TransCanada's proposed 2,858-mile Energy East pipeline, which would carry 1.1 million barrels of crude oil across Canada daily, would traverse at least 90 watersheds and 961 waterways between Alberta and New Brunswick — including some protected by Indigenous treaty rights — raising the prospect of a devastating spill, warns a new report from the Council of Canadians.
The oil pipeline, which would be the largest of its kind in North America, would transport diluted bitumen, or "dilbit," from tar sands fields in Alberta to export ports in Quebec and New Brunswick. TransCanada, which has been holding open houses in communities along the pipeline route, is expected to file its permit application for the $12-billion project later this month or next. As with Keystone XL and the Northern Gateway proposals, Energy East has met with significant opposition from environmentalists and First Nations people.
The Council of Canadians report, "Energy East: Where Oil Meets Water" (pdf), estimates that Energy East could spill more than 264,000 gallons of crude oil, including diluted bitumen from the tar sands, in just 10 minutes. As spills in Michigan and Arkansas proved, cleaning up dilbit is very challenging. Four years after an Enbridge pipeline burst, sending more than one million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River, $1 billion has been spent on clean up — and 20 percent of the dilbit remains at the bottom of the river.
With that in mind, communities that stand to be affected by Energy East — which involves both the conversion of an existing, 1970s-era natural gas pipeline as well as construction of new sections of pipeline, facilities, and tank terminals — should have the right to say "no," the Council of Canadians claims.
“It simply is not worth the risk,” Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, said in a statement. “The sheer volume of oil – one million barrels a day – that will go through Energy East is enormous. This means that when the pipeline spills, it will seriously endanger our water sources.”
Calling on municipalities and provincial governments along the pipeline path to commission independent scientific analyses to evaluate the threat of a diluted bitumen spill in their areas, the Council of Canadians cautions against placing too much faith in either industry or federal government regulators:
It is a mistake to rely on TransCanada and federal government legislation to protect waterways from a spill, or ensure timely and thorough cleanup (if this is even possible). TransCanada denies that dilbit sinks in water, referring to this statement as a “myth” in promotional material. The Harper government’s omnibus budget bills, Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, gutted important environmental protections that leave waterways vulnerable.
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The report contains a province-by-province review of major waterways the Energy East pipeline crosses or comes near, all of which stand to be severely damaged and polluted in the event of a pipeline spill.
Take the Red Deer River in Alberta, for example. It has a history of overflowing, the report notes, begging the question of how emergency responders would be able to respond to a spill in a flooded river.
Or Buffalo Pound Lake, which provides drinking water for 25 percent of Saskatchewan.
Or Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, and the cleanest and clearest of the Great Lakes.
Or Lake Nipissing, described by a tribal elder as vital to the Nipissing First Nation culture.
Or the St. John river, which sustains some of Canada's most fertile farmland.
To put any of these waterways in such direct danger, Barlow says, is "too much for us to risk.”