Proposed oil pipeline in north jangling some nerves, not others

The debate over an oil pipeline proposed for northern Ontario has people choosing sides. But many who live next to the exiting natural gas line are finding a middle ground.

The debate over an oil pipeline proposed for Northern Ontario has people choosing sides, with polarized opinions heard at several public hearings across the region this week.

But many of those who have lived next to the exiting natural gas line for years are finding a middle ground.

Murray Scratch, 71, has three pipes carrying natural gas running under his farm near Matheson.

He said he thinks about it whenever he walks across the field.

"I just don't want it to blow up," he said with a laugh.

But Scratch has no beef with TransCanada pipelines.

He said however that he is a little more nervous about this plan to run oil through one of the three lines, but he's not against it.

"But they'd have to clean it up, if it happened," he said. "And they always clean up."

TransCanada has had to clean up from a few gas explosions over the years.

In 2009 in Chamberlain Township, just north of Englehart, Ontario, Nancy Loranger said she heard a sound like a jet plane landing on her house.

"And shortly after that there was a large explosion and I could see flames shoot up above the trees."

No one was hurt. Loranger's neighbour moved away out of fear, but she and her husband have stayed put.

While she's concerned about what an oil spill would mean for her drinking water and the environment in general, she doesn't expect to move if Energy East goes ahead.

"I don't know," said Loranger. "You're damned if they do and you're damned if they don't."

Many who live along the TransCanada pipeline in northeastern Ontario are wondering what's worse-- natural gas or oil?

"If a gas line exploded in a built-up area, you'd have a big big problem," said Badge Darling of Kenogami, near Kirkland Lake. "And if an oil line ruptured in a waterway or anything like that, you'd also have a big problem."

The pipeline crosses under several major rivers and lakes in the Kenogami area, that all drain to the south and eventually into the Ottawa River system.

Despite some fear over an oil spill, Darling says most people in his area are used to living with the pipeline and just want to make sure all precautions are taken to avoid accidents.

The technical details of TransCanada's Energy East proposal are not yet public, but will be debated when the idea goes before the National Energy Board. 

Those hearings have yet to be scheduled.