Tag Archives: Energy East pipeline

Green around the gills


He bet the nation’s country farm on the Alberta oil sands. But, my, how Stephen Harper’s expectations have tarred and feathered the petro-industry’s chickens who have lately come home to roost.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) now says that Canada’s western crude production faces a decade-long slide into something just this side of irrelevance – a condition no one saw coming down the pipeline of public relations even a year ago, when fossil fuel prices in this country first began to sink below levels thought possible, let alone reasonable.

Still, CAPP is fairly sure of itself this time:

“The Canadian crude oil industry is facing risks on multiple fronts in a market transformed by increased global crude oil supplies resulting in lower oil prices. Lower oil prices have challenged project economics and reduced capital spending intentions. These constraints have dampened the outlook for future production growth. Against this changed backdrop, highlights of this year’s outlook are”, well. . .not good. The organization expects the following calumnies:

“Total oil production continues to grow but at a slower pace than previously anticipated; total Canadian production grows from 3.7 million b/d in 2014 up to 5.3 million b/d in 2030, which is 1.1 million b/d lower than last year’s forecast; market diversity and access is still required to the U.S. Gulf Coast, the U.S. Midwest and Eastern Canada in North America.”

Meanwhile, “the timely development of infrastructure to obtain market access is a continuing concern. The in-service dates for many of the pipeline projects have already been delayed and could be even further delayed due to extended regulatory processes.”

All of which makes an Energy East Pipeline from the west, through Ontario and Quebec and, finally, into Saint John, a sudden long shot. And yet, here on the East Coast we’re still talking about it as if it were a sure thing, a done deal, from Ottawa (which cares less than nothing for Maritime fortunes) and Alberta (whose new NDP government is far more interested in further curtailing greenhouse gas emissions from the inconvenient truth of its underperforming bitumen deposits than it is in extending inter-provincial trade).

Indeed, it seems clear that the Conservative Government of Canada must now craft, in record time, a reason, other than resource extraction, to tie the country together and behind it – just as another federal election looms on the horizon. This may explain Mr. Harper’s unexpected, rhetorical withdrawal at the recent G7 Summit in Germany last week.

As Matthew Fisher of The National Post reported, “Although his children will not likely be around to see it. . . (Prime Minister) Harper committed fossil-fuel rich Canada to ending all production and use of carbon-based energy by the end of the 21st century. This cautious softening of the prime minister’s usual staunch defence of Canada’s energy sector was matched by the other G7 leaders in the closing declaration they issued at the end of their two-day summit. . .(Mr.) Harper seemed to have caught a break on Monday when a discussion on climate change that would have put Canada on the hot seat was cut to half an hour so that leaders could devote more time to global security.”

Obviously, those particular chickens have not yet come home to roost; but while we wait, it might behove our prime minister to acknowledge, finally, that climate-change politics is not merely the source of his own nausea.

It is also for a civilization that’s growing sick of all the fine-feathered friends of the earth it must endure.

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The perils of East Coast pipeline politics


On the energy front, perhaps we should not have been so quick to assume that Maritime economic priorities neatly dovetail with those of Ontario and Quebec. After all, when have they ever?

Indeed, if there was a time when political leaders in New Brunswick considered  TransCanada’s eastbound pipeline project a slam-dunk, that time is over, which leaves the province’s new Liberal premier Brian Gallant with yet another post-election migraine.

According to a Globe and Mail report last Friday, “Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel sent a letter to (TransCanada) chief executive officer Russ Girling laying down seven conditions (the company) must meet to win the province’s support for the (Energy East) project. With his letter, Mr. Heurtel established conditions similar to those adopted by British Columbia Premier Christy Clark for Enbridge Inc.’s controversial Northern Gateway pipeline that would deliver oil sands bitumen to Kitimat for export to Asia, though his tone was somewhat more agreeable than Ms. Clark’s has been”.

