Like B.C. Premier Clark and the Montreal mayors, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard set out clear conditions that Energy East would need to meet in order to win the province’s approval. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne did the same thing back in 2014 — even though on Friday she ignored that Energy East fails to meet any of the reasonable conditions her own government put in place to safeguard Ontario residents. And it doesn’t look as though TransCanada will be able to meet those conditions.
Among the criteria is the need for world-class contingency plans and an emergency response program. But the Ontario Energy Board, in its review of Energy East, decried that emergency response plans were either inadequate or not available. Guaranteeing the safety of Energy East is no small feat given that the pipeline would traverse the entire breadth of Ontario and much of Quebec while crossing nearly 1,000 rivers and lakes. Add to this that much of the proposed Energy East route wasn’t built to carry tarsands oil but lower-pressure natural gas. An oil pipeline would never have been allowed so close to so many bodies of water.
There are serious concerns around what happens when the pipeline inevitably leaks, especially after the U.S. National Academy of Sciences released a landmark study just last month that shows pipelines carrying tarsands oil (diluted bitumen) need special spill response measures that don’t yet exist.
Especially damning is the Ontario Energy Board’s top-line finding: the environmental risks of Energy East outweigh the potential benefits to Ontarians. The board found that economic benefits projected for the province may have been over-estimated, and “any claims about substantial GDP growth and job creation in Ontario from pipeline construction should be viewed critically.”
Another unfulfilled provincial condition: properly consult with First Nations, which the Chiefs of Ontario have already formally noted. This is a serious matter. The B.C. Supreme Court just found in favour of the Coastal First Nations challenging the Northern Gateway pipeline project on exactly this — lack of proper consultation.
There’s also the public: the majority of Ontarians oppose Energy East. And for good reason, Lake Temagami, Lake Superior and the Ottawa River are no less deserving of protection than the Great Bear Rainforest.
On top of all this, the federal government has promised a new, meaningful review process for all energy projects. The National Energy Board hasn’t started to review the Energy East proposal, so it should be put through this new, strengthened process.
All this suggests that Energy East’s fate will be much like that of Kinder Morgan: the Ontario government must oppose the pipeline, just like the B.C. government said no to the Trans Mountain project. Based on recent history, this is the most likely outcome.
It’s time to let go of the pipe dream and instead speed up Canada’s transition to a modern, clean energy economy. Premier Wynne, time to make your move.
– Keith Brooks is Clean Economy Director at Environmental Defence