Energy East opposition wants City of Winnipeg to review pipeline risks

The Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition and the Winnipeg chapter of Council of Canadians met with City of Winnipeg representatives on Monday to highlight risks they believe the Energy East pipeline would pose to Winnipeg's water supply.

Pipeline puts Winnipeg water supply in jeopardy, Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition says

TransCanada's proposed Energy East pipeline would ship crude from Alberta to New Brunswick. (Canadian Press)

The Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition and the Winnipeg chapter of Council of Canadians met with City of Winnipeg representatives on Monday to highlight risks they believe the Energy East pipeline would pose to Winnipeg's water supply.

The two groups made a joint presentation before the standing policy committee on water, waste, environment and riverbank management, asking the city to order a comprehensive study and hold public consultations on the Energy East project.

"When Winnipeggers see how close this pipeline goes to the drinking water supply and they understand how diluted bitumen behaves, they will recognize the city must either reject this pipeline or, at the very minimum, call for a reroute away from the aqueduct," Mary Robinson, chair of the local chapter of the Council of Canadians, said in a news release.

TransCanada has proposed a 4,600-kilometre pipeline from Alberta to Quebec and New Brunswick that would transport about 1.1 million barrels of crude daily.

The project would repurpose a 40-year-old natural gas pipeline that runs past Shoal Lake at the Manitoba-Ontario border. Shoal Lake is the source of Winnipeg's drinking water.

"The risks that we see that come with the pipeline are specifically to the Winnipeg aqueduct and the Shoal Lake watershed where we get our drinking water," said Alex Paterson, a campaigner with Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition.

He said the group has a retired biophysicist from Atomic Energy of Canada who has done environmental assessments in the past and used money from fundraising efforts to do an environmental assessment of the pipeline in Manitoba. Now, the MEJC and COC want the city to conduct its own review.

"They're at risk because of how close the Energy East Pipeline proposal would run diluted bitumen to our water supply, because it crosses waterways and is within 'spill reach' of the channels used to transport the city's water," Paterson said.

Benzene, a component of diluted bitumen, is carcinogenic, according to the World Health Organization.

Paterson added that in a report submitted to the National Energy Board, TransCanada stated one per cent of the Energy East Pipeline's daily capacity could leak over a two-hour period without being detected.

"This is a pipeline that's going to [move] 1.1 million barrels per day ... that [means] somewhere around two million litres can leak in a day without them detecting it with their remote sensors," said Paterson.

Environmental group meets with city

Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition will be presenting a risk assessment they've done of the project to the city's standing policy committee on water, waste, environment and riverbank management.

"We think the city needs to run an independent study of the risk to the aqueduct, and then they need to hold public consultation to properly inform the citizens of any potential risks to the Winnipeg water supply," said Paterson, adding it's not just pipeline leaks that concerns him, but also the vulnerability of the aqueduct.

"It's submerged, made out of concrete with cracks, and it travels under rivers, so if diluted bitumen falls into water it can sink into the aqueduct," said Paterson.

"We don't want to sit here and pretend that the city is going to take our word for it, but they also shouldn't take TransCanada's word for it — that it's completely safe.

"Where the city has jurisdiction, that is the water supply. And we think it's its legal responsibility to call for a reroute through the National Energy Board (NEB) process," he said.

Paterson said the city said it would do a review on the pipeline's proposed risks a year ago, but so far has not been able to find a consultant to carry it out.

The group says it's imperative to have this information before the NEB reviews happen in the summer.

"The only way they can adequately protect the adequacy of the Winnipeg water supply is by calling for a full reroute of the pipeline and away from the Shoal Lake watershed. It cannot be within the spill reach of the Winnipeg watershed or the Winnipeg aqueduct," said Paterson.

Safety and environmental protection is front of mind for TransCanada as it develops the Energy East Pipeline, said Tim Duboyce, a spokesperson for TransCanada.

"Prevention is a big part of the picture for us. Last year alone, TransCanada spent close to $1 billion on safety. Our goal is to have zero incidents on our pipelines," Duboyce said in a written statement.

"Once in service, the pipeline will be equipped with thousands of sensors which gauge temperature, pressure and flow inside the pipeline and send that data back to TransCanada's Oil Control Centre every five seconds. That information is monitored 24/7 by safety specialists. If a problem is detected, they will shut down the pipeline."

Full statement from Tim Duboyce, spokesperson for TransCanada:

"Safety and protection of the environment are always at front of mind for us as we develop the Energy East Pipeline project. It is understandable that some Manitobans have concerns about the safety of the pipeline. We share that concern for the environment, which is exactly why we are taking such care to develop a safe project.

Energy East is a 4,500 km long pipeline project which would begin at Hardisty, Alberta. Along the way it would be connected to a storage tank terminal in Moosomin, SK; the Suncor oil refinery in Montreal; the Valero oil refinery in Lévis, QC; the Irving oil refinery in Saint John, NB; and finally, the Canaport Energy East marine terminal in Saint John, NB. The primary purpose of Energy East is to provide pipeline capacity to those three above-mentioned refineries which collectively currently depend on hundreds of thousands of barrels of imported oil every single day. That feedstock is arriving by train and boat from the U.S. and countries including Venezuela, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia. Energy East would provide enough capacity to potentially eliminate foreign oil imports, thereby making Canada more energy self-sufficient, and keeping billions of dollars in the Canadian economy while supporting thousands of jobs here at home.

A study by the Fraser Institute last fall compiled data from the Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada on the movement of oil by rail and by pipeline between 2003 and 2013 in Canada. The conclusion it reaches is that moving oil by pipeline is 4.5 times safer than moving it by rail. Further to that, a report by the firm Navius which was prepared for the Ontario Energy Board last year concludes that the approval of Energy East would see the migration of oil which would otherwise end up being moved to market in rail tankers into the pipeline instead.

The conversion of an under-contracted gas pipeline on TransCanada's Canadian Mainline to oil service makes sense. In doing so we are optimizing a piece of existing infrastructure by adapting it to current and future energy requirements in Canada. Before that line goes into service, it will undergo a thorough examination to ensure it is safe. These tests include in-line inspections to confirm the integrity of the pipe, and the replacement of any sections which may not make the grade. Once in service, the pipeline will be equipped with thousands of sensors which gauge temperature, pressure and flow inside the pipeline and send that data back to TransCanada's Oil Control Centre every five seconds. That information is monitored 24/7 by safety specialists. If a problem is detected, they will shut down the pipeline.

Prevention is a big part of the picture for us. Last year alone, TransCanada spent close to $1 billion on safety. Our goal is to have zero incidents on our pipelines. And, I would draw your attention to the Keystone Pipeline, which was also converted from gas to oil service back in 2010, and runs from Hardisty across to southern Manitoba, and south to the United States. In nearly six years, that pipeline has safely delivered more than 1.3 billion barrels of oil.

We will also have emergency response plans in place in partnership with local first responders so in the highly unlikely event of a release, we are able to act quickly to minimize any impact.