A meeting Tuesday night in Kenora signals the start of a new round of public consultations on the Energy East pipeline.

The Ontario Energy Board will share the assessment of its technical advisors on TransCanada's plan to move crude oil from Alberta to New Brunswick through what is now a natural gas line.

But both supporters and opponents of the plan in northwestern Ontario have concerns.


NOMA president and Kenora Mayor Dave Canfield. (Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce)

Kenora mayor Dave Canfield, who is also president of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, said NOMA supports the pipeline, with some conditions.

Canfield said the biggest concern is protecting lakes and rivers.

“We live on our resources here and we do not want to have our water systems polluted at all by a spill. We want to make sure that that won't happen and, at this time, we don't know what they call a significant water crossing, so we need to get that figured out,” he said.

“One of the main water crossings is the Winnipeg River, right in Kenora, just below Lake of the Woods and even though they're underground we want to make sure that that would be deemed a significant water crossing and we would have shut-off valves on either side of it.”

Project done ‘at our risk’

A member of Citizens United for a Sustainable Planet in Thunder Bay said his concerns go far beyond the risk of a spill.

“This project is really a total expansion of the tar sands and represents a huge increase in emissions of carbon to the atmosphere,” Peter Lang said.

“But it's also done to export all of that for the sake of big oil's profit.”

Peter Lang

Peter Lang of the Citizens United for a Sustainable Planet group says he hopes the mine improves its tailings system, to ensure it can hold enough water when the mine's milling operation re-starts. (Supplied)

Lang said the expansion of the oilsands project is done at “our risk ... and it's something we should be aware of, and active about because, if this starts happening, it will be happening at a rate of 1.2 million barrels per day, highly pressurized going through this pipeline, which could, in the blink of an eye, pollute hundreds of square miles of wilderness area, watershed. If it got into the Nipigon River, can you imagine the current that would take it right into Lake Superior?"

He noted that, “if it's all for export, why do we assume all this risk?”

The safety of the watershed needs to be a paramount consideration, he noted.

“We've had lots of leaks and explosions ... as it is and has been a natural gas pipeline and, if now we're shipping crude, which is more abrasive, which is full of even greater pollutants at a higher, pressurized volume it's just a matter of when a leak is going to happen,” Lang said.

“A similar leak happened in Kalamazoo, Mich. in 2010. It's taken them three years to try to clean it up. It's cost them billions of dollars and they still haven't got it cleaned up. They were shipping crude through a pipeline which wasn't specifically made for that purpose."

‘Make sure it’s done right’

Canfield said NOMA will be asking TransCanada to identify the significant water crossings involved in the project “so we know exactly what we're talking about.”

He said “if we do not get the answer we want, obviously we wouldn't continue our support for the project. We're looking for as much safety as possible ... where the chance of any accident is basically nil."

But Canfield concedes he is “a realist” in the sense that there is still a demand for gasoline “and so oil is going to continue to flow.”

“Statistically, pipelines are definitely the safest way to flow oil so that's why we're in support,” he said.

“But because it is a change of use of that pipeline, we want to make sure it's done right ... we want it as foolproof as absolutely possible."

The OEB will hold a public meeting Wednesday night in Thunder Bay at the Valhalla.

Meetings will also be held in Kapuskasing (Jan. 19), Timmins (Jan. 20), North Bay (Jan. 21), Ottawa-Kanata (Jan. 22), and Cornwall (Jan. 27).