Now, for something completely different in New Brunswick: unvarnished good news. What began, for many, as a pipe dream becomes, for all, a bonafide pipe line into Saint John. And, unquestionably, not a moment too soon.
For much of the past 15 years, the urgent conversation in this decidedly unpromising corner of Canada has had everything to do with loss. How much public debt can we bear before our international creditors come knocking at the door? How many young people must we send west for jobs before, as public policy pundit Donald Savoie once famously wrote, New Brunswick becomes an old folks home?
Trans Canada Corp.’s announcement last week that it will move forward with a multi-billion-dollar pipeline from Alberta east to refineries in Quebec and Saint John – tentatively scheduled for completion by 2018 – changes the channel. (Quebec insists it wants to study the proposal, but the odds are in favour of its support).
In a report issued last Tuesday, Scotiabank energy analyst Patricia Mohr framed the opportunity clearly: “The line would allow access to less expensive and more secure domestic crude oil, allowing displacement of imports into the Suncor Energy and Ultramar (Valero) refineries in Montréal and in Lévis (near Québec City) as well as the large Irving Oil refinery in Saint John. These refineries have in the past been mostly supplied by expensive light oil imports.”
Moreover, “Greater access to stable supplies of domestic oil would improve the financial viability of current refineries and could eventually encourage development of a larger domestic refining industry in Québec and Atlantic Canada. History shows that pipeline developments – linking crude oil supplies to markets – often precede refinery expansion.
And, thirdly, “The line could provide vitally needed new export outlets for Western Canadian oil – to Europe and, most interestingly, to India – accompanied by expanded port and marine service-sector activity near Québec City and Saint John.”
All of which led her to conclude: “The economics of the ‘Energy East Pipeline Project’ are compelling. . .Refiners in India have shown considerable interest in importing Alberta blended bitumen. Estimated tanker charges from Québec City and Saint John to the west coast of India average a mere US$4.20 per barrel in a Suezmax vessel. A marine terminal at Saint John would be ice-free year round and could accommodate VLCCs of 350,000 DWT, cutting tanker costs to India to only US$3 per barrel. . .developing low-cost transportation infrastructure to access overseas export markets is critical.”
Against this backdrop, of course, languishes Keystone. As the Globe and Mail astutely observed in its coverage last week, “Politically, the project has attracted far less opposition so far than either Keystone XL, which has become a prime target for American climate-change activists and a political bone of contention between U.S. President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans, or the Gateway project, which has been opposed in its current form by Premier Christy Clark.” Meanwhile, it added, “Canaport (has) applied to transform its offshore facility to a gas storage and export terminal, giving it a new lease on life.”
For New Brunswick, the economic stimulus will be enormous: immediately translatable into thousands of skilled, highly paid jobs. Longer term, the energy sector, itself, will undergo a profound transformation as clusters of small and medium-sized enterprises emerge to support the refining anchor in the Port City.
But the broader significance of the pipeline has as much to do with national, as it does with regional, identity.
Premier David Alward was not wrong last year when he likened the project – when it was still just a concept – to a country-building exercise. For too long, the solitudes of West and East have driven the dialogue about what it means to be a Canadian. The have-less and have-more provinces have bickered over their respective slices of the energy pie.
The pipeline is, in effect, a handshake, across thousands of kilometers of geography, that unites once-competing interests. It says we’re in this together.
It also says to Alberta: You know all those Maritime sons and daughters we’ve been sending your way in recent years. . .Well, we’re gong to need you to send some of them back.