Pipeline poll: They're safe, but opposition lingers

A national poll from EKOS Research and CBC News suggests that 40 per cent of Canadians think no new oil pipelines should be built. Is this opposition about Nimby-ism, climate change or something more?

Canadians think pipelines are safe, but are reluctant to see new ones built, CBC/EKOS poll suggests

Marcellin Bélanger

8 years ago
Duration 0:50
Featured VideoMarcellin Bélanger is in favour of the Energy East pipeline, which will pass though land that has been in his family for ten generations

Marcellin Bélanger is an outlier in Quebec. The tree farmer lives on land that's been in his family for ten generations, land that is directly on the path of the proposed Energy East pipeline.

And he's fine with it.

"We need oil, that's for sure," said Bélanger. "The eastern provinces need petroleum and if you look at the way you can carry that petroleum, there are ships, train and trucks. What's the safest? I think it's the pipeline, that's why I'm not opposed."

"Closer is better. That oil that travels from the North Sea or Saudi Arabia, it's a long way.- Marcellin Bélanger, L'Islet, Que.

Nor does Bélanger think Eastern Canada should import oil from overseas. 

"Closer is better. That oil that travels from the North Sea or Saudi Arabia, it's a long way. From Alberta, it's personal revenue for all Canadians."

That is an opinion that brings Bélanger closer in line with Albertans than his fellow Quebecers.

In mid-February, CBC News commissioned an online poll on the attitudes of Canadians toward, energy, the economy, and the environment. EKOS surveyed almost 2,100 Canadians between Feb.16-26. Its findings suggest that only 40 per cent of Quebecers support the Energy East pipeline.

Nor does a majority support either of the oil pipelines proposed in Western Canada — Northern Gateway and the TransMountain expansion. More than half of Quebecers feel that no new oil pipelines should be built in Canada, even if it harms the economy.

Simone Landry, who also owns property along the pipeline route, agrees with that sentiment.

"There's no need for pipelines. They tell you it's safe, but there's no 100 per cent safe, there's going to be leakage. Even small leakage will damage my land."

A new poll suggests 40% of Canadians support a moratorium on new oil and gas pipelines. (CBC/EKOS Research)

There is more support for pipelines in the rest of Canada, but overall 40 per cent of respondents are opposed to oil pipelines in general, even though they are accepted as the safest way to transport oil.

"I think it is a pretty big disconnect," said Chris Bloomer, the president of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association. "It's the safest form of transportation and yet a moratorium."

Bloomer thinks the disconnect is between the way that people think about existing pipelines, which are accepted as largely safe and new pipelines, which are controversial.

"I think the moratorium issue is driven by that," said Bloomer. "With respect to new pipelines, it's highly politically charged. It's a focal point for a lot of things. It's not necessarily the pipeline, it's all the issues around the pipeline."

Climate change is the primary issue that Bloomer is referring to. The industry thinks it's unfair that physical pipelines take the brunt of climate change criticism for the oil carried on the pipe. But for many, it's impossible to tease apart.
Réjean Beauparlant at his potato farm in Lanoraie, Que. Beauparlant is opposed to Energy East, which would cross his land if approved. (Radio-Canada/Alain Éthier)

Réjean Beauparent also owns a farm along the Energy East route, in Lanoraie, Que. Beauparent grows potatoes and uses water from a natural aquifer under his land. He's concerned about pipeline leaks, but also about the climate.

"Our first ministers went to Paris, presented an image of environmental leaders, and now that they are back, they say the exact opposite."

On the B.C. coast where there is long-standing opposition to pipeline projects, Carleen Thomas, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh's First Nation, feels you cannot separate pipelines and climate.

"It has to be in the very next breath. What we're planning to do, what we commit to do, to lessen the impact human beings are having on our own land water and air that sustains all of us," Thomas said.
The majority of Canadians support the Energy East pipeline. (CBC)

B.C. supports Energy East

There is somewhat limited support across the country for either Northern Gateway, or the TransMountain expansion. In British Columbia, that support hovers at less than 40 per cent.

However, 54 per cent of British Columbians support the building of Energy East, which seems to indicate support for a pipeline, so long as it does not cross their province.

It's tempting to call it NIMBY--ism, but that is probably too simple.

"While there tends to be a NIMBY aspect to all significant industrial development, I suspect that the regional dissonance in support for different pipeline development projects is more nuanced," said Andrew Grant, program director with Conversations for Responsible Economic Development in Vancouver.

Grant said that there is much more public awareness of TransMountain and Northern Gateway, with both pipelines the focus of intense scrutiny in recent years.

There is also the issue of tanker traffic and the risks of transporting bitumen.

"For Canadians who do not live on the coast, these discussions of bitumen in the ocean environment may be more of an ethereal concept," Grant said.

For British Columbians who live on or near the coast, it is critical."
Most Canadians believe pipelines are the safest way to transport oil long distances.

Who gets to say no?

Indeed, British Columbia said no to the TransMountain expansion because Kinder Morgan did not provide world-leading spill response.  B.C. does not have the power to veto a pipeline, but the poll suggests a majority of Canadians feel the  provinces should have the ability to stop a pipeline project if they don't like it.

For the industry, that's an untenable situation.

Chris Bloomer said he knows not everyone will agree on a pipeline and doesn't like to use the phrase social license. 

"We need public acceptance versus licence because it's a dialogue and we weigh things up and come up with a decision. [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau said we're not going to get full consensus on any of this. We can't have perfect consensus. I'll take him at his word that that's true."

CBC commissioned EKOS to survey how Canadians feel about the environment, economy and energy — including pipelines. This week we break down the numbers in our in-depth series.