Specifically, “Mr. Heurtel’s conditions include the need for public acceptance of the project, for proper consultations with First Nations, and for clear economic and fiscal benefits for Quebec, as well as assurances to gas customers. Mr. Heurtel also cited a National Assembly resolution demanding the government assess the impacts of ‘upstream”’GHG emissions – those produced by extracting the oil – for the pipeline that would carry 1.1 million barrels a day of western crude to market. But he was vague on whether the government will assert the right to block the pipeline.”

Ontario, too, wants environmental assurances and pledges from TransCanada that its newfound interest in shipping western bitumen through its territory en route to Saint John’s refinery will not overwhelm priorities to make supplies natural gas available to central Canadian industry.

Meanwhile, Premier Gallant is scrambling to put the new developments in the best possible light. “I will meet with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard to talk about the fact that we are certainly behind the project,” he told reporters on Friday. “For us, what’s important is to assure when we can do it in the most safe and secure way possible. It’s one of the reasons why I read about the project at length two years ago. When we put the project into motion, I was already aware that we can do this in a secure way.”

Of course we can. But that’s not really the point. These days, pipelines are symbols of industrial rapacity and environmental carelessness. As such, they are marvelous for galvanizing public opinion against any expansion of the fossil fuel industry, as Maude Barlow, no shrinking violet on the subject, demonstrated last year.    

Regarding the Energy East proposal, the national chairperson for the Council of Canadians, told her interviewer from the North Bay Nugget,  “I want to let communities know not to be pressured to make a decision or risk not getting the benefits of the pipeline. I can tell you there are no benefits. There’s no argument for this pipeline. It’s an export pipeline and we don’t need it. . .We get the risk and (oil companies) get the reward,” adding “I would like to know what are the big jobs, because this pipeline is for export. It’s about greed. They’re playing with a potential environmental catastrophe that environmentalists have been warning about. . .It’s so much more dangerous (than any other oil) and it’s crossing watersheds and many waterways around the Great Lake Region that are already being threatened. We certainly don’t need to add to that threat.”

Naturally, TrabsCanada couldn’t let that go. It responded with its own statement:

“Quebec and New Brunswick currently import more than 700,000 barrels of oil every day – or 86 per cent of their refinery needs – from countries such as Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. At current oil prices, this is over $75 million drained out of the Canadian economy – every single day. Energy East proposes to connect Western Canada’s resources to Eastern Canada’s needs. Greater supplies of domestic crude would improve the financial viability of eastern Canadian refineries by giving them access to less-expensive, stable domestic supplies.”

Of course, for Mr. Gallant, it could be worse. He could start talking enthusiastically about shale gas.

Let the protests commence.

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New Brunswick: Last stop on the trolly to the great hereafter


And now for something completely obvious.

News flash: New Brunswick (Nova Scotia, too) is in the grip of its very own, made-in-the-Maritimes “death spiral”. The question, of course, is: what does the afterlife look like?

Former Premier and current Deputy Chairman of TD Bank in Toronto didn’t actually pronounce the time of this province’s passing – under the weight of its own inertia and all that sand that’s piled up around the hole into which its head has been stuck lo these many years – at a ballyhooed energy conference in Saint John last Friday. But he came darn close to pulling out the heart panels.

“Clear. . .zap. . .clear. . .again. . .clear. . .zap. . .clear.

In fact, Mr. McKenna said this: “Our regional economy is flatlining. We are depopulating. Our population is not just leaving; it’s getting older. It’s aging at twice the rate of Alberta’s. (Well, naturally it is, as that’s where capital markets and the current federal government encourage every mentally healthy, able-bodied young person in this country to go and become reliable, God-fearing taxpayers).

Here’s another snippet from Mr. McKenna’s all-too-familiar tirade against complacency:

“We are in an endless cycle of high deficits, declining population, higher interest rates and payments, a aging population, higher cost of services, less equalization, less personal income, higher taxes and consumption taxes. It’s a death spiral that we’re in if we don’t do something about it.”

Ah. . .and therein – as the Bard might have said, watching the surfer dudes ride the Pettitcodiac’s mighty tidal bore – lies the rub. What, indeed, is to be done?

