Well my last post summarizing why I support the Energy East pipeline has been out for only a couple days and the response has been quite positive. I can usually tell when a post is doing well: when my social media feed fills up with activists on all sides discussing what I have written. When I first tackled the Energy East Pipeline in March 2015 (The Energy East Pipeline: Dispelling Some Myths) and April 2015 (Where the new Pembina Report misses the mark on Energy East) I thought I had shot down most of the obvious myths about the pipeline. My later post (The Machiavellian battle against climate change using Energy East) dealt mostly with the political games being played with the project. Well Denis Coderre and his crew managed to turn up the volume to 11 and the result has been a brand new batch of myths and fables about the project to be debunked. I swear Aesop and the Brothers Grimm have nothing compared to the activists fighting this project.
To be clear, like any large infrastructure project the Energy East proposal is not perfect and will need to be modified as new scientific information comes to light. That being said the vast majority of the criticisms against it, to my view, are unsupported and unsupportable. That being said, let’s go about addressing the latest batch of misinformation and unadulterated ignorance flowing through the information and social media channels on the subject. Since I have only so much time each night (I write these at night and try to do a last edit during my lunch break as this is my hobby and not my job) I will only address the four most egregious myths in this post.
Myth 1: The refineries in Montreal and Levis don’t need Energy East because they are “full”
Now the most foolish of the fables presented to me this week has to be the “refineries are full” trope. This is the one featured in a video by our friends Environmental Defence that has been making the rounds. The video claims that Energy East is solely an export pipeline because the refineries along its route are “full”. Now let’s think about this for a moment. A refinery is an industrial facility that takes an input (oil), processes the input and produces an output. Certainly a refinery will have storage tanks but those tanks need to be constantly re-filled. A reasonable analogy to highlight the ridiculousness of the Environmental Defence argument would be my own minivan. Suppose I go to the gas station and fill my minivan with gas. My gas tank is “full”. Now if I drive my kids to their sports and activities for a week, the gas tank doesn’t remain miraculously full, it empties. It will need to be re-filled at some time in the future. Currently the Quebec refineries along the Energy East pipeline are being supplied with oil from such sunny, pleasant places as Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. One feature of the Energy East pipeline proposal is that it provides an opportunity to replace that foreign oil with Canadian oil. In doing so we can pump money back into the Canadian economy rather than siphoning it away to pay for Saudi fighter jets and bombs. So no, the refineries are not “full”, they are currently being supplied by other suppliers. These suppliers can just as easily be replaced by Canadian oil once Energy East has been completed.
Myth 2: Energy East does not supply the refineries
One of the most pernicious myths I have had repeated to me day after day has been the claim that was first sent my way by a gent named Jonathan Glover on Twitter. Mr. Glover insisted:
@BlairKing_ca @TransCanada’s records and #NEB indicate this will be primarily exported…care to show where it says otherwise?
Now I am not sure what the deal is but there seems to be a large contingent of activists who keep claiming in-depth knowledge of the National Energy Board (NEB) Energy East filing but are simultaneously clueless about what is actually written in those submissions. The entire file can be viewed at the NEB web site with the actual TransCanada submissions being presented here.
The biggest claim by these activists is that the Energy East pipeline does not include facilities to supply the major Quebec refineries. My response to this is “poppycock”. Volume 1 of the Energy East proposal clearly includes details of the Levis and Montreal laterals. Laterals are pipeline segments that come off the main pipeline for particular suppliers/users. As described in the submission:
- Montréal Lateral, comprised of approximately 17 km of 1067 mm (NPS 42) pipe from the Québec Segment to a stand-alone delivery meter station at an existing refinery on the Island of Montréal, QC (Montréal delivery meter station)
- Lévis Lateral, comprised of approximately 10 km of 1067 mm (NPS 42) pipe from the Québec Segment to a stand-alone delivery meter station at an existing refinery approximately 10 km west of Lévis, QC (Lévis delivery meter station)
So when an “expert” assures you that the pipeline does not actually supply the Quebec refineries the quick answer is, as I said before: “poppycock” it is all right there in the filing the project is intended to supply the refineries and includes the infrastructure necessary to do so.
