LÉVIS — What’s the worst that can happen?
TransCanada told environmental hearings into the Energy East pipeline Thursday the worst case scenario would be for the pipeline to rupture completely at Rivière Etchemin on the south shore of Quebec City — it would take about five hours for 22,000 barrels of oil to spill into the St. Lawrence River.
Rivière Etchemin was identified as the worst possible scenario given its proximity to “very sensitive receptors” such as living areas, drinking water intakes and wetlands.
The company is under the obligation to demonstrate its ability to foot the cleaning bill, for a minimum of $1 billion, said TransCanada consultant Stéphane Grenon.
“You won’t talk about the consequences of a spill?” asked Joseph Zayed, head commissioner for the environmental review agency, known as the Bureau des audiences publiques sur l’environment (BAPE). “I’m just surprised … I have a real malaise.”
Chantal Savaria, from Savaria Experts-Conseil, said she delivered a report to the Montreal Metropolitan Community in May 2015, in which she established it would take two hours for an oil spill to reach two water intakes in Rivière des Outaouais.
Should a spill occur in Rivière L’Assomption, Savaria said it would take less than eight hours for Repentigny residents to be without drinking water.
The model used by Savaria is simplistic, argued TransCanada. “Our sophisticated model allowed us to properly determine the oil’s behaviour and trajectory. There are notable differences in our study; it would take 9.7 hours for oil to reach the first MMC water intake,” Grenon said.
The exchange gave some participants the chills.
“You’re looking at worst case scenarios on a map, it’s very cold,” said Odette Lussier, a resident of La Pocatière. “The worst-case scenario for us is that a spill reaches our home.”
“Ask any contractor, would he run a fuel-oil line through a home’s water supply? It’s unthinkable,” added Irène Dupuis, from St-Antoine-de-Tilly.
Invited to testify as an expert, Dr. Michel Savard from Quebec’s public health institute said what he fears the most isn’t that people will fall ill from drinking contaminated water, it’s that people may lose access to their water supply and need to evacuate their homes, what he called “psychosocial consequences.”
TransCanada is proposing to build a 4,600-kilometre pipeline that would carry 1.1-million barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada, including Quebec’s two refineries — the Suncor refinery in Montreal East and the Valero refinery in Lévis near Quebec City.
Louis Bergeron, vice-president Quebec and New Brunswick for Energy East, has argued throughout the proceedings that pipelines are safer than trains to carry oil.
The train crash that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic in 2013 is still very fresh in Quebecers’ minds.
But Jean Laporte from the Transportation Safety Board told the BAPE on Tuesday that statistics show it is impossible to draw that conclusion; there have been as many pipeline oil spills as railway oil spills in Canada in the last 25 years, spilling an equivalent amount of pollutants into the environment.
Published on: March 10, 2016 | Last Updated: March 10, 2016 9:47 PM EDT