Do You Know The Truth About The Alberta East Pipeline?
Industry Insight The 4,600km Energy East pipeline TransCanada is proposing to build will stretch from Alberta to New Brunswick and be capable of transporting 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day.
There are obvious economic benefits to the pipeline, like adding $36 billion to the economy and creating thousands of jobs both in Western and Eastern Canada, but the hard questions are ones of environmental impact and safety.
Opponents are concerned about the possibility of pipeline ruptures and spills and their impact on communities, wildlife, and water resources. Similarly, many are concerned about the carbon emissions that would go along with adding 1.1 million barrels of oil to our daily tally.
Supply and demand
All of these concerns are valid, but by framing them in terms of the Energy East pipeline, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. This is not, in truth, additional oil. “If there’s a demand for oil, it’s always going to be filled from somewhere,” explains Neil Lane, Executive Director of the Pipe Line Contractors Association of Canada. “Pipelines simply don’t drive the consumption of oil; they only change where the supply is drawn from.”
"About one teaspoon of oil is spilled for every 800 litres transported by pipeline."
And right now the refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick that Energy East would be feeding are importing the majority of their crude from OPEC countries in the Middle East and Africa. “There’s a human footprint to importing oil from these countries in addition to the carbon footprint,” says Lane. “We can’t close our eyes to that.” It’s an additional cost that is too rarely considered when comparing it against domestic oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan, which can also be purchased at a lower price than foreign oil — if there is a way to get it to the refinery.
A bridge to a greener tomorrow
Canada has a responsibility to develop a renewable economy, and no one expects us to be able to continue growing our dependence on petroleum indefinitely. But greening our economy and our society is not something that happens overnight, and it would be a great tragedy to let our desire for a more environmentally friendly nation tomorrow prevent us from making the most responsible decisions today. The immediate alternative to the Energy East pipeline is not a massive reduction in consumption; it is continued transportation of largely foreign oil by road, rail, and sea.
In terms of carbon emissions and cost efficiency, pipelines are far and away the best alternative. “The numbers don’t even come close,” says David Kavanaugh, President, O.J. Pipelines Canada.
The impact on us all
When it comes to safety, it is much harder to compare, for example, the human cost of train and truck accidents with the environmental damages of tanker and pipeline spills. About one teaspoon of oil is spilled for every 800 litres transported by pipeline.
That’s still too much, but the safety record continues to be improved by advancing technology in pipeline construction and monitoring. “We have better materials than ever before,” says Kavanaugh. “We have better quality control, improved welding techniques, better data acquisition, better sensors, better valves. The technology has just come so far.”
Those who would block a pipeline are duty-bound to consider the practical alternatives. While we work towards a greener society, we must decide between transporting domestic oil by pipeline, sending it through our cities by road and rail, or importing it on tankers from the Middle East. Energy East looks very different in that light.