Energy East Consultations Shut Down by Protests and Suspended Until Further Notice

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On Tuesday, the National Energy Board (NEB) announced the suspension of all their consultations on the Energy East Pipeline after opposition to both the pipeline and the assessment process hit a new high in Montreal.

The first of the three scheduled panel sessions in Montreal was aborted as soon as it started on Monday morning after protesters irrupted the proceedings in the Centre Mont-Royal.

A few people disrupted the assembly, brandishing banners and chanting for about thirty minutes before the police forcefully removed them. Three people were arrested. In a communiqué published later that night, the NEB called the incident “a violent disruption […] which threatened the security of everyone involved.”

Multiple activist groups, MNAs and Mayor Coderre himself have been asking for the National Energy Board assessment of Energy East to be suspended since concerns over the integrity of two commissioners have been raised. It was recently revealed that Lyne Mercier and Jacques Gauthier had secretly met with a TransCanada lobbyist – who happened to be none other than Ex-Premier Jean Charest- in early 2015.

The Front Commun Pour la Transition Énergétique (FCPTE) organized a “greeting committee” for the Montreal consultations on Monday. Environmentalists, but also some political representatives (namely from Québec Solidaire) were present.  Carole Dupuis, member of FCPTE and general coordinator of the Regroupement Vigilance hydrocarbures, described the protest as coloured and joyful.

In a short phone interview, Mrs Dupuis said that her organization had no plans to interrupt the session. According to her, the incident was the initiative of a lone individual that gathered spontaneous support:

“Actually a man ran to the front and then others joined him to chant slogans.”

After the no-go session of Monday, the NEB announced the postponement of the session scheduled Tuesday, citing security concerns. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, they stated that all consultations are suspended until they decide what to do with the two commissioners who met with Charest:

“Given that two motions have been filed asking for the recusal of Panel Members, and given that the Board has invited written comments by September 7, 2016 on the these motions, the Board will not proceed with further Panel Sessions until it reaches a decision.”

What’s the problem with the National Energy Board?

A couple of days before the NEB arrived in Montreal, Coderre joined the calls for the suspension of the consultations. He said he was “ill at ease” with the fact that two of the three commissioners had met with Jean Charest.

Lyne Mercier and Jacques Gauthier, along with the director of the NEB, met with Charest while he was working for TransCanada, in January 2015.  The NEB first did not disclose that it had a meeting with a TransCanada lobbyist.

When it was discovered, they insisted that the subject of Energy East had not come up in the discussion. But thanks to the Access to Information Act, the National Observer got hold of some documents that proved the exact opposite. Handwritten notes from one of the participants included mentions such as “safety of the pipeline”,  “economy needs investment” and “what profits for Quebec?”.

The NEB apologized for lying but refused to remove Gauthier and Mercier from the Energy-East committee, until now. All appearance of partiality aside, the deficient French platform and the lack of accessibility of the NEB’s consultation have also been criticized.

Prior to 2012, the NEB had no experience whatsoever with public consultations. It’s only when the conservatives adopted a mammoth law abolishing the Canadian Environmental Assessment agency that the NEB’s role was redefined.

The National Energy Board is an independent federal organisation. Its purpose is to regulate the oil, gas and electricity projects that have international or inter-provincial reach. Although it often gets heaped with organisations like BAPE (Quebec’s Bureau of Environmental Public Hearings), its mandate is fundamentally different.

The NEB is foremost mandated to evaluate the safety and the practical aspects of the projects.

In 2014, it ruled that it did not have to consider upstream activities or downstream results in its assessment of a project. In other words, the consequences of EE on climate change, oil dependency or tar-sands development will not be examined by the NEB.

The Energy-East Pipeline: A Quick Rundown of the Facts

Energy-East pipeline is a TransCanada project destined to transport oil from Alberta to New Brunswick. The idea is to convert 3000 km of an old gas pipeline and extend it by 1600 km, to have a brand new 4600 kms of pipeline transporting 1.2 million oil barrels daily. It’s worth $15,7 Billion.

Eshko Timiou, Wiki creative commons
Eshko Timiou, Wiki creative commons

It will run through six provinces and under 860 watercourses, including the Outaouais River and the Saint-Lawrence River.

The divisive aspect of the pipeline climbed to new levels as other pipeline projects (namely Keystone XL) fell through, leaving EE as the last route to export Alberta’s massive oil production.

Supporters of the project argue that it would allow Alberta to boost up the exploitation of its tar sands and at the same time allow the rest of Canada to drastically reduce its oil imports from Europe, the Middle-East and Africa. TransCanada is also promising the creation of numerous – if temporary- jobs throughout the country.

 

Associated Minor Scandals

However, the oil travelling through the pipeline is not destined for Canadian consumption. Only a meager percentage of the product would be treated in Quebec’s refineries and the rest would be exported overseas from New Brunswick.

BAPE public consultations have also taught us that the oil will be extracted partly from Alberta’s tar-sands and partly from North Dakota. As Alexandre Shields once pointed out, Energy East will, to some extent serve to transport US oil to other US territories.

Environmental groups have raised red flags about the rivers affected by the pipeline’s trajectories. One of the primary sources of concern is the form of the oil in transition: a substance called dilbit. Dilbit is diluted bitumen that is easier to transport than crude oil, but it is very difficult to clean up in the event of a spill.

It is especially risky in rivers, where it rapidly sinks to the bottom before it can be recuperated. A detail that might be even more challenging in the often iced water of the Saint-Lawrence.

I personally believe this pipeline is an overall terrible idea and I could easily write another 6000 words about all the reasons why this project has been a complete trainwreck so far. Now I know this has been dragging on, so let’s take a moment to revisit some of TransCanada’s greatest moves:

  • Trying to build a port in an endangered species’ nursery
  • A leaked “press strategy” that erred somewhere in the area of barely-legal-and-definitely-unethical.
  • Refusing to comply with Quebec’s environmental law
  • Failing to provide proper documentation in French
  • Providing such unreadable gibberish in lieu of the documentation required by federal law that the NEB had to ask them to start over.
  • Responding that they will have something ready by 2018 when commissioners of the BAPE pointed out that they had no clear strategy in the case of an oil spill in the Saint-Lawrence.

* featured image from ÉcoQuébec’s twitter account: “greeting committee” for the NEB consultations on Monday

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