From Our Archives: 1000-Plus Turn Out For Pipeline Meeting

Ten years ago this week, a meeting on the proposed TransCanada Energy East Pipeline made people ask if pumping 130 million litres of tar sands oil per day under the Rideau River and through Eastern Ontario was worth the environmental risks

From the Manotick Messneger, May 1, 2014

The camps have been very clearly divided at the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline public meetings held over the past few months.

One side saw tremendous positive economic impact and a wealth of forward progress in the project. The other saw nothing but a deadly and costly environmental disaster waiting to happen.

With no middle ground in sight, people who have attended the series of public meetings on the subject one only one thing – more information.

A large crowd of more than a thousand people turned out in North Gower last month to learn more about the proposed pipeline that will connect the tar sands of Alberta to three refineries in eastern Canada.

As people went inside the community centre to see the TransCanada display, they walked through a protest set up by Ecology Ottawa. Many listened to the environmental concerns of the group. Some signed a petition against the pipeline. Others debated and even argued the virtues of the group’s mission to stop a project that could have a greatly positive economic impact on rural South Ottawa and Grenville County.

The protests are nothing new to TransCanada.

“It’s the same at most of our information sessions,” said Philippe Cannon, the company’s Director of Communications. “But that’s why we have these sessions. We want to inform people. We want to answer their questions, and the more they learn about the project, the more questions they will have. We want everyone to know how serious we are about safety, and how the company has spent one billion dollars on a pipeline safety program.”

In 2013, the company held more than 60 open houses from Alberta to New Brunswick on the project. One was held in Stittsville, which like North Gower, sits in Ottawa’s Rideau-Goulbourn Ward. The pipeline that TransCanada is planning on using through the area is a natural gas pipeline, which cuts southeast from Stittsville along Malakoff Road, past Richmond, and into the Kars area. It goes under the Rideau River near Dilworth Road, and then heads east toward Winchester. It then dips south toward Iroquois, along the St. Lawrence. New pipeline would be built from Iroquois to head east, north of Montreal, and then continuing through Quebec and into New Brunswick. According to Cannon, an existing TransCanada pipeline in the area would be put in use for natural gas. TransCanada has, in the past, successfully converted a pipeline from natural gas usage to oil usage. The pipeline, part of the Keystone Pipeline, was converted in 2010 and has delivered more than 550 million barrels of oil to the U.S.

The Energy East Pipeline would bring 1.1 million barrels of tar sands oil per day through the pipeline. That total would represent 130 million litres of crude oil per day through the pipeline and through the area. It would be piped from Alberta with a final destination of one of three refining centres – SunCorp in Montreal, Volero in Lévis, Quebec, and Irving in St. John, New Brunswick. Oil would be shipped to the Quebec refineries as early as 2016, with the full pipeline operational by 2017.

The economic impact on the immediate area would be the creation of numerous jobs. In addition to the installation projects along the pipeline, numerous pumping stations would be built along the pipeline, including one in Iroquois where the construction of the new stretch of pipeline will begin.

“Many mayors across Ontario have come out and supported this project because of the economic impact the pipeline will have on their communities,” said Cannon.

One of those mayors is North Grenville Mayor David Gordon, who was positive about the pipeline’s proximity to Kemptville when the project was announced last year. Gordon said the pipeline was a benefit for Eastern Canada, and added that it would give us a secure oil supply.

“At this point in time we’re at the whims of foreign oil,” said Gordon. “It’s going to create jobs.”

One of the people who signed the petition against the pipeline was Barrhaven resident Jim Sauer. Not only was he concerned with the environmental impact of the pipeline, but he was also skeptical of the economic impact. He was also concerned about the effects the pipeline would have on natural gas availability. With natural gas bills in the area spiking up 40 per cent last month because of a shortage of gas in the area, he was not the only person with that concern.

“They told me that they have alternative arrangements for natural gas, but the information seems a bit vague,” Sauer said. “They are spending billions of dollars, but I wish they could have upgraded the railway with that money. And even though they say they are paying all this money on safety and investing all this money, don’t forget that we are the customers, and it’s us that is paying for all this in the long run. Indirectly, we’re paying for the oil no matter how it gets to us.”

Sauer added that even though the pipeline will bring economic benefits to the area, “I’m not going to see any of it in my lifetime.”

Karen Switer-Howse, meanwhile, lives on a farm at the corner of Jennings Road and Spruit Road in Winchester.

The pipeline will be directly behind her home.

“I have a lot of questions and I want to find out as much as I can,” she said. “Of course they are going to make a lot of promises and try to reassure us about the safety of the pipeline. Where the real test for this company will be is when something goes wrong, and how they will handle it.”

Mike Fletcher of Ecology Ottawa is a professional in bio-fuel engineering and energy management. He said that tar sands oil, known as bitumen, is much different to ship than refined oil. Diluents, light and flammable hydrocarbons must be added to the bitumen to allow it to flow through the pipeline. Those materials are then removed and shipped back across the country. Fletcher said that while the perception is to get the tar sands oil off of the railroads to prevent the type of disaster that happened last year at Lac Magentic, Quebec, the pipeline will add as many as 450 cars per day to our rail system. The cars will be carrying toxic and highly flammable diluents.

“The risks associated with the pipeline are too high for Ottawa to take,” said Fletcher. “It is not a question of if a spill will happen, but when, and it raises a lot of questions about whether we’re prepared for such a scenario.”

Ben Powless of Ecology Ottawa spent the afternoon and evening discussing the potential problems with people attending the open house.

“The pipeline creates a risk of dilbit spills into neighbourhoods and water supplies, while also increasing the chances of railway accidents due to the transportation of toxic and flammable diluents by rail,” he said. “We stand with the thousands of residents who have already said no to this pipeline.”