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Energy East Pipeline could pose threats: report

Richard Gilbert
Energy East Pipeline could pose threats: report

The proposed Energy East Pipeline poses a threat to numerous watersheds and waterways between Hardisty, Alta. and Saint John, N.B., according to new report from the Council of Canadians.

"It simply is not worth the risk," says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians in a press release. "The sheer volume of oil – one million barrels a day – that will go through Energy East is enormous. This means that when the pipeline spills, it will seriously endanger our water sources."

The Energy East Pipeline project involves converting natural gas pipeline capacity to crude oil service in about 3,000 kilometres of TransCanada’s existing Canadian Mainline from Burstall, Sask. to Cornwall, Ontario. It also includes the construction of about 1,400 kilometres of new pipeline in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and New Brunswick.

The new report entitled Energy East: Where Oil Meets Water provides a snapshot of the characteristics and attributes of many waterways along Energy East’s 4,400-km path.

"The Energy East pipeline would cross some of Canada’s most precious waterways," said the report. "From drinking water sources, to valued fishing, tourist and recreational waters, to a beluga habitat and the home of the world’s largest tides in the Bay of Fundy, these unique waterways would all be in danger from a pipeline or tanker spill."

In total, the pipeline would cross at least 90 watersheds and 961 waterways along its route.

According to the report, TransCanada is aiming for a 10 minute pipeline spill response time. With the pipeline’s total capacity of 1.1 million barrels of crude per day, Energy East would transport 1,893 litres of diluted bitumen every second.

This means more than 1 million litres could be lost in 10 minutes during a spill. In addition, a huge amount of oil remaining in the pipeline between valves could also leak.

The report argues that there is a significant lack of independent scientific data on the consequences of diluted bitumen spills in water.

For this reason, much of the limited information that is known about how diluted bitumen reacts in waterways, and the challenges in cleaning it up, comes from the experiences of the Kalamazoo and Mayflower spills.

The first major spill of diluted bitumen into a waterway occurred when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in Michigan in July 2010.

As a result 3.8 million litres of diluted bitumen spilled and then entered the Kalamazoo River. Unlike conventional crude which floats on top of the water, much of the diluted bitumen sank to the bottom of the river, which made the cleanup efforts far more difficult.

The U.S. environmental protection agency reported that diluted bitumen contaminated close to 60 kilometres of the Kalamazoo River. Nearly four years and $1 billion later, about 20 per cent of the diluted bitumen remains at the bottom of the river.

Another spill from Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline in 2012 sent 1.59 million litres of diluted bitumen flowing through the yards and streets of a suburb in Mayflower, Arkansas.

The Pegasus pipeline was originally built to carry conventional light crude and was then converted to carry diluted bitumen. In this case, the cleanup has also proven to be extremely challenging.

The report concludes that the sheer volume of substance proposed to be pushed through the Energy East pipeline means a pipeline spill will eventually occur.

They urge the Canadian public to reject this project because it poses a serious threat to Canadian water sources. They argue that this is the only way to protect the waterways along its path across the country.

Follow Richard Gilbert on Twitter @buildingcanada.

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