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Groups Argue Flawed Assumptions in Energy East Report Behind “Modest” Climate Impacts of Pipeline

A panel of leading environmental groups expressed concern last week over findings in an Ontario Energy Board commissioned report that suggest oil tanker trains could replace TransCanada's proposed Energy East pipeline if the project isn't approved. 

“We believe the report makes a number of flawed assumptions on rail capacity, and actually goes beyond the oil industry’s own projections,” Ben Powless, a panel presenter at the province's Energy East stakeholder meeting and pipeline community organizer for Ecology Ottawa, said.

The energy board's report, written by Navius Research, estimates the greenhouse gas (GHG) impact of the pipeline  which is project to carry 1.1 million barrels of oil per day  will be "modest" since the oil could could just as easily be brought to market by rail.

“It is highly unlikely that 1.1 million barrels of oil or even half of that could be shipped by rail,” Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence Canada, countered. Scott and Powless joined panel members from the Council of Canadians and the Ottawa chapter of 350.org to argue against the report's findings at a stakeholders meeting on Energy East in Ottawa last week.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) projects oil-by-rail in Canada will only hit 700,000 barrels per day by 2016. Even if sufficient additional rail capacity were proposed, the panel found it “overly optimistic” to assume public support in light of recent oil tank car explosions, such as the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic.

“We have trouble believing more oil-by-rail won’t cause public opposition,” Powless said.  

Climate impacts of Energy East debated

Navius’ report is one of only two studies assessing the GHG emissions from a fully operational Energy East pipeline. By assuming Energy East’s 1.1 million barrels will be extracted regardless of the pipeline's approval, the report sees only a 1.2 and 10.2 megatonnes-of-carbon increase in Canada’s carbon footprint due to Energy East. 

“Energy East will likely increase emissions from 'well-to-tank' (extraction to refineries) in the rest of Canada, but the impact is likely to be relatively modest,” the report concludes.

Navius’s findings differ greatly from the first study on Energy East’s potential GHG emissions by the Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based energy think tank:

“The crude production needed to fill the Energy East pipeline would generate an additional 30 to 32 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year — the equivalent of adding more than seven million cars to Canada’s roads.” 

The Pembina study does not assume oil-by-rail will replace Energy East if the pipeline is not constructed, leading to constraints on production in the oil patch.

Ontario’s environmental leadership on the line with Energy East

“Energy East is Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Keystone," Muthanna Subbaiah of the Ottawa chapter of 350.org said at the meeting. 

"President Obama said he will veto Keystone XL. Wynne needs to reject Energy East.” 

The province has talked much about being a climate leader and is hosting an international climate summit this summer, but attracted criticism over its position on Energy East. Ontario Premier Wynne recently stated her government will only consider the GHG emissions from Energy East that occur within Ontario, meaning the climate impacts from developing oil in the Alberta oilsands will be excluded from consideration.

Navius’ report for the Ontario Energy Board finds the pipeline will cause an 0.4 per cent increase in GHG emissions in Ontario. These emissions will be almost exclusively from pipeline pumping stations running on either natural gas or Ontario's relatively clean electricity.

“The Ontario government needs to step up and protect us,” Andrea Harden-Donahue, energy and climate justice campaigner with the Council of Canadians, told the audience attending the public meeting.

The panel also voiced concerns about TransCanada’s safety record, the effects of a oil spill on the province’s natural environment and the fact TransCanada’s application for the pipeline is incomplete.

“I don’t know of a clearer warning than the Kalamazoo spill,” Harden-Donahue stated.

The Kalamazoo spill in Michigan in 2010 remains the largest inland pipeline oil spill in U.S. history, and cost well over one billion dollars in cleanup costs. The Enbridge pipeline ruptured when the pipeline's external polyethylene tape coating became unglued, allowing moisture to corrode the pipe.

Ninety-nine kilometers of the existing natural gas pipeline TransCanada plans on converting for the Energy East project in Ontario is coated with polyethylene tape.

Image Credit: Ecology Ottawa

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“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

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