Students at Mount Allison University are hoping to persuade Sackville Town Council and the governors of the university to oppose construction of the Energy East pipeline.
The students say if the town and university issued formal statements against the proposed pipeline, it would counter the idea that Energy East has a lot of public support.
If it eventually wins federal approval, the $15.7 billion pipeline would carry up to 1.1 million barrels-per-day of bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to an Irving Oil terminal in Saint John.
The students launched their campaign under the supervision of Professor Brad Walters who teaches a course on environmental activism.
During an interview on Thursday at Gracie’s Café in the Mt. A student centre, five members of the seven-member group said they signed up for the environmental course because they wanted to help make change.
“I didn’t know this was such a hands-on course when I took it,” says Claire Neufeld.
“I was very surprised on the first day about how involved we were going to be…It’s great to feel like I’m actually doing something.”
Neufeld predicts the anti-pipeline project will teach her skills that she’ll be able to apply after she graduates.
Facebook page & survey
As part of their campaign, the students have launched the Sackville, No Energy East Facebook page. It invites Mt. A. students to complete a survey about the pipeline.
The students found that nearly half of the 265 people who completed the survey during the first week knew little or nothing about the pipeline, which would be the largest one in North America.
“So, education is really an important point in this campaign,” says Katia McKercher. “Trying to figure out what people don’t know.”
The students plan to set up information tables on campus in the coming weeks and talk to people about why they should oppose Energy East. They’re also distributing anti-pipeline materials from the Council of Canadians.
Climate change and pipeline leaks
Ella Porter says she fears that the massive pipeline would represent a long-term, locked-in investment in the burning of fossil fuels and the emission of more greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.
“What we really need for our future is to be taking that money and investing it in renewable energy sources,” Porter says, “because we can’t afford the increase in greenhouse gases.”
She adds that members of her generation will be the ones who have to cope with the worst effects of climate change in the decades to come.
Ro Leitner agrees that climate change is the most serious concern, but she also worries pipeline leaks could contaminate water supplies.
“Canada has one of the largest freshwater resources in the world,” she says, “and it’s also extremely at risk so that this pipeline, if any leaks happen anywhere, it’s not going to affect just that little community or that city or what have you that’s within a 100-kilometre radius, it’s going to affect pretty much the entire population along the pipeline.”
The students acknowledge that building the pipeline would create short-term jobs, but say sustainable energy technologies are a much sounder investment.
“Already 65 per cent of Canada’s energy comes from sustainable resources, much of that is from hydroelectricity,” says Naia Noyes-West.
“We’re already there and the technology is readily available. It provides tonnes of jobs and other countries are making huge steps with it and if we don’t, we will fall behind,” she adds.
The students are soliciting support for their anti-pipeline campaign from the Mount Allison Students Union and hope to persuade the university’s top governing body, the Board of Regents, to issue a formal statement opposing Energy East.
On Monday, November 7th, they’ll appear before Sackville Town Council to ask municipal politicians to take a formal stand against the pipeline.
The students say they’re hoping Sackville residents will come to the council chambers to show their support.
Monday’s meeting begins at 7 p.m.