October 7, 2016

Energy East: Pipeline of discord

Yan Chun-Leduc

This summer in Saskatchewan, the company Husky Energy spilled 250,000 litres of crude oil into the North Saskatchewan River, the source of drinking water for nearly 100,000 people. Water now has to be transported to villages and communities by truck. Husky Energy has paid $5 million to Prince Albert, the largest city affected by the spill, to limit the damage. This heavy oil does not float, it flows and spreads over all seabed surfaces. The consequence of this is that only half of the oil spilled into the river has been cleaned, the other half that has sunk is not cleanable and never will be. Oops.

TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline would allow for 1.1 million barrels of the same type of heavy oil per day to travel over a distance of 700 km in Quebec. This distance includes traversing more than 800 rivers, including the St. Lawrence where sixty percent of the Quebec population, or five million people, draw their drinking water. A spill of 250,000 liters of oil there would be catastrophic. But Energy East is an enormous pipeline project, with incomparably larger potential for harm than the spill in the North Saskatchewan River.

It took at least 14 hours for Husky Energy to find the leak which released the 250,000 liters. If the proposed Energy East pipeline leaked for the same amount of time, the spill would be of approximately 100 million liters, or 400 times more than the one which destroyed an entire ecosystem and deprived tens of thousands of individuals of drinking water in Saskatchewan. This potential oil spill would be comparable to the spill triggered by BP in the Gulf of Mexico.

The TransCanada project, besides threatening to permanently contaminate the water of five million, would also destroy all productive industries that benefit from the waters of the river as well as ruining the ecosystem which has already been weakened by other polluters. The St. Lawrence would be transformed into a giant toxic pond devoid of life. Fresh water is a scarce commodity, and Energy East threatens to eradicate its greatest reserve.

In September of 2014, Philippe Couillard said that Quebec should contribute to the Canadian economy by allowing the transportation of tar sand oil from Alberta, whether by pipeline or by boat on the St. Lawrence River. The project is ready, but what about popular support?

The polls have confirmed it: 60% of Quebec's population wants nothing to do with this pipeline project. In addition, the mayors of Quebec including Montreal area are nearly unanimous - except Quebec City’s businessman mayor RĂ©gis Labeaume who would like to give carte-blanche to TransCanada. The mayor of Montreal has made his position clear: for him, the "risks are too great to our environment" for too little "economic return." He also compares the annual economic benefit (which would amount to only $2 billion to private interests) to the cost of a spill (close to $10 billion to the people) and mocks the popular "jobs" slogan by reminding us that the 33 jobs it would create is a farce.

At the National Energy Board hearings in early September, mayors slammed the door. They did not hesitate to call the hearings a masquerade by pointing to clear examples of collusion between the Quebec government and three committee members supposed to investigate the project who have personally met former premier Jean Charest about it.

It is the same story on the union side: The Central Council of Metropolitan Montreal of the CSN has clearly positioned itself in opposition to this destructive project. As a member of the Common Front for Energy Transition, in a statement, the local trade union central stated that they "believe we must favor the development of alternative energy over oil sands," one of the dirtiest sources of energy on the planet.

The opposition coming from the Belle Province has provoked a response from elected officials in other Canadian provinces, opening the Pandora's box that constitutes the national question. Brad Wall, Premier of Saskatchewan (from the ranks of the Saskatchewan Party, a liberal-conservative formation which unseated the NDP in that province) hopes that "the mayors of the Montreal region will politely return their share of the $10 billion of equalization payments funded by the West." His opposition is laughable while British Columbia, which has already expressed its opposition to the TransCanada project, drew no such outcry. One can certainly argue that BC receives no equalization funding, but we must remember that when Western oil exploitation was only starting, Quebec and Ontario funded the oil exploration.

We must also remember that if today the Western provinces suffer from the decline in crude prices, it is certainly not the fault of Quebec, but that of ten years of Conservative rule that placed all the eggs in one basket and tried to convert Canada into strictly a provider of raw material at the expense of workers and the environment.

To be clear, the tar sands are not beneficial to anyone, either in Montreal, Calgary or even Fort McMurray. According to the Communist Party of Canada, the Federal government should immediately impose a moratorium on the industry and phase out the tar sands completely, converting the jobs it generated to more sustainable sectors with the same rates of pay.

Indeed, some say that Energy East will create jobs, and it will create a few dozen (33 to be exact), but risking the most important natural asset of the country, including the tens of thousands of jobs depending on it, is a farce and an insult to our intelligence. The neo-liberal policies of the Couillard Government, aim to ensure the profits of 1% on the back of 99%.

We must unite and immediately block the roadmap of those who have only the greed of companies at heart before it's too late. We must make sure to block Energy East no matter the cost. There is no question that we cannot put the people of Quebec at risk for private interests 2500 Km from home.

To begin, we must mobilize against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This free trade agreement is, in fact, more like a custom-made Constitution for business. On subject of what’s at stake with East Energy if this pact were to be ratified by Canada, any popular opposition would be made obsolete as companies would have increased powers to take legal action against institutions or States opposed to the establishment of profit-generating projects - for shareholders, not for the people, of course.

We must ensure active support and unity for all the forces that oppose this proposed project that seeks to distribute dividends to shareholders and an unsustainable ecological debt for future generations. Our strength is our numbers; our potential, our organization, and our substance, our unity.

Let’s shout clearly: “No to Energy East”!

Article originally published in French by Rebel Youth's sister publication Jeunesse Militante

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