We could eschew the costly histrionics surrounding shale gas development, based on a largely discredited “docu-drama” some years back, which featured (among other provocative absurdities) a guy lighting his tap water on fire (Reality check: the water table in upper Pennsylvania had been laced with trace amounts of methane long before fracking technology was the apple in the drilling industry’s eye).

We could concentrate on building the safest means – pipelines – of transporting crude oil from Alberta to Saint John and, in the process, create thousands of short-term, and hundreds of long-term, jobs for New Brunswick.

We might even work to leverage these energy opportunities to lure much-needed venture capital to the province for. . .oh, I don’t know. . .economic diversification away from natural resources and into educational centres of excellence that would pioneer commercially viable, sustainable, renewable, and exportable manufactures in the fields of wind, tidal and solar.

Or, we could go the other way.

We could put the province and all its lands and buildings up for sale to all those national and international bidders who boast the biggest coin in their pockets.

Dear China, the ad would read, “We, in New Brunswick, know how polluted your mega-cities are. Come on over to New Brunswick. We’ll treat you right fine. We’ll sell you our property, and we won’t even charge you minimum wage for the privilege of cleaning your kitchens and bathrooms – you know, the ones that used to be ours.”

Hey Alberta, we might exclaim, “We know you have our children in a ‘death-spiral’ of expanding expectations and blossoming debt. Someday, you know that bubble is going to burst. And when it does, you might like a safe haven to park your aging human capital.

“Consider New Brunswick as Canada’s preeminent retirement village. After all, as we never risked a damned thing on anything, including natural resources, our minds and hearts are clean. We are your last, best hope for a comfortable, easy death. . .Just bring your cheque books, because our B&Bs and private hospices are going to bruise those babies American-style.”

Indeed, given New Brunswick’s appalling fiscal condition, it’s dreadful demographic decline, its moribund economy, its listless and fearful political classes, it’s astonishing that this province has anything to offer the world or even its own people.

Of course, it is our own people – our entrepreneurs, in every shape, size, colour and stripe – who will (who must) save us from our collective inertia.

That, too, remains completely obvious.

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Drilling for common sense in the energy debate


If all politics is the art of the possible, then the genre that inhabits New Brunswick is surely the craft of the calculating.

During the recent election campaign in the province, former Liberal Premier and current Deputy Chairman of T-D Bank Frank McKenna reportedly worked hard behind the scenes (and sometimes in front of them) to help the party’s fair-haired boy, Brian Gallant, comport himself well enough to hold on to the lead right into office.

Of course, that’s what political elders do: they mentor.

Still, given Mr. Gallant’s stand against shale gas development in the province, the pairing did seem odd.

In an interview, two years ago, Mr. McKenna told me in certain and enthusiastic terms, “We have in situ now, calculated by Corridor Resources Inc., 67 trillion cubic feet of gas. That’s bigger than western Canada. It’s a huge deposit! If 10 per cent is exploitable, that’s enough to create a revenue source for New Brunswick for decades to come. All in, it would result in about $15-20 billion in investment and 150,000 person years of work. And for governments, it would result in between $7-9 billion worth of royalties and taxes. . .The way I look at it, the real win comes when we take our indigenous shale gas in the province and hook it into the Canaport liquified natural gas (LNG) facility in Saint John.”

In other words, he said, New Brunswick’s shale reserves could change the conversation about the province’s anemic economy forever. They could transform the region into a jurisdiction whose wealth rivals that of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Pennsylvania or North Dakota.

“What we need to understand is that just by the roll of the dice, we have landed in exactly the best position on the board at this moment in time,” Mr. McKenna said. “We have a Canaport facility with massive storage and with a jetty, getting right into deep water. We have a port that’s ice free and has the capacity to accommodate the biggest vessels in the world. The West Coast can’t do that.”

The former premier was similarly straightforward about the province’s overall condition: “This isn’t just a problem of leadership in government. It’s also a problem of followership. Our citizens have to understand the full depth and breadth of the dilemma that we are facing, and they have to be prepared to face up to some inconvenient truths. It means that they have to become less reliant on government and more entrepreneurial. It means that they have to take responsibility for their own futures.”

