North Bay Chamber of Commerce criticized for failing to examine both sides of the Energy East debate (May 2016)

North Bay Nugget | Letter To the Editor

I had penned this letter the day before wildfires wrought devastation to Fort McMurray and surrounding communities.

Out of respect to the hard-working women and men of Fort McMurray, many of whom have lost everything, I withheld this letter’s submission to avoid sparking a jobs vs the environment or a left vs right debate.

Having worked as a geologist in the Fort Mckay area, I know the dedication and strong work ethic possessed by the people of Fort Mac. No one can blame a tradesman or professional for uprooting their families from economically stagnate regions of Canada for far better employment opportunities in Fort McMurray.

I read with dismay Jake Lacourse’s April 28 letter to the editor of The Nugget on behalf the North Bay & District Chamber of Commerce expressing its support of TransCanada’s Energy East Project. As a member of Stop Energy East North Bay, a coalition of individuals and groups working against the flawed conversion proposal, I felt compelled to write a response.

Unfortunately for North Bay, the wording of Mr. Lacourse’s letter suggests the only meetings the chamber has attended regarding the pipeline were those hosted by TransCanada and staffed by their corporate communications team.

It is understandable that the chamber does not want to rebuke a business that has been a good employer in North Bay for decades. However, on such an important community issue, it is incumbent on the chamber to review all information available from both proponents and opponents before making such bold and misleading statements about the project in The Nugget.

Mr. Lacourse’s comments were clearly biased in favour of a project that many citizens and environmental groups, locally, nationally and internationally state as potentially disastrous to communities and ecosystems along its route.
A large and growing number of people in North Bay object to this project due to concerns about the inherent risks such a pipeline poses to the lifeblood of the city, our water.

I would encourage the chamber to reach out to groups in our community opposed to Energy East and listen to their science- and fact-based perspectives. Stop Energy East North Bay has asked to meet with the chamber on a number of occasions without success.
The chamber did not attend the April 26 town hall meeting with the Council of Canadians’ Maude Barlow or even attempt to secure a meeting with Ms.Barlow and her colleagues at last year’s CoC event.

Ms. Barlow is a respected world expert on the environment and water security. This was a lost opportunity to hear an informed perspective on Energy East proposal which unfortunately is reflective of the chamber’s limited outlook.
For a contrasting perspective, let’s examine a few of the “facts” presented by Mr. Lacourse as they pertain to the Energy East project:

1. Jobs
The claim that thousands of jobs will be generated by the project to the benefit of North Bay, Ontario and all of Canada does not bare close scrutiny.
The major construction phase will occur east of Montreal to a new port facility outside St. John, N.B.
The rest of the route will simply involve converting valves and pump stations to accommodate the heavy diluted bitumen instead of methane.
This is very similar to claims made during the lobbying effort to develop the Keystone Pipeline. Unfortunately for TransCanada, US State Department analysis showed that the number of permanent jobs resulting from the line were actually closer to 40.
TransCanada itself reports that only 200 long-term jobs in Ontario will be associated with the project and many of these are in reality pre-existing positions.
The world is rapidly moving toward embracing carbon-neutral energy generation. As wood was replaced by coal, and coal by oil and gas, oil and gas is being replaced by renewables. This transition will require massive national and provincial infrastructure investment and development in fixed assets that will last for generations completing the electrification process begun over a century ago.

2. The diluted bitumen is to be used for Canadian consumption
Not a single Ontarian or Quebecer will be using this product in their engines, homes or even in bitumen’s traditional role as a paving surface. The fact is no refinery along this line is capable of upgrading bitumen to synthetic crude that can then be refined to gasoline or diesel fuel. It will simply be exported off shore to refineries. This is the reason TransCanada require access to a tide water port.
It is important to recognize that this pipeline will not be transporting relatively benign oil or anything that could remotely be called oil.
It will be transporting highly toxic solvents (including benzene) and bitumen. This toxic, volatile slurry is called dilbit, it is not oil. Industry spokespersons do not like the sound of diluted bitumen or dilbit and simply choose to call it oil.

3. Pipeline versus rail transport to refineries in the United States and abroad
We would like to point out that saying no to the Energy East pipeline proposal would not see an increase in trains carrying diluted bitumen through North Bay.
To imply that North Bay is currently threatened by a rail spill simply reflects poor knowledge of the facts.
CN and CP cargo trains from western Canada pass through Sudbury then southward toward Toronto and rail links to other destinations.
However, the Energy East pipeline will see 1.1 million barrels or 175,000,000 litres of diluted bitumen passing through North Bay’s watershed and in the hills above Trout Lake each and every day.
Because of the extremely large 42-inch diameter of the pipeline, (the largest in North America), if the pipeline casing was to be breached for a single hour within North Bay’s city limits, 46,000 barrels or 7,314,000 litres of dilbit would start racing down slope to the nearest body of water, Trout Lake.
When a train derailment and spill occurs the incident is registered immediately. In other words, you know where, when and exactly how much has spilled. The rail infrastructure also ensures that that response team and material can be transported directly to site. Not true for pipeline as breaches are often discovered by local passersby, as was the case in Kalamazoo Michigan. They can and do spill for days or even months before anyone notices.
Diluted bitumen is flowing out of Alberta right now by existing pipelines and trains. North Bay should not be asked to bear the risk of a pipeline experiment in Trout Lake’s watershed. The Energy East pipeline will facilitate further expansion of bitumen extraction projects in Alberta and Saskatchewan that will in turn hamper Canada’s commitment to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Alberta government itself has listed both droughts and increased forest fires as events that are been made more likely due to climate change.
This project poses too many risks for our city and a cleanup would cost billions

On April 25, the Council of Canadians released a report that conservatively estimated the cost of a pipeline spill into Trout Lake at $1billon. This number was calculated using pipeline industry data for clean-up costs in other jurisdictions. This does not include the long-term cost associated with human physical and mental health, real estate values or the very brand of North Bay which would forever be associated with a toxic spill.

The chamber should ask their counterparts with the chamber of commerce in Kalamazoo, Mich., if they would recommend endorsing a pipeline that threatens North Bay’s water supply.

Many North Bay residents sincerely believe the pipeline will have a negative effect on local business and future investment. TransCanada’s record in North Bay area alone contains two catastrophic ruptures, how can we risk a third exponentially more destructive to occur.

North Bay’s location, natural beauty, lifestyle and secure clean water supply are brand attributes that appeal to 21st century businesses and their employees. One spill and our brand is destroyed for decades to come.
A global clean water shortage exists, to risk the most valuable resource on the planet for simple short-term and minor financial gain is foolish in the extreme. The issue really can be pared down to one simple question: Will North Bay embrace the future or past?

Steve Courtney M.Sc
THEIA GeoAnalytics

North Bay

Letter to the Editor, North Bay Nugget, Printed 20 May 2016, as posted at http://www.nugget.ca/2016/05/20/group-criticized-for-failing-to-examine-both-sides-of-the-energy-east-debate

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