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Ontario Energy Board Report Highlights Risks of Energy East Pipeline in New Report

A new report released Thursday by the Ontario Energy Board finds the risks of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline, destined to carry Alberta oilsands crude to eastern refineries and export facilities, outweigh the project’s benefits.

The board’s vice-president, Peter Fraser, said the report, prepared at the request of Ontario Minister of Energy Bob Chiarelli, finds “an imbalance between the economic and environmental risks of the project and the expect benefits for Ontarians.”

The Energy East pipeline, projected to transport 1.1 million barrels of oil per day, is the continent’s largest proposed pipeline, outsizing the company’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which has become a political boondoggle in the U.S. in recent years due to growing concerns over oil spills, private property and climate.

The Ontario Energy Board traveled to communities along the pipeline route to gauge public sentiment about the project and, according to the report, found fears over potential water pollution running high throughout the province.

“The top concern expressed was the risk of an oil spill as the pipeline runs new or across many waterways,” Fraser said. “Our advice is that for the existing pipeline, when it is too close to environmentally sensitive areas, it should be rerouted unless it can be justified by TransCanada as necessary.”

The report states concerns over water were “routinely expressed” at community meetings and mentions a First Nations elder who put the question to the board by saying, “Would you put something in your mother’s blood that would poison her? Your mother wouldn’t be able to hold you then.”

The report recommends TransCanada “pay particular attention to protecting Nipigon Lake, Trout Lake, the Ottawa River, the Rideau River, the Oxfard-Marsh Aquifer, the Nepean Aquifer, and other areas where there is elevated public concern.”

The report stated the Crown's "duty to consult" with Canada's First Nations was high on the minds of many community members and said it considers this responsibility "a very important issue" when considering the fate of the pipeline. The final decision-making authority over the pipeline rests with the federal government, as does the duty to consult.

The board also noted Ontario’s own requirement that pipeline projects have the “highest available technical standards” for protection of the public and the environment.

Yet the board did not find TransCanada met those reqirements.

“We cannot state that the project meets the highest available technical standards, as the proponent, TransCanada Pipelines Ltd, has not yet filed a complete application,” Chair and CEO of the board, Rosemarie Leclair, said.

The board said construction of the pipeline, which involves converting and redirecting a pre-existing natural gas pipeline as well as constructing a new extended portion of the line, could create as many as 114,000 full-time equivalent jobs and add $12 to $19 billion to the province’s GDP.

But the report also noted the costs associated with an oil spill “could easily surpass $1 billion.” As a result, TransCanada “needs to demonstrate that, in the event of a spill, the amount of crude oil that could be released will be as low as reasonably possible,” the report’s authors write.

The authors recommend an examination of TransCanada’s safety record during the National Energy Board’s Energy East hearings.

The report also finds the project will take an existing natural gas line out of operation, potentially driving up gas prices. The report states: “We are concerned that, even with the new natural gas pipeline that TransCanada is proposing to build in eastern Ontario, Energy East will reduce the supply and increase the price of natural gas for consumers in that region.”

In February the Ontario Energy Board released a report on Energy East’s climate impacts, prepared by Navius Research, that was widely criticized for downplaying the pipeline’s influence on oilsands expansion and the country’s rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Adam Scott from Environmental Defence said the board’s recent report “raises serious concerns about Energy East.”

Scott said the report makes clear the environmental risks of the pipeline are high, especially for a “risky project” that “does not have the support of communities along the pipeline route in Ontario.”

“Many participants also raised concerns that Energy East would directly facilitate the expansion of the Alberta tar sands, increasing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. This would make Canada an irresponsible player in a world where more and more countries are working hard to reduce their impact on the climate.”

He added the board’s analysis of the project’s climate impacts was “disappointing” and “based on outdated and inaccurate information.”

A report by the Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based energy think tank, found the oil needed to fill the Energy East pipeline would account for an additional 30 to 32 million tonnes of carbon emissions release into the atmosphere each year.

Pembina estimated that’s the equivalent of adding more than seven million cars to Canada’s roads and is “higher than the total current provincial emissions of five provinces.”

The board discussed Pembina’s findings in its recent report, saying “climate change was one of the key issues mentioned by people when they discussed the impacts of Energy East,” adding people felt addressing the impacts of the project without discussing climate change was inadequate.

Image Credit: TransCanada via Youtube

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