A TransCanada Corp. executive is urging people who support the Energy East Pipeline project to make themselves heard.
"I used to believe if we got 55 or 60 per cent [support] … we'd be off to the races," said Alex Pourbaix, president of Energy and Oil Pipelines for TransCanada.
"And what I've found is that a very small minority of very vocal opponents, in any given community, can go a long way to harming your project."
Pourbaix made the comments in a speech to the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council Outlook 2014 conference in Saint John on Thursday.
TransCanada will soon be seeking regulatory approval on its pipeline proposal, which would send send 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from Western Canada to refineries and export terminals in Eastern Canada.
The six-year development and construction phase would create 3,700 New Brunswick jobs, and boost the provincial GDP by $1.2 billion without any government subsidies, said Pourbaix.
The Canadian economy would see about $10 billion in GDP from the pipeline during that period, he said, noting that pales in comparison to the economic benefits over the 40-year life of the project.
'While opponents to the energy industry have decided that killing pipeline projects would be a very visible and symbolic victory for the hard-core eco-crowd, all it is actually going to do is shift the movement of oil to other less safe means of transportation.' - Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada Corp.
"Despite what the Sierra Club would have you believe, global demand is not waning for oil and gas," he said.
Pourbaix also contends pipes are safer than transporting oil by trucks or trains.
"While opponents to the energy industry have decided that killing pipeline projects would be a very visible and symbolic victory for the hard-core eco-crowd, all it is actually going to do is shift the movement of oil to other less safe means of transportation."
He says the Keystone XL pipeline proposal in the United States has become highly politicized and bogged down by a "bloated" regulatory system that is not making projects safer or less intrusive on the environment. He described it as delays "without any real justification."
"A rigorous and transparent regulatory process is essential and has to have significant public involvement and debate. But we're sacrificing North American competitiveness for the sake of these bloated regulatory review processes," said Pourbaix.
"We need to protect our environment, but we need to be pragmatic about how we pursue that goal."
Pourbaix believes the Canadian process will be more streamlined and expects it will take about two years to get approval.
But he says the biggest risk would be a lack of local support.
"I think it's important for that silent majority who support this type of activity to get out — whether it's a public hearing, whether it's an open house, whether it's talking to your local politicians."
Otherwise, it creates the impression that the small minority represent the majority, he said.
Pourbaix says he's been watching the protests against shale gas development in New Brunswick; a debate he describes as "extraordinarily emotional."
His advice to both sides is to demand the facts. "People have a lot of common sense. Once they see the facts, they make informed decisions," he said.
But facts are sometimes sacrificed after accidents in the energy sector, such as the BP oil spill, said Pourbaix.
'Hardly a doomsday scenario'
"These events opened the door for public doubt in our industry and activists very efficiently cultivated these fears with mistruths and exaggerations," he said, citing carbon dioxide emissions from oilsands as another example.
Some environmentalists have referred to the oilsands as the largest carbon bomb on the planet. But Pourbaix contends they account for less than 0.1 per cent of global carbon emissions. "Hardly a doomsday scenario," he said.
"Despite the fact that even under the most aggressive production scenarios, the oilsands will never change the climate, Canadians continue to hear a lot of opposition to developing this resource," said Pourbaix.
"The loudest voices are making outlandish demands that production be shut down. People in that extreme camp need to understand what that would do to our country's economy … What are we going to replace it with?"
The green economy industry is still in its infancy, he stressed.
TransCanada is proposing to convert roughly 3,000 kilometres of natural gas pipeline on its existing Canadian Mainline route so it can carry crude oil.
The company would also construct 1,400 kilometres of new pipeline to carry crude oil into Saint John, where it will end at the Canaport LNG terminal.
TransCanada and Irving Oil Ltd. have also formed a joint venture to build and operate a new $300-million deep water marine terminal in Saint John.
New Brunswick Premier David Alward and Alberta Premier Alison Redford have been outspoken advocates for the pipeline.
Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has said the pipeline is in the national interest, but would only move forward after "an independent, science-based environmental and regulatory review."
Sierra Club Canada has said the west-east pipeline is "not in the best interest of Maritimers."
"It is not a question of whether the Energy East pipeline would leak but when and where," director of the environmental group's Atlantic chapter, Gretchen Fitzgerald, has said.
The National Energy Board is responsible for approving pipelines.