Energy East threatens the drinking water of over 5 million Canadians: Report

by: Obert Madondo | April 15, 2016

A new examination of Energy East reveals that TransCanada's proposed tar sands pipeline "threatens the drinking water of more than five million Canadians."  (Photo credit: Environmental Defence / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A new examination of Energy East reveals that TransCanada’s proposed tar sands pipeline “threatens the drinking water of more than five million Canadians.”  (Photo credit: Environmental Defence / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A new interrogation of Energy East reveals that TransCanada’s proposed tar sands pipeline threatens the drinking water of 5,061,433 Canadians. In Quebec alone, the pipeline would short change over three million Canadians.

The report, entitled, Energy East: A Risk to Our Drinking Water (pdf), was jointly authored by the Council of Canadians, Environmental Defence and Transition Initiative Kenora.

If built, the 4,400km Energy East would become North America’s largest oil pipeline, transporting 1.1 million barrels of crude per day from Alberta to Canada’s East Coast. The pipeline would impact more than 75 communities in Alberta, Sakatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec. According to environmental experts, Energy East would increase the risk of oil spills, and cause “run away climate change”.

RELATED: Energy East pipeline opposed by Montreal, Quebec mayors

Here’s the full executive summary of the new report from the advocacy organizations:

TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline project threatens the drinking water of more than five million Canadians. This alarming finding is the result of a detailed examination of Energy East’s proposed route across Canada.

From Manitoba to New Brunswick, nearly 3,000 lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers, which are relied upon by millions of Canadians as sources of clean drinking water, would be at risk of oil spills. Just one pipeline rupture in any one of these vulnerable locations could contaminate drinking water sources for years to come.

This report documents the nature and proximity of TransCanada’s Energy East proposal to major municipal and community drinking water supplies across Canada. As proposed, the pipeline would threaten the drinking water of a significant portion of Canada’s population:

Province                  Canadians Whose Drinking Water is at Risk from Energy East
Manitoba                676,613
Ontario                   1,040,788
Quebec                   3,213,353
New Brunswick       130,679
TOTAL                     5,061,433

Energy East would be the largest tar sands pipeline in North America ever built. The pipeline would ship crude oil at high pressure 4,600 km across most of Canada, from Alberta to New Brunswick, crossing 2,963 identified waterways and countless smaller streams and wetlands along the way. Energy East could carry up to 1.1 million barrels (175 million litres) of oil every day, eclipsing the scale of other recent tar sands pipeline proposals, such as Northern Gateway or Keystone XL.

Given the amount of oil flowing through such a massive pipe, even a short duration spill has the potential to release large quantities of crude oil into the environment and cause substantial harm.

Crude oil spilled into the environment is rarely fully recovered. In most large pipeline ruptures into water, only a percentage of the released oil can be cleaned up. This leaves a lasting legacy of water, soil and sediment pollution that means people and ecosystems are dangerously exposed to toxic hydrocarbon chemicals for decades. Acute or chronic exposure to hydrocarbon pollution can significantly impact ecosystems and human health.

Energy East would not just carry conventional crude oil. The pipeline would also transport significant quantities of diluted tar sands bitumen (or dilbit for short). Laboratory tests and real-world pipeline spills have shown that this ultra-heavy bitumen separates from its diluents and sinks to the bottom of waterways.

One example of the difficulty of cleaning up a dilbit spill is Enbridge’s Line 6b pipeline rupture in 2010, which spilled more than 3 million litres of tar sands diluted bitumen into a small creek and subsequently, the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. First responders were ill-prepared to clean up the bitumen, which sank to the bottom of the creek and the river. The spill spread nearly 60 km downstream before reaching a dam, which narrowly prevented dilbit from reaching Lake Michigan. Cleanup efforts were complicated by submerged bitumen, necessitating extensive dredging of the river, a process which took years and cost more than $1billion. The river is still degraded as some submerged oil contamination remains.

In December 2015, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a comprehensive study that shows how diluted bitumen substantially differs from other types of oil commonly moved by pipeline, confirming the Kalamazoo experience. The properties of dilbit create unique and complex spill scenarios as bitumen sinks in water after a short period of weathering. The study concluded that special response strategies and tactics are needed to respond and clean up diluted bitumen spills; however, these have not yet been developed in Canada or the U.S. The pipeline industry, government agencies and first responders are simply not prepared to deal with these additional risks.

Canadian regulators, oil companies and pipeline companies, including TransCanada, have repeatedly refused in public hearings and communications materials to acknowledge the added hazards caused by shipping dilbit. But their refusal to acknowledge the added risks does not erase the actual risks.

These safety concerns are compounded by TransCanada’s poor record on pipeline ruptures and spills. The natural gas pipeline proposed for conversion as part of the Energy East project suffered from 10 ruptures over the past 25 years. TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline, which also consists of a converted natural gas pipeline and newly constructed segments, leaked 71 times in its Canadian section in the first two years of operation.”

Given the particular risks of diluted bitumen spills and TransCanada’s appalling safety record, it is only prudent to take a closer look at the threat Energy East poses to Canadians’ drinking water supplies. However, the risk assessments contained in this report are conservative in nature. The potential exists for larger spill profiles than those captured in the methodology used. In most areas, only municipal-scale drinking water systems were evaluated for direct spill risks. Remote and small communities as well as First Nations communities along the pipeline route not included in the estimated total would also face direct risks to their drinking water from Energy East.

It’s worth emphasizing that Energy East would be an export pipeline, with up to 90 per cent of its oil expected to be shipped overseas unrefined. It would add little to Canada’s economy and very few permanent jobs. Yet more than five million Canadians are being asked to accept the risks Energy East poses to their drinking water.

Safe, clean drinking water is fundamental to public health. Water is a building block of life. Its protection is not an aspirational policy goal but our collective duty.

It must be clear to all levels of government that safeguarding our nation’s drinking water supplies should come before the interests of a few oil and pipeline companies. It’s time for Canadians to reject Energy East.

Read, reproduce or share the full report, free of charge.

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Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad