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Council of Canadians joins stakeholder group for Ontario Energy Board Energy East consultation

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Photo: Shannon Ramos/flickr

As far as I know, TransCanada's proposed Energy East project is the biggest pipeline currently proposed in North America. It would carry a whopping 1.1 million barrels of crude (bpd) every day. Bigger then TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL pipeline at 830,000 bpd, Trans Mountain pipeline expansion up to 890,000 bpd and Enbridge's Northern Gateway at 525,000 bpd.

I joined a room full of 'stakeholders' last week ready to chime in on the implications of this massive pipeline in Ontario. The room included a number of representatives from the oil and gas industry, large gas users alongside environmental, conservation, consumer and tourism groups, the Association of Ontario Municipalities and more. I must add, it's not everyday I find myself sitting across form a Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers representative.

This past November, Ontario Minister of Energy Bob Chiarelli gave a clear directive to the Board to review the implications for Ontario of the Energy East project. Last week's stakeholder group is part of a larger process of consultation by the OEB which also includes meetings with the gas industry, public consultations along the route (communities and dates are pending), written submissions and consulting with First Nations and Metis. It will be accompanied by three technical reports the OEB has commissioned. The purpose of this process is to produce a final report that will help formulate the Ontario government's position in the National Energy Board (NEB) hearings.

The OEB process will not make the final decision about whether the Energy East pipeline will go ahead. This is technically the role of the NEB and, as I have commented before, this is a problem given how undemocratic and highly restrictive these consultations have become. I would argue the final decision is also in the hands of affected Indigenous communities with distinct legal rights and social movements with the capacity to make this project politically impossible to push through.

While this final decision is not the OEB's, these consultations are an important platform for Ontarians to have their voice heard.

A number of environmental groups participating in the meeting commented on the need for an open and transparent community consultation process, unlike the highly staged, one-on-one, trade-show-style open houses TransCanada held (far from a meaningful consultation process). Equally important is the number of communities chosen and the time spent on ensuring people are aware of the event.

I also agreed with environmental groups saying climate must be on the agenda for this consultation, including in the technical reports being written. This was clear in the Minister's announcement of the consultations but is missing from the four areas of focus highlighted by the OEB. It is very clear this pipeline will facilitate growth in the tar sands, already Canada's fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Not only should we all be concerned about how poorly Canada is addressing the climate crisis, this growth threatens to undo progress by other provinces reducing their emissions. While there was no commitment to add a climate analysis to technical reports, it was made clear participating organizations and individuals can, and will raise this important point.

Unsurprisingly, representatives with ties to the oil industry cautioned the OEB throughout the meeting on allowing the scope of the consultations to become too ambitious. 

I also had the opportunity to raise two critical points. The Ontario government must thoroughly examine the implications of a potential diluted bitumen spill on waterways in Ontario. The pipeline to be converted (currently carrying gas) crosses a number of key waterways such as the Trout Lake watershed, Rideau River and highly vulnerable Oxford aquifer.

Diluted bitumen does not react the same way as conventional forms of crude when spilled in water: it sinks. Interestingly, in arguing that the OEB should ensure evidence is factual, the individual representing CAPP challenged this very fact brought forward by Adam Scott of Environmental Defence. I assume he was referring to industry-funded testing of diluted bitumen in labs that has concluded it floats in water. 

Unfortunately for industry invested in seeing further tar sands expansion, the Enbridge Line 6B rupture is a dramatic demonstration that diluted bitumen indeed sinks. The pipeline spilled nearly 3 million litres of the heavy crude into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. First responders quickly noted it was not reacting the way conventional crude, causing serious challenges to clean up measures. Later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded the diluents evaporated from the bitumen while the heavier crude mixed with sediment and sank to the riverbed. Clean-up costs have now exceeded $1 million

I also raised concerns about the implications of Energy East on Ontario's access to Western natural gas. This has been a stumbling block for TransCanada's project covered in the media (Gas Industry sees Risk in Vision for Energy East Oil Pipeline, Globe and Mail). It is the focus of one of the OEB's technical reports and the reason why the meeting included several gas distributor and large gas user representatives.

We feel the National Energy Board has failed to prioritize energy security needs. Instead it has helped facilitate the situation in which TransCanada's Mainline (the natural gas pipeline in Ontario to be converted to carrying oil for the Energy East project) is reportedly underused. 

We intend on bringing forward important evidence on how this could make Ontario more reliant on imports of fracked gas from the Marcellus shale, which threatens to increase natural gas costs. The backlash against fracking is growing and environmental regulations in the Marcellus shale are pending. These regulations will absolutely have medium and long-term impacts on the cost and supply of this gas. A lesser known, but equally important point is that the carbon footprint of fracked gas is significantly higher than conventional gas -- a big consideration for any government intent on addressing climate change.

All in all, it was an interesting start to this process. The Council of Canadians will continue to participate in the stakeholder group and will submit written evidence. We will encourage our members and chapters along the route to participate in the public consultations, including through a series of public events this spring (more details soon!). We will continue to raise our serious concerns with the project leading us to conclude this pipeline project should not proceed.

Photo: Shannon Ramos/flickr

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