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Tensions Ramp Up Over Proposed Energy East Pipeline in Canada

Opponents are planning protests this summer over the longest proposed pipeline in North America as the premiers of Alberta and New Brunswick signal support.
Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

North America's longest proposed pipeline is facing a new hurdle after a coalition of Canadian environmental groups sent a letter today slamming the project as a "fiasco" and demanding regulators quash it.

In the letter, the groups take aim at a lack of public input on TransCanada's Energy East pipeline, the potential threats to drinking water and the Bay of Fundy, and the pipeline's impact on climate change. Climate groups are also planning protests in Ontario and New Brunswick, so as summer approaches we'll likely see a lot more opposition in the pipeline's path.


The mounting tension comes amid support from the premiers of the two provinces bookending the proposed pipeline, which would carry 1.1 million barrels of crude per day from oil rich Alberta to New Brunswick's coast.

Landlocked Alberta is desperate to get its oil out to international markets, but newly minted premier Rachel Notley has said she won't push for either the Northern Gateway or Keystone XL pipeline proposals.

However, Notley does see potential in the proposed Energy East pipeline, which would carry more oil than Keystone XL. And New Brunswick premier Brian Gallant said last week his first order of business after congratulating Notley would be to impress upon her the importance of Energy East to his province.

"It's a project that I think is important for Alberta, it's a project that's important for New Brunswick, it's a project that's important for the whole country," Gallant told reporters. "It's going to help us with our collective goal of creating jobs and growing the economy."

But the coalition of Canadian environmental groups that are calling on the National Energy Board (NEB) to halt the proposal point to "numerous problems that have come to light with the regulatory process." They say the only "responsible" thing to do is stop it in its tracks.

TransCanada's proposal was originally submitted only in English, rather than both official languages, and the company confirmed in April it would cancel a proposed port in Cacouna, Quebec following concerns about a beluga whale breeding ground. The cancelled port and initial lack of a French-language proposal render TransCanada's application incomplete, the groups assert.


Catherine Abreu, Energy Coordinator of the Ecology Action Centre, one of about 50 environmental groups that signed the letter, said the pipeline would end at the Bay of Fundy, which is "an extremely unique body of water." Because of the way the water behaves in the bay, she said, oil spills that happen there are much tougher to clean up. The tanker traffic in the bay is expected to increase as a result of the project, which would intensify the risk of oil spills and negatively affect endangered whales that breed there, Abreu emphasized.

"North Atlantic Right Whales, which are one of the most endangered whale species on the planet, they call the Bay of Fundy their home throughout the warmer months, and that's an important breeding ground for them," she said.

Related: New Government in Oil Rich Canadian Province Spurs Fears of Energy Sector Upset

Critics are also concerned the National Energy Board no longer has to consider public opinion from citizens who aren't directly affected by the project.

NEB spokesperson Katherine Murphy told VICE News on Monday that the board allows citizens to participate in a pipeline hearing "in a fair and efficient manner."

"The NEB may also choose to hear from those with relevant information and expertise," she said. She pointed out that TransCanada has provided most of its application in French on its website.

"We will continue to file amendments every quarter, which reflect adjustments and changes that come as a result of our engagement with stakeholders, elected officials, First Nations and Métis leaders," TransCanada spokesperson Tim Duboyce told VICE News this week. It filed its first application for Energy East on Oct. 30, 2014.


The company also plans to submit studies on the best ways to build water crossings to mitigate environmental risk, Duboyce said, adding that TransCanada has "been very active on the ground" in discussing the project with elected officials and First Nations leaders.

But on February 3, the Chiefs of Ontario wrote a letter of concern to the Minister of Natural Resources Greg Rickford about the NEB's approval process, saying board had declined multiple requests by the chiefs for in-person information sessions.

They're not the only ones. Wolustuk Grand Council member Ron Tremblay told VICE News TransCanada has refused to consult with the council, even though it's the traditional government of the Wolustuk people.

Tremblay said council members were taken aback by the company's refusal to consult, so they formed a "peace and friendship alliance" with environmental groups and other allies and are planning demonstrations this summer.

"We strongly oppose the Energy East pipeline because of the fact that it will cross our main river, the Wolustuk river and tributaries numerous times, and the possibility of spillage into the rivers, lakes, streams is really high because of the past historical events through Canada and the US that pipelines do leak and do burst," Tremblay said, noting that he speaks on behalf of the council but not all Wolustuk people.

Back in August 2013, the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs said they "have serious concerns over negative environmental impacts" from the pipeline.


On Monday, AFN Regional Chief for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island Roger Augustine told VICE News the pipeline could be beneficial to First Nations from a business perspective, but any approval of Energy East must respect both treaty rights and the environment.

"It's the right time, and it's not all doom and gloom, but there has to be a certain amount of respect and fear by the governments of what First Nations can do and are capable of doing," he said.

The regional chief and New Brunswick's premier, who was elected last September, may be touting the project's economic benefits, but not everyone's convinced.

Populations have been moving westward from Atlantic Canada for generations, Abreu said over the phone from Halifax, and most of the jobs created will be in the construction phase of the project.

"What I am most struck by in the Energy East campaign is how cruel a lie it is that this project is going to create prosperity and jobs in Atlantic Canada," Abreu said. "It just isn't going to happen. I think the reason that narrative works so well here is because there's so many people in New Brunswick and PEI and Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador who see their communities and their families being gutted by migration to the oil sands, and there's this belief that if some of the oil from Alberta comes east, that the jobs will come with it, and they'll bring our boys home, and that just isn't true."

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont