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Energy East would facilitate oilsands expansion, and that's bad for climate change

Gordon Laxer

Montreal Gazette

January 31, 2016



The verbal battles between Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and western premiers and mayors are reruns of a bad movie. Let’s change the channel and look at TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline in light of climate change. That was not on anyone’s mind 35 years ago during tussles around the National Energy Program.


TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline is so capacious that it could single-handedly allow expansion of Alberta’s oilsands by over 40 per cent. That’s the same percentage rise as the sands emission cap that Alberta’s new climate action plan permits.


The rise of oilsands emissions from 70 to 100 million tonnes a year will prevent Canada from meeting its laudable and ambitious targets at the Paris climate talks in December and Canada’s 2009 commitment at the G8 meetings in L’Aquila, Italy to lower carbon emissions by 80 per cent below Canada’s 1990 level of 600 million tonnes by 2050. That means a drop to 120 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.


To hit Canada’s promises, oilsands output and emissions must be capped at 70 million tonnes and then phased out. We can’t get to a low carbon future unless we do so.


U.S. President Barack Obama killed the Keystone XL oil pipeline after a 1,000 protesters were arrested outside the White House; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau effectively killed the Northern Gateway line by banning oil tankers in the treacherous waters off B.C.’s northern coast after many British Columbians declared it will not proceed; and B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s government opposed the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s existing oil pipeline to the Vancouver area after opposition grew strong.


Opposition to Energy East is growing as strong.


Energy East is the final sands oil exporting line left standing. That’s why oil companies and western politicians are so desperate to get it approved. But it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.


Enbridge’s Line 9 started bringing western Canadian oil and North Dakota shale oil to Quebec’s two refineries in December. Those refineries are not likely to take on additional oil from the Energy East line. All or most would flow onto Irving Oil’s refinery in Saint John, N.B.


However Mark Sherman, plant manager at the Irving refinery has stated that Energy East would send “way more than we would ever use at this refinery, so the bulk of it would all be exported.”


Alberta’s oilsands are the fastest growing source of Canada’s greenhouse gas pollution.


Oilsands output will grow substantially only if it has an outlet to a coast.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pegs oilsands emissions much higher than conventional oil. Alberta’s oilsands can’t be greened.


It’s the production of oil and natural gas, not in their use in transportation in Canada (cars and trucks), that is this country’s biggest source of greenhouse gases.


Canada has just enough conventional, non-fracked, non-sands oil to supply all Canadians as we steadily lower consumption. It would also give every Canadian energy security. But there’s not enough such oil to continue exports.


Our country’s emissions will plummet when Canada phases them out.


Why run a pipeline 4,600 kilometres to New Brunswick anyway when Newfoundland has enough conventional oil to supply all east coasters? Most live on or near a coast. Why pipe it when it can be shipped?


That would avoid incursions on First Nations lands. Oil tankers could be phased out as East Coasters’ oil use falls, whereas a pipeline would need three decades of shipping oilsands oil at full volume to amortize its building costs.


Trudeau and the premiers are scheduled to meet by March 11 to fashion a plan to transition Canada to a low-carbon future. They should nix Energy East.


Gordon Laxer is author of After the Sands. Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians and is founding director of Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta. He lives in Gravenhurst, Ont.

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