Technical advisers with the Ontario Energy Board want to know more about the impact TransCanada's Energy East pipeline will have on drinking water sources, and they say special testing may be required to evaluate the safety of the pipeline in some areas of northwestern Ontario.

TransCanada has applied to move crude oil from Alberta to New Brunswick through what is now a natural-gas line.

John McGrath is a communications consultant working with the energy board during a series of open house meetings across the province.

John McGrath

John McGrath is a communications consultant working with the Ontario Energy Board during a series of public meetings on the proposed Energy East pipeline. (mcgrathgrp.com)

He said the advisers reviewing the application were guided by a 2013 letter from then-Minister of Energy Bob Chiarelli, which laid out several areas for investigation:

  • the impact on the natural environment and whether or not there is enough pipeline safety
  • climate change
  • the economic impacts, long and short term that may come to Ontario if the pipeline is approved
  • the engagement and the benefits that could come to First Nations along the pipeline route 
  • impact on natural gas supply

McGrath said, after studying the application, the board's advisers are looking for more information.

'Highest environmental standards'

"There wasn't enough information for them to make a determination on about 95 per cent of the sources of drinking water and the sources of water that people use along the pipeline route... there had not been enough information in the pipeline application to ensure that the highest environmental standards were being met," McGrath said.

The board wants TransCanada to "provide a list of significant water crossings so that people can see whether or not their local source of water will be protected with, for instance, valves at either side of the crossing, so that in the event of a spill the oil can be shut off quite quickly to reduce the threat of contamination to their water supply," he said.

McGrath added the general public may be able to help shape the list of significant water crossings by offering their knowledge of local water features.

Pipe near Ignace, Nipigon may need testing

"The public could tell us that in fact they're concerned that a river crossing is upstream of a water intake pipe for a community and that in the event of an oil spill it would cause hazard," he said.

McGrath said the technical advisers also said a section of the proposed pipeline in northwestern Ontario may need special testing before it can carry oil.

He said the issue is the coating used on about 100 kilometres of pipe in areas around Ignace and Nipigon.

"The tape coating is not state-of-the-art right now. It would not meet the specifications TransCanada uses when it's building new pipe," McGrath said. "The technical consultant has suggested not only inline inspections before it starts pumping oil, but that for these sections, the consultant is advising what's called hydrostatic testing."

McGrath says the testing involves sending pressurized water through the pipeline and looking for any weak spots.

The Ontario Energy Board will be sharing the technical assessments at a public meeting Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Valhalla in Thunder Bay.