By: Andy Crosby

Photo: Adam Carroll
Photo: Adam Carroll

TransCanada Corporation representatives will wrap up their pipeline promotional tour aimed at selling the Energy East pipeline to the Canadian public in mid-October.

The 55-year-old, 3,000 km natural gas pipeline requires a conversion in order to sustain the flow of 1.1 million barrels per day of Alberta tar sands oil, according to the company’s website.

TransCanada plans to extend the pipeline 1,400 km from Cornwall to Saint John, N.B.

TransCanada claims that the economic benefits, in the form of job creation, enhanced GDP and tax revenues, outweigh the environmental risks as laid out in a company-commissioned study carried out by Deloitte & Touche LLP.

But concerned citizens aren’t buying it.

“Stakeholder Engagement” as PR Stunt

Pipeline opponents turned out across the country to a series of 59 “Energy East Open Houses” organized by TransCanada in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick between July 23 and Oct. 15.

In North Bay, concerned citizens with SaveCanada took issue with the format of TransCanada’s Open House, calling it “a new tactic to silence opposition.”

In a video published on their website, the organization expressed that, “instead of holding a town hall which would allow citizens to see how many others are concerned, they have a trade show format where an army of TransCanada reps can limit questions and conversations to a one-on-one level.”

Concerned that TransCanada’s efforts minimized the optics of community opposition and scrutiny, SaveCanada activists donned shirts identical to those worn by TransCanada reps bearing the SaveCanada logo and engaged with community members associated with piping tar sands oil through their town and across the country.

In Terrebonne, Que.,  the Coalition Vigilance Oléoducs (COVO) employed a similar tactic.

The municipality of L’Islet in southeastern Quebec adopted a resolution seeking the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) – Quebec’s environmental regulatory Board – to conduct a public study after widespread concerns over the long-term impacts of the pipeline project.

Environmental groups and some politicians have vowed to block construction efforts.

Edmundston, New Brunswick mayor Cyrille Simard expressed fear in his blog over a potential spill that could threaten the city’s water supply, and censured TransCanada’s tactics of employing “unilingual agents, threats, harassment, and even intimidation towards property owners, invasive prospecting techniques without explanation, and actions that are quite worrisome for myself and City Council.”

TransCanada also claims to be committed to “building long-term relationships” and to consult with Aboriginal communities whose lives may be impacted by the company’s activities. TransCanada even employed an Aboriginal relations firm during its cross-country blitz, although critics have noted a lack of transparency as the company has not disclosed any details regarding negotiations.

Shoddy Records Abound

While TransCanada claims to take environmental concerns seriously, the company’s actions reveal otherwise.

In May 2012, TransCanada fired whistleblower engineer Evan Vokes who, after attempting unsuccessfully to address pipeline safety concerns through the company’s chain of command, filed a complaint with the National Energy Board (NEB) over allegations of non-compliance regarding welding regulations as well as the competency of pipeline builders and inspectors.

The NEB verified the accuracy of the allegations via internal audit and further expressed concerns over the company’s “internal management and procedures” in a letter to the company, according to the CBC.

Despite the best efforts of both industry and government’s public relations teams, the reality of oil spills and pipeline ruptures in recent memory continues to haunt proponents of Canada attaining superpower status as resource-based export economy.

Recent oil disasters in Cold Lake, Alta., and Mayflower, Ark., surrounded by a series of ongoing smaller spills have highlighted that the energy transport industry is both unsustainable and dangerous.

Sarnia’s St. Clair River experienced at least two pipeline spills since June, the latest a rupture of a Sun-Canadian pipeline which spilled 200 barrels of diesel fuel in mid-September. Local Indigenous communities rely on the river for drinking water.

According to the Transportation and Safety Board (TSB), the number of “incidents” involving pipelines has steadily increased since 2003, with 173 incidents reported in 2012. The TSB documented that 89 per cent of incidents resulted in “release of product.”

Recent activities have helped amplify the voices of opponents of the Enbridge Line 9 reversal proposal who are quick to remind the public of the 2010 (and ongoing) disaster in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Enbridge’s Line 6B ruptured spilling an estimated 20,000 barrels of diluted bitumen destroying 55 km of the river and costing taxpayers over $1 billion to date in cleanup efforts.

Similar in scope to Energy East and Line 6B, Line 9 would also see an antiquated pipeline converted to withstand flows of corrosive diluted bitumen from the Alberta’s tar sands across densely populated areas, and Indigenous territories, in Ontario and Quebec.

Tensions continue to mount following the shutdown of the Westover pumping station by activists for a number of days in late June.

NEB hearings are scheduled for October.

Ottawa Resistance Continues

Despite TransCanada’s tactics of spying on anti-pipeline activists and encouraging security agencies to lay anti-terrorism charges for forms of non-violent protest, residents of Ottawa continue to organize opposition to all pipeline projects slated to intersect the city and surrounding region.

TransCanada’s strategy to suppress pipeline opposition was recently revealed in a Freedom of Information file on Keystone XL opponents in Nebraska. TransCanada continues to meet with government departments in Ottawa, according to the Registry of Lobbyists.

Activists organized an anti-Line 9 rally in late August and an anti-Energy East protest in late September as part of the Tar Free 613 campaign.

The Sept. 29 demonstration was organized by Ecology Ottawa as a “Rally for the Rideau River” and included a canoe ride and march which descended on City Hall. Local environmentalists distributed a petition which has garnered over 2,300 signatures including the support of local politicians.

On Oct. 10, TransCanada will wrap up its “Open House” Ontario tour in Stittsville at the Johnny Leroux Community Arena.

According to a Facebook event page organized by Dec-Line 9 Ottawa, “the coalition of groups opposing the Energy East pipeline will be attending TransCanada’s Open House to provide alternative information to the public relations spin that TransCanada is doling out.”

Due to increased public pressure and other concerns, TransCanada announced on Oct. 3 that they would delay filing the Energy East application with the NEB until 2014.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 6, No. 2 (Oct/Nov 2013).