Still, if Messrs. McKenna and Gallant stand far apart from each other on tight onshore gas (though they remain generally linked by shared political purpose), the division is not likely to last long.

By vigorously arguing for a pipeline – perhaps, two – to transport Alberta bitumen into Saint John, the current premier is actually, though unwittingly, eroding the rhetorical wall he has erected around the shale gas industry.

That’s because it’s getting increasingly difficult for the unaligned majority in this province to appreciate the logic of Mr. Gallant’s position on fossil fuels.

For reasons that resist trenchant examination, we are told that pipelines transporting crude into New Brunswick are safer, more environmentally responsible energy developments than is drilling for natural gas using only proven, contemporary technology under a regulatory regime that’s reported to be the toughest in the world.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to do as Frank McKenna has suggested: Permit both undertakings to proceed carefully, yet expeditiously?

In the alternative, if the issue is less about safety than global warming, shouldn’t we take a page out of New Brunswick Green Leader David Coon’s playbook: Stop both projects from happening?

Banning one, and not the other assumes expectations of harm and safety that may be mismatched. After all, pipelines have been known to leak. If we are being asked to assume that risk, however small, maybe we should take another look at the safety record of the shale gas industry before we eject it from the field of possibility.

It’s a tricky calculation, but it’s one we may well be forced to make make sooner than we once thought.

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Fighting a bad case of pipeline paranoia


Time was when the Energy East Pipeline proposal was the least controversial and troublesome of all of New Brunswick’s options for fossil-fuel-based industrial development. In fact, it was a no-brainer.

Encourage line builder and operator TransCanada to reverse the flow in one of its existing pipes, build a bunch of extensions, including one into the Saint John refinery and, hey presto: instant construction jobs for at least a few years.

Those, of course, were the good, old days. Times change.

Last spring Maude Barlow, national chairperson for the Council of Canadians, told the North Bay Nugget in an extensive interview, “I want to let communities know not to be pressured to make a decision or risk not getting the benefits of the pipeline. I can tell you there are no benefits. There’s no argument for this pipeline. It’s an export pipeline and we don’t need it. . .We get the risk and (oil companies) get the reward.”

What’s more, she added, “I would like to know what are the big jobs, because this pipeline is for export. It’s about greed. They’re playing with a potential environmental catastrophe that environmentalists have been warning about. . .It’s so much more dangerous (than any other oil) and it’s crossing watersheds and many waterways around the Great Lake Region that are already being threatened. We certainly don’t need to add to that threat.”

To which TransCanada, ever sensitive to bad press, of which it sees a lot these days, replied on its own website:

“Quebec and New Brunswick currently import more than 700,000 barrels of oil every day – or 86 per cent of their refinery needs – from countries such as Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. At current oil prices, this is over $75 million drained out of the Canadian economy – every single day. Energy East proposes to connect Western Canada’s resources to Eastern Canada’s needs. Greater supplies of domestic crude would improve the financial viability of eastern Canadian refineries by giving them access to less-expensive, stable domestic supplies.”

That’s not all: “Once this primary purpose is served, Energy East will supply export markets. TransCanada has always been open about this and it is not something we are shying away from. Exports are a good thing for our country. They provide economic growth. They create jobs. They generate tax revenue that helps our provinces build new universities, resurface hundreds of kilometres of highways or provide our seniors with home care.”

None of which has prevented environmentalists from legally delaying the work in sensitive habitats along the St. Lawrence River.

Meanwhile, some major natural gas customers in central Canada want TransCanada to assure them they won’t be ripped off when (if?) the project is completed.

To some extent, this is part of national pattern of pipeline paranoia. Both the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway initiatives, which would send Alberta crude west to the sea and south to the United States, are mired in controversies and concerns about leaks and spills.

But the larger, existential issue is what these pipes represent. As the Green Party of New Brunswick’s election campaign platform explicitly stated: “Discourage increases in the production and use of fossil fuels by denying permits for new fossil fuel infrastructure such as the Energy East pipeline.”

