Environmental groups and First Nations are finding alliances in unlikely places when it comes to a company’s plans to ship oil through several Ottawa Valley municipalities.
That was the key message from Sabrina Bowman of the Torontobased Environmental Defence, who recently spoke against TransCanada’s proposed Energy East project at the Galilee Centre in Arnprior.
The proposal is to convert a 40-year-old natural gas pipeline to carry unrefined oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to destinations in Quebec and New Brunswick for sale on international markets. The converted oil pipeline would pass under the Bonnechere, Madawaska, Mississippi and Rideau rivers.
Pipeline approvals such as TransCanada’s Keystone XL have trampled on private property rights in the U.S., Bowman said, meaning the company has gone to court and seized access to ranchers’ land using a legal tool called “eminent domain.” It has led to a cheeky tagline for the opposition: The cowboys and Indians alliance.
“We are seeing massive public outcry (to Energy East) and they haven’t even filed their paperwork yet,” Bowman said. “People are seeing it as a democratic issue. They are not being allowed to get involved in something that could affect their community.”
The Conservative government has vowed to turn Canada into an energy powerhouse, and gutted many environmental regulations and silenced opponents by fast-tracking approval processes, she said. Its support of oil companies is no secret, Bowman added, but grassroots resistance is growing.
“B.C. is an incredible inspiration when it came to the Northern Gateway project. And it all had to do with you talking to your neighbours,” Bowman said. “They will listen to you.”
As for formal ways to voice opposition to Energy East, there are few. Only the provincial government will have a direct say to the decision-making authority, the National Energy Board. Municipalities and individuals will not.
Hence those at the Arnprior meeting were encouraged to sign a petition destined for Queen’s Park. Bowman suggested the Liberal government will oppose the project if it gets enough resistance.
Although no TransCanada representatives spoke at the meeting, some of their literature was offered. It referred to the contribution Canada’s oil and gas sector makes to the economy: more than 500,000 jobs; over $20 billion in government tax revenues; 20 per cent of the value of the Toronto Stock Exchange.
On safety it points to converting a section of the Canadian Mainline for the Keystone Pipeline, which “has safely delivered more than 550 million barrels of oil to the U.S.” since it began operating in July 2010.
It has converted or constructed other pipelines in six provinces. It also has spent an average of $900 million per year over the last three years on pipeline integrity and preventative maintenance programs to protect pipeline systems and energy facilities.
On minimizing environmental impact, TransCanada mentions working with pipes already in the ground, and that most new pump stations will be installed at existing compressor stations.
Its pamphlets mention securing energy independence for Canada, meaning no more buying oil from Saudi Arabia and other countries holding non-western values.
On the last point, speakers at the Arnprior meeting said Canada doesn’t have the capacity to refine Tar Sands oil, and that globalization rules force the sale of oil to the highest bidder. That means most or all will be sold to international markets.
When it comes to the environment, Environmental Defence calculates converting from natural gas to “dirty oil” will equate to adding 7 million more cars on the roads.
Duncan Noble of the Valley Climate Circle said Canada made an international promise to reduce greenhouse gases by 17 per cent from its 2005 levels by 2020. Until there’s a plan to fulfill that promise, he doesn’t want to see the oil sands expanded.
“Until we have a strategy to meet our climate change goals, I don’t want to see your pipeline plans,” Noble said. “Is it responsible to write off our hopes and dreams for pipelines and profits? I don’t think so.”
When it comes to safety, Kathy Lindsay of the Bonnechere River Watershed Project worries about a pipeline spill affecting communities such as Renfrew.
TransCanada promised its original Keystone pipeline would spill only once in seven years. In the first year of the pipeline’s operation, it spilled 12 times, she said.
In a recent explosion on the natural gas pipeline system destined to be converted, a massive fireball resulted.
McNab-Braeside council candidate Mark MacKenzie, who is past president of the federal Green party,