Trans-Canadian pipeline cause for controversy

A proposed oil pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to New Brunswick has divided Canadians across the country. Named the “Energy East Pipeline,” the TransCanada-operated 4,500 kilometre pipeline will, pending approval by the federal government, carry approximately 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day to refineries in Quebec and Saint John, NB, with the construction of additional shipping facilities a possibility.

The twelve billion dollar project aims to convert an existing natural gas pipeline running from Alberta and Saskatchewan to Quebec by 2017. A 1,400 kilometre extension from Quebec to Saint John is planned for completion by 2018.

Quebec City and Saint John would both receive facilities configured for loading ocean-going tankers, while existing refineries in Saint John, near Quebec City, and Montreal would receive oil from the pipeline.

While the project has yet to be approved by the National Energy Board, Prime Minister Steven Harper gave the project his blessing in an August 8 visit to the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John.

“We’re not just expanding our markets for our energy projects […] we are also at the same time making sure that Canadians themselves benefit from those projects and, from that, gain energy security,” Harper said.

Those in favour of the pipeline applaud the potential economic growth in stagnant New Brunswick, injecting money for infrastructure as well as creating good quality job opportunities in the province. With New Brunswick’s provincial debt hovering around twelve billion dollars, any potential economic boost or increase in the size of the tax base is seen as necessary by many, regardless of any environmental cost. Saint John’s new marine terminal, to be built by Irving, is heralded by many as creating a much brighter future for the city.

While the project has the support of the New Brunswick government and the major opposition parties, opponents have been vocal. These range from the Green Party, to First Nations groups concerned about wildlife and general environmental integrity, and many other citizens worried about the pipeline’s path. Organized lobbying groups such as Green Peace, the Sierra Club, and The Council of Canadians have also come out against the pipeline.

The Assembly of First Nations Chiefs in New Brunswick is also wary of the project, saying that they “have serious concerns over negative environmental impacts” the terminal could have on fishing in the Bay of Fundy.

According to the TransCanada website, the construction phase of the project will create “35,615 full-time equivalent direct and indirect jobs” for two years. Long term the project expects to create “1,075 direct and indirect jobs” over forty years.

However, as with the mothballed Keystone XL Project that would have connected the Alberta oil sands to the United States, prospective job creation figures and potential economic spin-offs are contested. In the case of Keystone XL, President Obama criticized the project’s promised goal of 2000 jobs, saying it would likely be closer to fifty.

Critics are also skeptical of TransCanada’s argument that the pipeline will bring greater energy security to the Maritimes. They point out that petroleum products could be easily exported from Saint John to international markets, where the market price of oil is higher.

“We won’t be fooled so easily,” said Catherine Abreu, Energy Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, in a media release. “Given refining capacity in Eastern Canada and Irving’s announcement of a new oil terminal being built in Saint John, it is obvious that the oil coming through the pipeline is meant for export to other countries and not for use in Eastern Canada.”

Many are also concerned about a multi-billion dollar investment in hydrocarbons in the face of global climate change and ever growing rates of atmospheric pollution. The investment also potentially puts a heavier economic dependence on a finite resource for the areas affected by the project.

TransCanada has scheduled a series of community meetings across New Brunswick throughout August and September. Both supporters and opponents of the pipeline have taken exception to the meetings’ format, with some finding the meetings’ “open house” style, with questions asked in smaller groups to corporate experts, less transparent than a traditional town hall meeting.

While the federal government deliberates, Canadians across the country continue to debate the merits of the Energy East pipeline.

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