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Council considers request to oppose Energy East

The Chronicle-Journal

March 5, 2015

by Jeff Labine

Opponents of the controversial TransCanada Energy East Pipeline argue there's high risk and little to no reward for the North if the project goes forward.

Representatives of the Thunder Bay Chapter of the Council of Canadians; Environment North, Citizens United for a Sustainable Planet, Ontario Nature and Fossil Free Thunder Bay came to Monday night's Thunder Bay city council meeting to ask for support and to publicly oppose the project.

The proposed 4,600-kilometers of pipeline is expected to carry 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to eastern Canada. This would require construction of pipelines in a number of provinces including Ontario and Manitoba. The TransCanada website claims its projects will create thousands of jobs. The pipeline would take about seven years to construct.

Paul Berger, who is with Citizens for a Sustainable Planet and one of the presenters at the meeting, said the pipeline poses significant risk for the environment.

"It is a reckless plan, it threatens the present and it mortgages the future," he told council. "Some will say that it is a bad idea to oppose a project that TransCanada says is good for the economy. We shouldn't be fooled. Local benefits are expected to be small, especially in Northern Ontario. We understand how important the jobs argument is. It sounds really like cheese in the mouse trap and drawing us on. With this pipeline the job gains would be small and the long-term pain and risk would be huge and everlasting."

He argued there are alternatives to creating jobs by looking at what he called the low-carbon economy. He said opposing the project wouldn't cost the city a cent. He also pointed out that another pipeline project was recently halted when U.S. President Barack Obama vetoed legislation after it passed through congress.

The Energy East pipeline would allow Alberta to expand the existing oilsands, said Berger, adding they aren't aiming to close the oilsands but simply to stop them from expanding as they contribute a large amount of greenhouse gases.

Following the presentation, council asked a number of questions regarding transporting oil by rail and what kind of impact a derailment could have to the city. This follows a derailment that happened near Timmins where a train pulling 100 tanks of crude oil and petroleum distillate went off the rails. Less than 30 cars went off the track.

Council of Canadians representative Ruth Cook, who also presented at council along with Berger, said when a derailment happens not all cars come off the tracks. She said if a spill, like the one near Timmins were to happen near Thunder Bay, the implications would be "horrendous."

On average, a rail spill will spill lesser quantity," she added. "It still remains true. The implications would be that the water supply would be totally compromised, city infrastructure would be damaged perhaps beyond repair. The implications are huge. That's why I'm saying we have two sets of problems. I'm not saying we should just ignore the rail problem. By building a pipeline we're not going to solve the rail problem."

She said if the pipeline leaked the shut-off valves are, on average, 30 kilometres apart. She said there's a potential that all of that oil in those sections of the pipe could come out.

A decision whether to oppose the pipeline or not will come at a later meeting.

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