TransCanada says its Energy East pipeline will be monitored by top-of-the-line safety equipment, but one Thunder Bay resident says building better roads to the remote line might be more valuable.

Jorma Halonen, one of about 130 people who attended a TransCanada open house meeting Tuesday night, said he wonders how TransCanada will get to the pipeline if there's a leak.

If oil spills into any of the rivers in northwestern Ontario, it will end up polluting Lake Superior, he said.

But TransCanada spokesman Davis Shermata said the company can get workers to any leak — even those in remote locations.

"With rig matting and things like that, you can create the infrastructure to get to a scene very quickly,” he said.

Shermata said a leaking length of pipe can also be shut down remotely, but Halonen isn't convinced that would help. He said he'd like to see TransCanada build an access road along the line.

Halonen observed that, for the most part, the pipeline follows highways. But there is one piece of pipeline, north of Thunder Bay that does not follow the highway — a section between Raith and Nipigon.

"That's what concerns me more than the population centers where, I'm sure, there will be a fast response,” he said. "I can't pretend that I don't drive a vehicle. So, I use fuel. I also worked on a pipeline in my youth, but I think safety is of essence and I'm not convinced yet."

TransCanada open house in Thunder Bay

TransCanada's proposed Energy East Pipeline brought out about 130 people to the company's open house in Thunder Bay on Tuesday evening. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

Converting existing pipeline

Shermata explained the Energy East project involves converting about 3,000 km of existing pipeline so that it can carry oil rather than natural gas

The existing pipeline is called the Canadian Mainline pipeline, which was built in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It runs through northwestern Ontario, between Dryden and Nipigon

The pipeline project also involves building some new pipelines, but this does not affect northwestern Ontario.

Shermata said there isn't much to converting a pipeline. First the line must be drained, and then a piece of robotic scouting equipment known as a "smart pig" is sent through the pipe to look for any imperfection.

"The margin of error for the smart pig is extremely low,” Shermata said.

“We are talking about the highest level of technology available doing a micro-examination of every aspect of the pipeline surface."

TransCanada open house in Thunder Bay

Many Thunder Bay residents expressed their concerns at a public meeting Tuesday night about the proposed Energy East pipeline. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

Aging infrastructure

A properly maintained pipeline can last for centuries, Shermata noted.

“We have thousands of sensors along the line that are feeding information to our control centres in Calgary,” he said.

“They are getting signals every five seconds from every point on the pipeline. We have orders to shut down a pipeline within 10 minutes after any noticeable drop in pressure that can be detected."

The aging infrastructure of this section of pipeline is what worries Thunder Bay resident Natalie Gerum most.

"Traditionally [this pipeline] has been used to carry natural gas. However, now the proposal is for it to carry diluted bitumen, which is a really different substance,” she said.

“It really concerns me — the safety and how that's going to be ensured when the safety record of pipeline companies across North America really aren't standing out for me right now.”

Gerum admitted she has more to learn about how the pipeline will be converted to allow for the transport of bitumen, but added she was not impressed with the open house.

"To me, this is much more of a selling session than an information session,” she said.

“To me, an information session would include diverse perspectives on the pipeline and have representatives of the people who are going to be affected. Instead, it's all representatives of the corporation that is pushing this project through.”

TransCanada will hold its next open house meetings on the Energy East project Wednesday night in Nipigon, Ont. and Thursday night in Geraldton, Ont.