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Ontario Launches Provincial Public Forum on Energy East Pipeline, Everyone Welcome to Speak

The government of Ontario is holding community discussions in northern Ontario to hear opinions on TransCanada’s proposed Energy East oil pipeline project. Part of the $12 billion pipeline project involves converting 1,900 kilometres of pipeline from natural gas to oil in northern Ontario and constructing one hundred kilometers of new pipeline in southeastern Ontario.

Ontario’s public forum on Energy East may be the first of its kind in the country. Provinces do not usually hold community meetings on oil pipelines that cross provincial boundaries such as Energy East. The National Energy Board (NEB) – Canada’s energy regulator – has jurisdiction over interprovincial pipelines, not the provinces.  

The forum appears to be the result of public outcry in Ontario over Enbridge’s Line 9 oil pipeline project and restrictions the National Energy Board (NEB) placed on public participation in the project's review process. Last March, the NEB approved Line 9 despite public safety concerns about transporting oilsands bitumen through the pipeline.

“The erosion of the National Energy Board process, in both accessibility and scope, has left a void in need of being filled. That is why the Ontario government stepping in is so commendable and needed. The Ontario Energy Board process is much more inclusive to the broad range of concerns the public has,” says Yan Roberts of North Bay, Ontario. North Bay’s community discussion took place on April 2nd.   

The Ontario Energy Board – Ontario's energy regulator – has been instructed by the province to consult the public, First Nations and Metis, a wide range of provincial organizations, and technical experts on what they believe the impacts of the Energy East pipeline will be. All Ontarians regardless if they live along the proposed pipeline’s route are invited to participate in the community discussions and send in written comments to the Board.

The schedule of Ontario's Energy East public forum.

Even though the NEB must decide whether pipeline projects are “in the public interest,” the NEB relies on pipeline companies to inform communities on new projects. In recent years, the NEB has limited public hearing participation to only those members of the public that can demonstrate they are “directly affected” by pipeline projects or have “relevant expertise.”

“Visiting the towns along Energy East’s route for their community discussions and allowing testimony to be submitted easily really shows that the Ontario government is sincere about listening to and representing the many concerns Ontario has with Energy East,” Roberts told DeSmog Canada. Roberts, who has been following the Energy East project closely, is a farmer and community organizer for North Bay’s local citizens’ group

All Issues Including Climate Change and the Expansion of the Oilsands Are Heard

“I feel quite confident that citizens’ comments and concerns are being properly heard and reported to the OEB (Ontario Energy Board), and that the OEB is listening,” says Teika Newton of Kenora, Ontario.

Kenora in northwestern Ontario was the Ontario Energy Board’s first stop in its community discussions that began last week. Newton says the community meeting was well attended and all issues pertaining to the pipeline could be discussed. Unlike the NEB process on pipelines, residents were permitted to express concerns of Energy East’s impacts on climate change and the expansion of the oilsands (also called tar sands) in Alberta. The NEB no longer considers ‘upstream’ impacts of pipelines in its decisions.

TransCanada's Energy East's prosposed route in Ontario

“The OEB process involves engaging directly with communities, hearing concerns from citizens, and dutifully recording what has been heard, even if it is not flattering to government or the project proponents. It is unbiased and objective, as a regulator should be,” says Newton, who is a project manager of a university research project in Kenora and co-founder of Transition Kenora, a local sustainability group.

Feedback From Ontarians Will be the Basis of a Provincial Report

“Only time will tell if the OEB’s final report to the Minister of Energy will be as clear in articulating citizen opposition and concerns,” Newton told DeSmog Canada.

The Ontario Energy Board will file a report based on the feedback it receives over the coming months with Ontario’s Ministry of Energy. The Ministry will use the report in shaping Ontario’s position on the pipeline project, which will be presented to the NEB in the upcoming Energy East hearings. The hearings will be scheduled once TransCanada has submitted an official project application to the NEB. TransCanada is expected to apply this summer.

The current round of community discussions will wrap up in Cornwall, near Quebec on April 8th, but this is by no means the end of Ontario’s Energy East public forum. A second round of discussions will take place after TransCanada submits its application for the pipeline with the NEB. A conference for provincial organizations – from oil industry advocacy groups to environmental organizations – to present evidence on Energy East will also take place this summer.

“The OEB has created an avenue for people to have their concerns represented, whereas the NEB increasingly seems to have the public's concerns rejected. It will now be for the people of Ontario to come out and make their voices heard,” Roberts told DeSmog Canada. Roberts is also a local tourism operator in North Bay, Ontario.

Involvment in Pipeline Process Easy

The Ontario Energy Board’s consideration of the Energy East project questions what the loss of a natural gas pipeline will mean for the province’s natural gas supply and investigates the pipeline’s safety, economic impacts and the impacts on the local environment, communities, and First Nations and Metis.

“I am hopeful that through this careful and comprehensive process of engagement, they will obtain a clear picture of how Ontarians feel with regard to Energy East,” says Newton of Kenora, Ontario.

The Ontario Energy Board has created an easy to navigate website for the public forum, complete with information backgrounders on Energy East and ‘toolkits’ for Ontarians to start and record discussions on the pipeline with friends, family and co-workers. Written comments on Energy East will accepted until April 30th. A second round of written submissions will take place in the summer.

Neither the Ontario Energy Board nor the province have the legal power to stop the project. But neither does the NEB. The federal government assumed final decision-making power over all pipeline projects after the passage of the 2012 federal omnibus bill c-38. NEB decisions on pipeline projects are now considered 'recommendations.' 

If approved, Energy East will be the largest pipeline in North America stretching some 4,600-kilometers from Hardisty, Alberta to Saint John, New Brunswick.

TransCanada claims Energy East will transport 1.1 millions barrels of oil and oilsands bitumen a day. DeSmog Canada reported last month the majority of Energy East’s oil and bitumen will be exported overseas, and will not be refined domestically.

Image Credit: Ontario Energy Board, TransCanada

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