Monday, October 27, 2014

Energy East Pipeline in Need of a Rethink

At a seminar hosted by the World Bank last week, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, told attendees that a significant amount of the world’s fossil fuel reserves will need to remain in the ground. Carney, former head of Canada’s central bank, warned investors of a “carbon bubble” which could negatively impact the value of assets, such as heavy oil and gas fields, which are likely to become stranded as a result of market failures which don’t adequately assess environmental liabilities (see: "Mark Carney: Most fossil fuel reserves can't be burned", The Guardian, October 13, 2014)

Equally, Carney could have warned investors about the risk of sinking money into infrastructure needed to expand of fossil fuel extraction, including the many pipelines now being proposed to transport tar sands bitumen. Increasingly, it is becoming apparent that significantly expanding fossil fuel enterprises such as the Alberta tar sands is incompatible with limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius – a limit acknowledged at Copenhagen in 2009 by all national governments as one we dare not pass.

With this in mind, there are only two options available. We could continue to expand the burning of fossil fuels, which leads to between 4 and 6 degrees of warming by the end of the century. Or, we seriously begin shifting towards a renewable energy economy, and leave unburnable carbon safely sequestered in the ground.

If we follow the path we’re on, we will almost certainly doom our children to a future of political, economic and social turmoil caused by global warming and high energy prices. Taking the path towards a renewable energy future, however, requires that we change how we buy, sell and use energy. Specifically, it means shifting our private and public sector investments out of coal, oil, gas and pipelines and into conservation and renewables.

The latest pipeline proposal up for approval is TransCanada’s Energy East – a $12 billion project which will transport dilbit (diluted bitumen) by converting an existing 40-year old natural gas pipeline between Alberta and Ontario, and constructing about 1,500 km of new pipeline through Quebec and News Brunswick. Over 1.1 million oil-equivalent barrels per day will flow out of Alberta, at about twice the rate of Enbridge’s recently approved Northern Gateway. Most of this unrefined product will be shipped out of Canada.

Alex Pourbais, TransCanada’s Executive Vice President and President of Development, referred to the federal government’s approval of the Energy East pipeline as “virtually a done deal” (see: "Keystone be Darned: Canada finds Oil Route Around Obama", Bloomberg, October 8, 2014). It seems that TransCanada is anticipating yet another rubber-stamp exercise from the National Energy Board (NEB) through a rigged review process. The Pembina Institute estimates that Energy East’s approval would allow the tar sands to significantly expand, adding an additional 30 million tonnes of carbon pollution to the atmosphere from extraction alone.

Yet, the NEB, in its “List of Issues” notes that it does not have “authority over upstream or downstream activities associated with the development of the oilsands” and won’t consider higher carbon emissions from expanded industrial activity as part of its review (since publication of the print edition of this post, the National Energy Board has removed this document from its website). That the regulatory authority tasked with assessing pipeline proposals doesn’t have the mandate to examine known negative impacts is an absurdity brought to us by Canada’s Conservative government through sneaky changes made to the environmental review process in omnibus budget bills.

In its approval of Northern Gateway, the NEB concluded that the pipeline would provide Canada with a net economic benefit because it would lead to increased output from the tar sands. With Carney and others warning of a carbon bubble, those who expect positive results from sinking money into fossil fuel extraction should give these plans a serious rethink. That includes the Conservative, Liberal and New Democratic parties, all of which support Energy East.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star, Saturday, October 18, 2014 online as "Rethink Energy East Pipeline", without hyperlinks)


Brian Smith said...

Good post, very well written, and I got much from it. One suggestion... It is to long. I think most don't have the time in a day to sit and read such a long post, even if it is good. this Blog was long enough for four or five blogs. If you wish to engage more people and get your message out you might consider condensing it greatly or perhaps create a running series on the topic if condensing it will take from your message. just food for thought. I enjoyed it but struggled to get through it.

Brian Smith said...

OK Feeling like a dummy. I missed the separations in your posts and thought they were all one. Never mind but still say you write well and agree with almost all you discuss. What you may consider doing is making the division between posts more noticeable. I read quick and just plain missed them. :)First time here.