Since I last visited Canada to share my experiences dealing with TransCanada as a rancher along the proposed Keystone XL path, and as a member of Bold Nebraska, a lot has changed. President Obama has since put the final nail in the coffin of Keystone XL, listening to the voices of ranchers, Indigenous communities and climate activists united in their opposition to the tar sands, or oil sands, pipeline.
I’ve watched as Energy East has increasingly come under the kind of fire Keystone XL experienced, the most recent example being a Quebec farmers union representing over 41,000 farmers and 28,000 farms which declared their opposition to the project earlier this month.
Many of the same risks we successfully prevented by blocking Keystone XL are inherent to Energy East. And similar to our experience, many of the myths supporting Energy East are beginning to crumble.
Not this pipeline, not this product, not this company
When I last visited New Brunswick I saw for myself the beauty of your land, including the many waterways Energy East would cross.
I have since learned the drinking water of over 130,000 New Brunswick residents would be at risk from an Energy East pipeline spill. Energy East would carry 1.1 million barrels per day of tar sands diluted bitumen. The prospect of a spill is daunting.
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences recently released the most comprehensive review of diluted bitumen yet conducted, confirming it sinks quickly and sticks to everything it touches, making cleanup far more expensive and difficult.
Last year a mandatory inspection on TransCanada’s Keystone 1 pipeline in the U.S. revealed an area that was 95 per cent corroded, leaving it literally paper thin. The pipeline was not yet two years old! This is consistent with the concerns Evan Vokes, a former TransCanada pipeline engineer come whistleblower, has expressed about TransCanada's sloppy pipeline safety track record.
This is a key reason why I, and many of my neighbours – ranchers, not activists – got involved: to protect our water from a massive tar sands spill. Keystone XL was proposed to pass right through the Nebraska Sandhills, a unique and fragile ecosystem that overlies the Ogallala Aquifer, a critically important water source we all depend on.
Energy East won’t reduce oil-by-rail traffic
We too heard that Keystone XL would reduce dangerous oil-by-rail traffic. However, tar sands crude won't end up on trains because shipping it from Alberta to Saint John by rail is now cost-prohibitive due to dropping oil prices.
This can change, and a rally in the market price for tar sands and U.S. fracked oil would increase pressure for any and all export paths, but ultimately we need to deal with the problem at the source.
That means stopping further expansion and seeing government and industry step up to support just transition programmes for impacted workers to a green economy.
Like Keystone XL, Energy East is an export project
Energy East, like Keystone XL, is about getting tar sands crude to international markets, not serving domestic supply. Irving Oil President Ian Whitcomb recently confirmed in the Financial Post that Energy East would not cause the Saint John refinery to reduce their low-cost imports of oil from Saudi Arabia. An independent report found up to 1 million of the 1.1 million barrels is destined for export.
TransCanada will be quick to talk about all of the jobs it claims its pipeline will create. We discovered pretty quickly that these numbers were inflated and most jobs would be short-term. Recent independent reports commissioned for Ontario and Quebec on Energy East’s economic benefits have similarly found TransCanada’s promises overblown.
People living along pipeline path have an important voice
When ranchers started talking to each other we quickly discovered TransCanada representatives were saying one thing to one landowner and something completely different to another. TransCanada threatened some with eminent domain (the U.S. version of land expropriation) to pressure them into signing easement agreements.
Some chose to work towards ensuring easement agreements were as fair and just as possible in protecting landowners’ rights. Some refused to sign. Others focused on a legal challenge to the flagrantly unjust so-called right of corporations to take away people’s land through eminent domain.
We all stood side by side in our opposition to Keystone XL. We joined forces with Indigenous communities through the Cowboy Indian Alliance and with climate activists to tell Obama Not On Our Land, and Not On Planet Earth – from NIMBY to NOPE. President Obama listened to us. I am heartened to see the same conditions developing in opposition to Energy East.