Myth 3: The pipeline represents and unacceptable risk to Montreal’s water supply
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, in his announcement about his opposition to Energy East and his subsequent article in the Montreal Gazette, emphasized the risks that the Energy East pipeline will pose to rivers and water supplies. The funny thing about this is that he apparently is living in an imaginary world where the Montreal refineries are not currently getting oil somehow. To be clear Montreal is currently home to three large refineries with a combined capacity of 386,000 barrels per day (bpd). These refineries receive oil on a regular basis via an existing pipeline: the 74 year old Portland-Montreal pipeline (PMPL) as well as by rail. So when Mr. Coderre acts all anxious about pipelines consider that his city’s refineries are currently being supplied by a 74 year old pipeline from the US and by rail cars that are at risk to explosions or do I have to remind him about Gogamas, Galenas and Lac Megantic. We all know, by now, that rail has been found to be over 4.5 times more likely to experience an occurrence than pipelines. Looking at this from a safety and security lens you would expect that the city would want to reduce the number of railcars full of oil running through its suburbs. As for pipelines, I think a modern state-of-the-art pipeline might be a bit safer than the 74 year old pipelines that currently supplies Montreal with its crude.
Myth 4: Alberta and Saskatchewan oil is wrong type for Quebec refineries
The final myth I will puncture today has to do with the nature of the material that will be running through Energy East. Nothing truly expresses the “arrogance of ignorance” of the anti-Energy East activist like this highly entertaining article in the Huffington Post: Energy East Has No Place In The 21st Century by Gerard Monpetit. There is something about the smarmy self-confidence of activists that really gets my goat and this article represents the worst of its kind. It displays utter ignorance about other parts of the country that initially left me speechless. The comparison of Montreal’s sewage dump to the situation in Victoria BC shows an utter lack of understanding that is truly challenging to believe. However for the purpose of this discussion it is his complete misunderstanding of the nature of the oil industry in Alberta and Saskatchewan that really shows. The problem with many of these activists is that they have not bothered to inform themselves about Canada’s oil industry and trust that what their activist leaders tell them is the whole truth.
Certainly oil sands make up over half of Alberta’s oil output, but non-upgraded bitumen does not. Non-upgraded bitumen remains a small proportion of Alberta’s oil exports. Moreover, non-upgraded bitumen makes up only a small percentage of Saskatchewan’s oil output. Outsiders might ask themselves why Brad Wall, the premier of Saskatchewan has got involved in this battle? The answer is because Saskatchewan has a pretty enormous horse in this race. Saskatchewan produces over 500,000 bpd of oil and much of it is the light API fuel being sought by the Montreal refineries.
Virtually everyone has heard of the Bakken Oil fields in the US, but very few Canadians appear to be aware of how much of that Bakken Formation is in Canada. As this map shows Saskatchewan is sitting on a jackpot of light, sweet crude which explain why the Energy East pipeline includes the Cromer Lateral which will allow Saskatchewan to export this light crude directly to the people who are equipped to handle it, the Montreal refineries. So no the Energy East pipeline will not be used solely for bitumen. As described in the filings, it will supply bitumen and other crudes including replacing the American Bakken crude currently supplied via rail with Canadian Bakken crude supplied by a much safer pipepline.
One additional note, while Mr. Monpetit seems unaware of the fact, the Suncor refinery in Montreal is actively planning to add a coker to its Montreal facility. This would allow it to use bitumen in its supply chain if it wished to do so.
Looking at the information above, the voices of the activists that have flooded my social media feed remind me of that classic line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth:
“It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
There are legitimate concerns that can be expressed about the Energy East proposal but the mass of detritus that keeps filling the airwaves and stopping up my social media fed consists primarily of sound and fury that once looked at carefully can be shown to signify nothing.