TransCanada PipeLines' West-to-East project would involve 3,000 km of fifty year old natural gas pipeline (TransCanada's mainline) being converted into an oil pipeline -- resulting in the pumping of 850,000 barrels per day of tarsands bitumen east across Northern Ontario. The company has not yet disclosed much public details about this project so we have the opportunity to stop this project before it begins!
April 2nd UPDATE: TransCanada has officially announced this project and are calling it "Energy East Pipeline." 3,000 kilometres of existing natural gas pipeline would be converted to carry diluted bitumen East and 1,400 kilometres of new pipeline would be added. The pipeline would carry the astronomical volume of between 500,000 and 850,000 barrels per day across Northern Ontario (at the top end that would be the largest oil pipeline in North America).
THE SEVERE RISKS TO THE ENVIRONMENT
The greatest concern with this pipeline conversion is the threat it has to the environment. In the 55 year history of this gas mainline there have already been five significant incidents in Northern Ontario. We can expect these numbers to increase as a pipeline built in the 1950's begins use for something other than what it was intended. Oil is much more dangerous than Natural Gas when it leaks into the environment and tar sands oil (diluted bitumen) especially is nearly impossible to clean up because it sinks, unlike regular oil does.
This pipeline traverses rivers, runs adjacent to lakes, and flows beside vital drinking water sources. For example, in North Bay it crosses the east-end of Trout Lake, which provides the municipal drinking water for over 54,000 people.
When this pipeline leaks or breaks, as it unquestionably will, there are also concerns about who would pay the costs associated with a spill. The 2010 spill of bitumen from an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan where more than 3 million litres of bitumen were spilled, has already cost more than $800 million in clean-up efforts. Our Northern Ontario public water supply, our health, our livelihoods, communities, farmlands, outdoor recreational activities, wildlife and fish habitats will all be at risk of dangerous and costly tar sands oil spills like this.
WHAT STAGE IS THIS PROJECT IN?
With TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline project having the potential of being rightly rejected by the US government, Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline meeting a wall of opposition in British Columbia, and Enbridge’s Line 9 reversal in Southern Ontario getting strong opposition from those municipalities, new pipelines that would allow tar sands to reach the East Coast are being proposed.
It is encouraging that at the end of March, Canada’s National Energy Board denied the request by TransCanada to pass costs of this "under-used" mainline to gas producers -- this was seen as TransCanada’s attempt at getting even more producers to divert their gas to different markets and get off of this line so they could then ease the public acceptance of converting this pipeline to pump tar sands bitumen East. The National Energy Board called TransCanada's request "inappropriate cost shifting" and noted that the tolls on the mainline have "increased substantially over a short period of time." Despite lower commodity prices, TransCanada had until that ruling been allowed to continuously raise the toll to transport natural gas along the mainline, ultimately contributing to the "under-used" scenario they label the pipeline as today.
Less that a week after that strong ruling by the National Energy Board, TransCanada announces its intentions to now convert this mainline to oil service so they will have to submit this new project for review. Unfortunately we cannot rely on National Energy Board from being able to prevent this project from happening. An effect of last year’s federal budget bill, as our national energy regulator they no longer be able to say no to oil pipeline projects as politicians in Cabinet are now able to overrule their decisions.
Another contributing factor to the "under-used" scenario TransCanada labels the natural gas mainline as is the fact the tar sands is the largest single consumer of natural gas in Canada -- forecast to soon use 30% of Canada’s total Natural Gas consumption. The processing of bitumen into synthetic crude requires significant amounts of energy, which is currently being generated by burning natural gas (one barrel of tar sands crude oil requires between 700 and 1700 cubic feet of natural gas). Early media spin about why converting this gas pipeline to an oil pipeline is a good idea heavily cites that this mainline is currently "under-used," don’t be fooled by this position as justifiable rationale.
WHAT EXACTLY WOULD BE IN THIS PIPELINE?
Tar sands producers generally produce either synthetic crude, which has passed through an on-site upgrader, or dilbit, which is raw bitumen thinned with lighter petroleum products and proprietary chemicals. With increased production over the last few years, tar sands producers (which are mostly foreign-owned) are now piping out more dilbit in order to cut their costs.
WHERE IS THIS OIL GOING?
The destination refineries on the East Coast would process this heavy oil to then be put on tankers for foreign markets. The 850,000 barrels a day sent across the country for world export would be risking catastrophe in our own environmental every inch of the way -- and Canada would continue to import our oil for domestic use. Of course the additional export tankers would pose a huge threat to the ecology of the St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy.
Tar sands oil producers are seeking access to foreign markets because they will get more dollars per barrel than the Canadian market pays.
WHAT ABOUT THE JOB CREATION?
TransCanada is positioning this pipeline as the eastward alternative to competitor Enbridge’s Northern Gateway for exports to Asia, even though it would require sending oil much longer distances and loading it into smaller and less efficient tankers. Environmental groups Equiterre and the Natural Resource Defense Council suspect this project is a way for TransCanada to still export Alberta bitumen to the US Gulf Coast for refining -- a workaround to the opposition their controversial Keystone XL project is getting. One thing is clear, besides the existing refineries the only significant job creation that will happen will not be in Canada -- we will inherit only the environmental costs.
EFFECTS ON NATURAL GAS AND ELECTRICITY PRICES
The mainline, which runs five pipes wide in places, is TransCanada's founding asset and has delivered gas from the West for more than 50 years. Obviously, loosing this natural gas mainline through Ontario would directly affect home heating as this pipeline carries 77 per cent of the country's natural gas to market.
Also affected would be the several gas-fired electricity generation along the mainline (such as North Bay's 40 MW generator which supplies much of the electricity for the area). Natural gas is the second largest source of supply in Ontario's energy mix and plays an important role in the elimination coal.
Several Northern Ontario industries, like mining and processing, use natural gas to directly run their operations and would also be affected if this mainline converts to an oil pipeline.
WHY NO TAR SANDS OIL (BITUMEN)?
Each tar sands pipeline that gets developed will further increases our dependence on this dirty fuel and will lock-in a demand for a product that we do not need. Promoting such an extreme and quick growth of the Canadian tar sands industry is dangerous and foolish.
At the outstanding volume of 850,000 barrels per day, this pipeline would allow the tar sands to increase their production dramatically and therefore guarantee the further destruction of Canada's ecosystems, produce lake-sized reservoirs of toxic waste (like the one that leaked at the end of March 2013), and release vast quantities of pollutants into our air when this tarlike fuel is refined (significantly more than fuels made from conventional oil).
We need clean and renewable energy solutions!
Demand a pause on the plethora of pipelines being proposed to deliver Alberta's tar sands oil until we develop a national sustainable energy strategy.
Encourage Northern Ontario mayors to pronounce a declaration against the natural gas mainline being converted to a tar sands pipeline. Demand that no tar sands oil is piped through our communities, our country-side or our cities!