When officials representing the proposed Energy East pipeline appeared before Sackville Town Council Monday night, more than two dozen workers and community college students from around the province came along with them.
The group waved placards outside town hall and later, filed into the council chamber to show support for the pipeline that would carry up to 1.1 million barrels a day of tar sands bitumen from Alberta to refineries in eastern Canada and an Irving Oil marine terminal in Saint John.
Scott Martin, who is studying iron work at the Moncton campus of the New Brunswick Community College, echoed others in the crowd when he said he supports the pipeline because he wants to work “instead of sitting home on the couch, not doing anything. It would be nice to get weekly pay like most Canadians deserve,” he added.
Martin said he doubted that building the pipeline would make much of a difference for the environment and climate change, but, “it will for my bank account,” he said with a smile.
The officials from TransCanada Corporation, which wants to build and operate the pipeline, were appearing before council to make their case against a proposed motion opposing the project introduced last fall by Councillor Bill Evans.
Patrick LaCroix, New Brunswick Manager of Stakeholder Relations, told councillors that the corporation has been in the North American energy delivery business for more than 65 years.
“TransCanada is a value-driven organization,” he said, “and we want to do what’s right.”
LaCroix added that aside from its investments in oil and natural gas pipelines, the company operates six big wind farms in Quebec as well as seven solar generating facilities in Ontario.
His colleague, Steve Morck, who serves as an environmental advisor to Energy East, told councillors that the 4,500 kilometre pipeline would use state-of-the-art technology to detect leaks. He added that an operator monitoring data screens at the control centre in Calgary would have the authority to shut the pipeline down if something went wrong, an operation that would take about 10 minutes.
“That decision is actually made by that guy on the screen,” Morck said. “He doesn’t have to find a manager or vice president on a golf course on a Saturday afternoon, for example, to make that decision.”
Jobs, jobs, jobs
LaCroix told council that Energy East would create more than 3,700 jobs each year in New Brunswick during the construction phase and 261 direct and indirect jobs each year for 20 years after that.
However, in response to a question from Councillor Allison Butcher, he was vague about how many of those 261 jobs would be full or part-time.
“Direct jobs would be like terminal operator, for example, or a safety inspector or maintenance supervisor,” he said. “Part-time jobs, there would be snow clearing around access to a pump station, there would be catering services, there would be all the types of services that would be required for the operation of the pipeline.”
In response to a question from Councillor Andrew Black about how much of the 1.1. million barrels of oil per day would be refined in Canada creating jobs here, LaCroix said that would depend on market conditions. He said the Irving refinery in Saint John has agreed to take at least 50,000 barrels per day while refineries in Montreal and Quebec City would also take some of the oil. He estimated that the total capacity of all three refineries is 600,000 barrels per day. Earlier, he told council that the oil could also be exported to markets in Europe, Asia and the United States.
Two councillors raised environmental concerns about the pipeline.
Councillor Bill Evans noted that TransCanada’s 35-minute presentation had not dealt with what he called the “elephant in the room,” the effects of climate change triggered by the production and consumption of fossil fuels. He also wondered if the Energy East pipeline would ever be built given that tar sands oil will likely flow south to the U.S. from Alberta and also given the strong opposition in Quebec and from people in other places along its route.
For her part, Councillor Megan Mitton referred to a 2011 report from the International Energy Agency that warned against the irreversible effects of building more long-term fossil fuel facilities such as pipelines.
“When you build that infrastructure, it costs a lot of money that you invest in,” she said, “so you need to keep it going for a certain amount of time to get money out of it and they basically said because of that lock-in effect, we shouldn’t be building any new fossil fuel infrastructure, if we want a liveable climate.”
LaCroix and Morck answered that fossil fuel producers are responding to an ever-increasing demand for oil and more greenhouse gases are produced from the consumption of oil than from producing it.
LaCroix said that the Alberta government has responded with measures such as strict guidelines and hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions that will promote the production of more oil with fewer environmental effects.
“Industry itself has reduced greenhouse gas emissions from a barrel of oil by a third in recent history,” he added, “so Canadian innovation will help us produce a barrel of oil with less environmental impact.”
Critics weigh in
After last night’s presentation to council, Mark D’Arcy of the Council of Canadians, a group that opposes Energy East, told Warktimes that the pipeline is designed to export oil and expand tar sands production.
“If we’re committed to economic growth in the clean economy and [to] catch up with the rest of the world, we have to stop the expansion of the tar sands,” he said outside the council chamber.
D’Arcy added that TransCanada has the worst safety record of any pipeline in Canada and Energy East would pose a risk to waterways in New Brunswick including the Bay of Fundy.
“TransCanada has the worst catastrophic spill rate in Canada,” he said, “and we don’t want Energy East built because of the implications for our water, but we also can’t accept the expansion of the tar sands pipeline.”
Meantime, Mount Allison environmental students were also highly critical of the TransCanada presentation. The students are members of Sackville, No Energy East a group that asked town council to oppose the pipeline in November.
Spokesman Will Balser criticized company officials for being vague about how much of the oil would be refined in Canada and how much would be for export.
“They’re not willing to say how much they’re going to keep here and how much they’re willing to export and because of that, they don’t know how many jobs they’re actually going to create,” he said. “So this is the company talking about how good things are going to be.”
Town Council is scheduled to vote at its meeting next Monday on whether to pass Councillor Evans’s motion calling on the federal government to deny approval for the pipeline.
In the meantime, Balser says his group will be e-mailing councillors and soliciting community support in their campaign to stop Energy East.