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More opposition to Energy East

by Shelagh Pizey-Allen

The proposed Energy East pipeline. Courtesy Council of Canadians.
The proposed Energy East pipeline. Courtesy Council of Canadians.

Kenora, ON – Activists who attended an Energy East Pipeline open house are concerned about environmental risks and the project’s lack of transparency.

The TransCanada Corporation plans to convert an existing natural gas pipeline to transport crude oil from the Tar Sands to refineries in Eastern Canada. On Monday, September 16th over a dozen TransCanada employees and an Aboriginal relations firm staffed an open house to answer questions and guide visitors through an exhibit.

But some activists say that they left the open house with more questions than answers. “They’re saying that they’re approaching First Nations and they’re not really saying who,” said Lawrence Angeconeb, a Red Lake, ON resident. “And that’s just how secretive this whole process may turn out to be.”

Concerned area residents who came to hand out leaflets about environmental issues were asked to leave the building, but stayed in the parking lot to hand out material. A major concern raised by activists is the possibility of a spill. If a natural gas leak occurs, “the gas goes up, rather than down,” explains Angeconeb. “With oil, if it ruptures, it goes down: into the soil, into the rivers.”

In 2010 for example, a pipeline transporting diluted bitumen from the Tar Sands spilled into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Three years later, the oil is still being cleaned up. The diluting agent in the bitumen, necessary for pipeline transportation, vaporized during the spill and the remaining oil sank to the bottom of the river.

Winnipeg, MB resident Crystal Greene is concerned about how close the pipeline will be to Shoal Lake, ON, the source of Winnipeg’s drinking water, but open house staff were unable to provide specific information. TransCanada provided detailed satellite maps of the pipeline’s path through the region, except for the area West of Kenora to the Manitoba-Ontario border, where Shoal Lake lies. The Council of Canadians lists Winnipeg and Shoal Lake #40 First Nation among the communities on or near the existing natural gas mainline. 

“It’s not a question of if there will be a spill, it’s a question of when. And just imagine if this pipeline does spill very close to our water source,” Greene says. “This means a lot to me because this lake is where my ancestors have lived for thousands of years.”

TransCanada did not organize an open house in Winnipeg, but held one in the community of of Île-Des-Chênes, twenty-five kilometers outside the city of Winnipeg. Greene says that the distance made the open house inaccessible to Winnipeg residents, who have questions about how the pipeline could affect their drinking water.

Philippe Cannon, a spokesperson for Energy East said that TransCanada is in the process of “stakeholder engagement and gathering information” which will lead to the company filing for approval from the National Energy Board by the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014. Once the filing is complete, the approval process can take between eighteen and twenty-four months.

Cannon says that TransCanada’s stakeholder engagement strategy is to organize open houses, meetings with landowners, and gather comments through TransCanada’s website, and that the public response to the project has been positive. But some open houses have seen visible opposition, such as the one in North Bay, ON, where fifty people protested the project.

While some media coverage has framed the open house events as consultations, activists say that there was no meaningful dialogue or process to give input. Kenora resident Teika Newton called the open house “disappointing” and criticized the NEB’s consultation requirements.

“It’s presented in a format where community discussion is not encouraged,” she said. “You’re having a lot of one-on-one conversations with people, each person coming in and getting a different piece of the puzzle.”

Newton says that “even if the entire community stood up and said no to this, and the National Energy Board heard that we said no and they disapproved the project,” the federal government has the authority to override decisions made by the NEB if it is in the national best interest.

In addition to environmental and safety issues along the pipeline itself, Lawrence Angeconeb is also concerned about the First Nations communities who are being directly affected by Tar Sands production, such as Fort Chipewyan and Fort MacKay

Angeconeb says that his personal mission is “to get everyone in Treaty 3 and the First Nations communities that surround Kenora to oppose the pipeline as an act of solidarity for the First Nations communities that are affected directly” by the Tar Sands.

Crystal Greene adds, “Indigenous rights are our last resort to protecting the land, the air, the water.” She is concerned that recent federal legislation, such as last December's Bill C-45, clears the way for development and resource exploitation by eroding Indigenous land rights, which are the “security net to protecting this land for people of all nations."


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