CORNWALLIS PARK - Almost 150 local residents gathered Oct. 27 to learn about the proposed Energy East pipeline to ship bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to Saint John for export were told that communities along the line would bear the risks with the developers reaping the benefits.
Andrea Harden-Donahue, energy and climate justice campaigner for the Council of Canadians, told the gathering that the Energy East pipeline would stretch 4,400 kilometres from Alberta. Westward from Quebec, the pipeline would use, “re-purposed natural gas pipelines that are 40 years old.” East of Quebec, a new pipeline would be built to an export terminal at Saint John.
She explained that it would be a high-volume, multi use pipeline that will have twice the capacity of the proposed northern gateway pipeline across the Rocky Mountains. It will also be larger than the proposed Keystone pipeline from Alberta to Texas. The pipeline will have the capacity to carry bitumen, conventional crude, natural gas, and other petroleum products.
The primary purpose of the pipeline is to export unprocessed bitumen for export to refineries in Texas and Europe. The pipeline will mean a doubling of oil tanker traffic in the Bay of Fundy. She said that “when a spill occurs,” it is unknown how the bitumen will behave in the cold water and high-energy environment in the Bay of Fundy.
The gathering was chaired by Port Royal resident Hague Vaughan, an ecologist formerly involved in environmental monitoring with Environment Canada. Vaughan told the gathering that he is concerned about supertanker transport of bitumen in the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine.
He said that by processing along with the addition of natural gas residuals and other chemicals, the consistency of bitumen is changed from that “of a hockey puck” to a slurry. He said in fresh water, the slurry separates with the lighter products staying on the surface and the heavier tar compounds sinking, some to the bottom. He said that clean up in fresh water is extremely difficult.
Vaughan said that there is no experience with how the bitumen slurry will behave in the cold, marine water of the Bay of Fundy. The situation is further complicated by the high tides and very complex currents in the Bay. He said a spill in the Bay of Fundy would put the entire ecosystem of the Gulf of Maine - Bay of Fundy system at risk. If that happens, he said the entire fishing industry would be lost.
Hubert Saulnier, a local fisherman and area president of the Maritime Fisherman’s Union, told the gathering that local fishermen have identified four areas of concern. He said fishermen are concerned about the impact of increased tanker traffic on whales. He said whale populations are rebounding but greater tanker traffic increases the possibility of whale strikes.
Fishermen are also concerned because more tankers increase the opportunity for a major spill. He said the Bay is “overdue for an oil spill.” Saulnier said that a spill of bitumen would be “unmanageable.” He said a spill would destroy international markets for all seafood caught in the Gulf of Maine system.
Fishermen, according to Saulnier, are also concerned about the disposal of bilge water as empty tankers approach the Bay. He said this wastewater is known to transport invasive species and to be a source of oil in the marine environment.
Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, told the gathering that the Energy East pipeline will not make western oil available to Maritimers. She said it is being built to export bitumen for processing in Texas and Europe. She said it is “not a nation builder” and is “not a job creator” as the proponents proclaim.
Cherri Foytin, a journalist and mother spoke passionately of the experiences of the Gulf of Mexico communities in southern Louisiana following the BP oil well blowout. She said people are suffering from a wide range of aliments that are affecting their skin as well as vital organs like the lungs, kidneys, liver and others.
She pleaded with the audience to, “protect your kids.” She asked for people to, “promise to protect your ecosystem.”
In the question and answer period at the end of the meeting, opinions on both sides of the issue were expressed. One Digby fisherman said that he was not concerned about the increase in tanker traffic. Another individual pointed out that we all use oil products.
Both the applause and the comments by many others indicated support for the opinions expressed by the speakers. In response to queries on what the next steps might be, Vaughan said that a sign-up sheet was circulated to get contact information. He was prepared to help organize follow-up discussions with interested citizens.