The pipeline giant TransCanada has announced it is scrapping its plan for an oil export terminal on the St. Lawrence River in Cacouna, Québec, in turn delaying the completion of the Energy East tar sands pipeline for at least two years.
Explaining its decision, the corporation cited concerns over the terminal's impact on Beluga whales, including a scientific report last December that recommended they be declared an endangered species with full protection of their habitat.
"The issue of the export terminal demonstrates how this project can not withstand serious scrutiny. Ultimately, the more we hear about the details of the project, the less people support it."
—Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada
"This decision is the result of the recommended change in status of the Beluga whales to endangered and ongoing discussions we have had with communities and key stakeholders," said Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive officer. "We have listened and our decision reflects that."
In response to the news, environmentalists celebrated a partial victory.
"It's official. By abandoning its tanker terminal plans for Cacouna, Quebec, TransCanada has finally admitted Energy East carries major risks for Canada," said Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager for Environmental Defence Canada. "This is a major victory for the protection of endangered species, communities and the environment."
But Scott, representing a concern shared by others, said TransCanada should do more than simply abandon one terminal. "If TransCanada is serious about listening," he said, "it should move immediately to cancel the Energy East project."
This week's development underscores problems with the entire $12 billion pipeline proposal, added Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada's climate and energy campaign.
"The issue of the export terminal demonstrates how this project can not withstand serious scrutiny," Stewart declared in a statement (pdf). "Ultimately, the more we hear about the details of the project, the less people support it."
In a blog post, Council of Canadians energy and climate justice campaigner Andrea Harden-Donahue warned Energy East opponents not to become complacent. Not only has TransCanada said that it is reviewing "potential alternative terminal options in Québec," but it also continues to pursue plans for a major tar sands export terminal on the Bay of Fundy, she noted.
Calling on Canada's National Energy Board to send the whole project back to drawing board, Harden-Donahue wrote:
One thing is sure, the spotlight is going to shift to New Brunswick, home to the only massive export port currently on the books for the Energy East project.
Here TransCanada would work with Irving in a $300 million partnership that would see tankers carrying 2.2 million barrels of oil ply the waters of the Bay of Fundy, from Saint John, along the coast of Nova Scotia, towards refineries in Houston, the Gulf of Mexico, Europe and possibly India and China.
Fortunately, Harden-Donahue added, "we know that there is growing opposition to Energy East in the Red Head community of Saint John, the front-line community where the pipeline would meet the ocean."
Meanwhile, 350.org U.S. communications manager Karthik Ganapathy drew connections between ongoing debate over the Keystone XL pipeline and this week's Energy East news.
"Anyone who thinks Canada's tar sands will get developed with or without Keystone XL should take a look at what just happened to Energy East," he said. "It's clear that TransCanada's struggling to find ways to get the oil sands to market, and that activism works at keeping carbon in the ground. That's why Keystone XL matters more than ever—because a rejection now will be a huge blow to tar sands development, and go a long way towards defusing one of the planet's biggest carbon bombs."