If approved, Energy East would carry 1.1 million barrels per day of oil, more than Keystone XL. Despite the rhetoric about the pipeline helping displace ‘foreign oil’ at eastern refineries and being a boon for jobs in the east, new research shows that most of the oil would be exported, unrefined.
Fans of TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline are trying to use the nation-building moniker – most often used to describe projects like our national railway system – to garner support for what would be the largest oil pipeline in North America.
But, the railway moves people and goods between different regions of Canada, allowing our big country to be more connected. Meanwhile, Energy East would be about moving one single product – oil – from one place (northern Alberta) to the east coast for export overseas, with little benefit to those along the way.
If approved, Energy East would carry 1.1 million barrels per day of oil, more than Keystone XL. Despite the rhetoric about the pipeline helping displace ‘foreign oil’ at eastern refineries and being a boon for jobs in the east, new research shows that most of the oil would be exported, unrefined.
Based on information from TransCanada, along with sources from industry, government reports and legal documents, the research shows that 750,000 to 1 million barrels of Energy East’s daily oil haul would likely be exported unrefined via tankers. Between Quebec and New Brunswick, the total capacity to refine oil is 672,000 barrels per day. But, most of that demand is being met through offshore oil from eastern Canada, imports of cheap U.S. shale-oil by rail and barge, and fairly soon, Enbridge’s Line 9 (whose reversal project was recently approved and will soon be a large source of oil to eastern Canadian refineries).
Let’s be clear: Energy East would be an export pipeline. It’s not about Canada’s energy needs.
Some may still argue that exporting more oil benefits all Canadians. It’s true that governments get tax revenue from oil exports. However, most of that profit stays in big oil companies and 94 per cent of the benefit to Canadians stays within Alberta.
An export pipeline is about sharing the risk, not sharing the wealth.
Communities along Energy East’s 4,400 kilometre path would be at risk of an oil spill into their drinking water, farmland and forests. Governments along the path would be at risk of being saddled with the cost and public backlash of cleaning up an oil spill.
And, all Canadians would be taking on the risk of the pipeline’s role in driving climate change. Energy East would be the carbon pollution equivalent of putting seven million more cars on the road. Canada already has a tarnished reputation globally for its inaction on climate change. Energy East would be further proof this poor reputation is deserved.
Despite these risks, citizens along the proposed route will have little say in the project under new federal review guidelines. The National Energy Board process now prevents most people from having a voice and doesn’t require an environmental assessment. Recently we saw the consequences of this in the recent rubber-stamp approval of Enbridge’s Line 9 proposal, where the concerns of the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario, independent pipeline experts and countless citizens about the safety of the pipeline were ignored.
Thankfully, Ontario has struck its own review of Energy East that will allow people in the province to voice their concerns about the pipeline. It’s unclear whether residents in Quebec and New Brunswick will be given the same opportunity.
We shouldn’t kid ourselves that Energy East is about nation building. It’s about the oil industry wanting to expand tar sands production and export the raw product while there’s still an appetite. Tar sands projects are more vulnerable than other fossil fuel projects to economic downturns, action on climate change and the loss of social licence. Energy East is a ‘get while the getting is good’ type of project based on a narrow and short-term mentality. It is not about nation building.
We should instead be talking about projects that could truly be called nation-building: high-speed rail to connect cities and people faster, transmission grids to harness clean energy and send it to where it’s needed, creating a million energy efficient homes or transforming our transportation system to move people and goods on modern, clean, renewable energy.
We’re moving toward a low-carbon future. Canada should build toward that rather than digging ourselves deeper into the fossil fuel past.

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