Busting some myths around Energy East

It's time we stopped pinning our hopes on a doomed industry and sought sustainable, green economic solutions

CALGARY, Alta. April 19, 2016/ Troy Media/ – The Energy East pipeline is a narrow idea that will condemn Canada to environmental failure while wasting billions of dollars.

Proponents of Energy East argue that we should be supplying Eastern Canadians with domestic oil in place of imported fuel they now use.

But Ian Whitcomb, president of Irving Oil, has sounded a note of caution. Irving, the largest oil refiner in Canada, says it would not risk losing its imports from Saudi Arabia in order to make room for Canadian crude. “We will add Western Canadian crude to our portfolio as the economics dictate, but probably not at the expense of our Saudi barrels,” Whitcomb said recently.

So this justification for Energy East falls flat.

And this is hardly the only problem the pipeline represents. Certainly, the investment in Energy East could be spent in much more fruitful ways – creating thousands of jobs in sustainable industries. And going ahead with Energy East only prolongs our crippling dependence on fossil fuels.

Energy East would consist of a 4,500-km pipeline to transport bitumen and conventional oil from Alberta t0 St. John, N.B., and be built by TransCanada at a cost of $15.7 billion. Once the permit application is submitted to the National Energy Board (NEB), there will still be a 27-month review period, which means the construction project wouldn’t start before late 2018.

It’s also important to understand that bitumen is a solid that needs to be upgraded and refined to be used as oil. It’s being claimed that most of the product piped through Energy East and refined in St. John would be conventional oil. But eventually, most of the resources coming from Alberta will be bitumen.

However, the Irving refinery is not equipped to upgrade bitumen. In order for the St. John facility to process bitumen, it would need to install a coker, which removes carbon from bitumen while adding hydrogen at very high temperatures to make the bitumen more like a liquid fuel. Such a unit would cost $2 billion and Irving has made clear it is not interested in making this investment.

Eastern Canadian refineries can much more easily, and cheaply, process the conventional oil now being imported.

Essentially, then, bitumen from Alberta and Saskatchewan is not going to replace Irving Oil’s imported sources.

So what else could Canadians do with the $15.7 billion that would be spent on Energy East?

It’s estimated that Energy East would create about 9,000 jobs in development and close to 1,000 permanent jobs.

But say we invested this money in clean, renewable energy instead. As many as 78,500 jobs could be created across Canada, some in northern regions that are distant from the electricity grid. And, better yet, we could get people working right away because we wouldn’t need to wait for the 27-month NEB approval process.

Building Energy East is fundamentally a bad idea. It would lock us into decades more of fossil fuel dependence, while pushing us further away from meeting our target of trying to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Instead, we should invest that $15.7 billion in sustainable, in-country, independent, renewable energy infrastructures. We could then export these technologies and our newly-developed sustainability expertise, while innovating in various industries such as agriculture.

We should be simultaneously conserving our money, environment, dignity and future. It’s time we thought outside the box and had a vision beyond tomorrow.

Thana Boonlert was the Green Party of Alberta candidate in the recent Calgary-Greenway provincial byelection.

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