The Energy East pipeline proposal to carry crude from Alberta's oilsands to a refinery in Saint John, N.B., is now igniting opposition in the nation's capital.

Support for the pipeline has gathered steam in the past 10 days since the devastating train explosion in Lac Mégantic, Que., where a train carrying crude to Saint John exploded in the small southwestern Quebec town. The death toll in that blast is now up to 37.

The derailment also came just days after the Alberta government signalled more support for the proposed TransCanada Corp. pipeline. The Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission, a Crown corporation, has pledged to move up to 100,000 barrels a day for 20 years — a commitment worth about $5 billion.


Now some environmentalists in Ottawa are speaking out against the east-west pipeline plan to convert a 55-year-old gas pipeline into a 4,400-kilometre crude transportation system, which could carry 100 million litres of oil per day.

A section of the proposal would see crude moving through Stittsville, a community in rural west Ottawa, and other areas in southwest Ottawa on its way to Saint John.

Ben Powless, a member of the group Ecology Ottawa, is concerned about what he called "serious risks" of oil spills when transporting crude. He helped lead a meeting Monday night in Ottawa to raise the issue to residents.


This map courtesy of Ecology Ottawa shows where the Energy East pipeline would pass through the National Capital Region. (CBC)

"We think it's an important issue that a lot of people in Ottawa probably don't know about yet," Powless said. "But it really puts a lot of our ecology, a lot of our environment, our waterways and our health and our public safety at risk."

Last week, New Brunswick's provincial government also refused to back the pipeline financially. There are supporters in the Ottawa area, though.

Pipeline shortage forces reliance on rail

David Gordon, the mayor of North Grenville, just southwest of Ottawa, said the boost to the economy is much more likely than any environmental damage.

"I believe it's a real benefit for Eastern Canada. It gives us a secure oil supply," Gordon said.

"At this point in time we're at the whims of foreign oil. It's going to create jobs."

In recent years, trains deliver much of the oil that comes from the western provinces, which is headed for and processed at the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John.

Over the past year, the amount of oil being shipped by rail has also increased significantly due in part to an increase in demand and the fact there is no new pipeline capacity coming on line, according to Warren Mabee, director of the Queen's University's Institute of Energy and Environmental Policy.

But the train explosion has made many compare the risks of using rail against the risk of using a pipeline. TransCanada has not announced a timeline yet for its pipeline proposal.

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