Citizen Action Monitor

Ecology Ottawa, an environmental activist group, gears up to fight TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline

A volunteer-driven organization, Ecology Ottawa has five full-time staff and “dozens and dozens” of volunteers

No 1169 Posted by fw, October 21, 2014

“As pipeline giant TransCanada prepares to file its application for a massive oil pipeline from Alberta to Quebec and New Brunswick, environmentalists say it could face a fight from Ottawa. Not from federal government, but from local residents and politicians. Ben Powless, Ecology Ottawa pipeline campaigner, said Ecology Ottawa is a volunteer-driven organization with just five full time staff, and that he relied on ‘dozens and dozens’ of volunteers…. Powless said it was too soon to say whether Ottawa city council would publicly state its opposition to a pipeline project….We’re positioning Ottawa in a very critical place. The city itself could get into a position where it could oppose the pipeline.’” —Jenny Uechi, Vancouver Observer

The post below is a reorganized version of the original article, and includes added subheadings and text highlighting. To read the original piece, click on the following linked title.

Ottawa’s local opposition could spell trouble for Energy East pipeline proposal by Jenny Uechi, Vancouver Observer, October 21, 2014

“Here, people are starting to put the pieces together and understand that the only reason it’s being proposed here is because TransCanada wasn’t able to get their pipeline (Keystone XL) down to the U.S.,” Ecology Ottawa campaigner Ben Powless said.

Photo of Ecology Photo of Ecology Ottawa team at 24 Sussex, by Ben Powless

Photo of Ecology Ottawa team at 24 Sussex, by Ben Powless

Ecology Ottawa’s survey found most city council candidates would oppose Energy East if it posed environmental threat

As pipeline giant TransCanada prepares to file its application for a massive oil pipeline from Alberta to Quebec and New Brunswick, environmentalists say it could face a fight from Ottawa. Not from federal government, but from local residents and politicians. Ben Powless, Ecology Ottawa pipeline campaigner, said Ecology Ottawa is a volunteer-driven organization with just five full time staff, and that he relied on “dozens and dozens” of volunteers.

Around 70 per cent of Ottawa city council candidates responded to an Ecology Ottawa survey. Of these respondents, 90 per cent said they would oppose the proposed Energy East pipeline if it could threaten water, climate and the health of their communities.

Powless said it was too soon to say whether Ottawa city council would publicly state its opposition to a pipeline project, as Vancouver recently did in relation to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion. “We’re positioning Ottawa in a very critical place. The city itself could get into a position where it could oppose the pipeline,”

Some candidates said municipalities shouldn’t get involved in a pipeline debate that would be ultimately decided by federal government, the vast majority said they would oppose it if it Notably, both candidates from Ward 6, Stittsville — one of the communities nearest to the pipeline route and most affected by the project — declined to respond.

In addition to surveys, Ecology Ottawa canvassed 15,000 homes to raise awareness about the Energy East project

In addition to the surveys, Powless said his group has been on the ground since 2013, reaching out to 15,000 homes in Ottawa to raise awareness about Energy East. Powless said over half of those approached hadn’t heard about the project before, but especially in communities along the pipeline route near Rideau River, residents expressed concern about its potential impact on the water.

“We were out in communities closest to the pipeline route, people took it very seriously…A lot of people were concerned about the risks of a pipeline spill, about the water, about their property values, and in more rural areas, people were worried about their farmland getting contaminated. They were also worried about climate change, and economics.”

As more citizens become better informed about Energy East pipeline risks, TransCanada will not find it an easy sell

Recently, however, Energy East has been framed in the media as a project that was likely to be built faster than other proposed pipelines, such as the Keystone XL from Alberta to the U.S. (also by TransCanada) and the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

According to a detailed account in Bloomberg, Energy East came about because Prime Minister Stephen Harper was frustrated by U.S. President Obama’s call to delay Keystone XL in 2011.

After searching for alternatives to get Alberta’s landlocked crude to market, Harper came across New Brunswick’s billionaire Irving family, which owns gasoline refineries in Saint John. The proposed Energy East project would retrofit an existing natural gas pipeline running through Ottawa near Stittsville to ship 1.1 million barrels of oil and bitumen per day from Alberta.

While Energy East is massive in scale — at 4,600 kilometres, the third largest pipeline in the world — it has the advantage of building upon an existing Ontario pipeline (new pipelines would still have to be built  across six provinces).

Powless says many communities are just starting to understand how Energy East came to be, and that it won’t be an easy sell in the eastern provinces.

“Here, people are starting to put the pieces together and understand that the only reason it’s being proposed here is because TransCanada wasn’t able to get their pipeline down to the U.S. and they all recognize that B.C. is hostile territory,” Powless said.

“I think the federal government is out of their minds” to propose this pipeline, says Powless

He said many Ontario residents remembered the recent NEB rule changes that limited public participation on hearings as well as length of deliberation, which is now capped at 15 months, regardless of the scale of a project.

“I think it’s clear the federal government has done everything it has to stack the books in favour of oil companies in general…It’s taken the U.S. years to consider Keystone XL, and they’re still ordering more tests to be done.

“To imagine that we can do the same thing in Canada for an even bigger pipeline carrying more oil across a further distance — I think the federal government is out of their minds.” 

Powless is encouraged by leadership at the municipal level, including willingness to participate in NEB review process.

Three-quarters of candidates surveyed said the City of Ottawa should intervene in the National Energy Board’s federal review process on the pipeline project to ensure Ottawa’s interests are taken under consideration. 

Powless said it was “encouraging” to see leadership on the municipal level that was lacking at the federal and provincial level. In New Brunswick, newly elected Premier Brian Gallant said today that his government’s support for Energy East had not wavered since the election. 

“A lot of opposition has built up, even before TransCanada has filed its application (for Energy East)…There isn’t federal leadership on a lot of these big environmental issues, so it’s almost up to municipal leaders, which is kind of incredible, but opens up a lot of possibility for locally directed change.”

TransCanada was contacted for comment, but did not respond before publication.

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