That’s all well and good, but not especially practical. Our essential paradox is that we still need dreaded fossil fuels if only to help power our shift away from them – to drive many of the engines of ingenuity that will generate durable solutions to our sustainability problems.

Premier Brian Gallant should be commended for his sturdy support of Energy East. “I am quite confident we can do (this) in a very sustainable way,” he told a news conference in Saint Andrews, N.B., last week. “I’m also convinced the economic benefits are very exciting for our country and our province. So I am going to go around and speak to other provinces and within our province, to New Brunswickers, as to why this is important.”

Indeed, it’s a no-brainer.

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The roiling tale of two imaginary pipelines


In one hand, New Brunswick grips the key to its putative economic salvation; a pipeline spanning the better part of the second-largest landmass on the planet, from the oil fields and tar sands of Alberta right into little, old, plucky Saint John where the Irving refinery awaits, with bated breath, another profitable lease on life.

In the other, the picture-perfect province loosens it grip on everything its forebears allegedly designed (a healthy, self-sufficient, environmentally pristine part of the world) in the backwash of a curtailed and stolen future; a pipeline that would foul the ground, incinerate communities and spoil the water; a horrible industrial project that would return fleeting boons to short-term-thinking politicians, their confederates in commerce and not much else.

It’s odd how deliberately these opposing views manage to express themselves in New Brunswick’s print and broadcast media – as if never the twain shall meet, as if we, the sidelined majority, have nothing useful to lend to the debate over the province’s energy providence except, of course, our taxes and (sigh) our ears.

“Putative” and “alleged” are good words to describe the cases for and against a pipeline that does not, in fact, yet exist.

There are, of course, several ways to build a permanent way into a community. None of these, however, should have anything to do with terrorizing the citizenry or fictionalizing the landscape.

When Colleen Mitchell, president of Atlantica Centre for Energy, boosts on the front page of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal the benefits of an East Coast pipeline (without, I will note, a word of reasonable rebuttal), her kite flew so low, her hot air claimed its tail. She both terrorized the citizenry and fictionalized the landscape.

Here she is on her extraordinarily well-written rant:

“Five years (after the Great Recession of 2008) the gap between Atlantic Canada and the rest of Canada remains significant. . .The development of key oil and gas projects have the potential to reverse these economic trends. . .This project (TransCanada’s East Energy pipeline) is of such significance that if it proceeds to completion it will have a profound impact on the Atlantic region”

So profound, she says, it could amount to $35.3-billion in new gross domestic product across the country. So profound, she says, it could result in $266 million in new taxes to New Brunswick (during pipefitting) and maybe as much as $500 million after that. Moreover, she claimed with the sort of authority only an insider gets (and, trust me, she’s no insider), Irving Oil might just well spend upwards of $2 billion upgrading its coking and refining facilities in Saint John.

Oh, really?

This is irresponsible, unverified piffle; its feedstock derives directly from industry, itself. There is no way to credibly measure the merits of her assessments, just as there is no way to calibrate the real value of what she parrots are vast reserves of trapped shale gas in New Brunswick sedimentary rock. Why? Because industry, itself, is still reckoning the commercial viability of the resource. And, frankly, they’re not talking (which, in and of itself, should tell us something).

Still, she’s not the only partisan in the arena. Bid a welcome to the died-in-the-wool naysayers, who would rather buy their hemp oil from The Body Shop than see any of the dirty, necessary stuff that fuels their spectacularly energy-efficient homes spoil their golf-course-sized and well-fertilized lawns and gardens splendidly attended by certified “green” landscapers.

TransCanada Corp. has run afoul of four of nine National Energy Board regulations regarding its proper care and feeding of pipelines. This motivates New Brunswick Green Party honcho David Coon to theorize that “anything that suggests an increased risk of leaks will make everyone nervous.”

Furthermore, he postulates, “Since Stephen Harper has been prime minister, his orientation has been to ensure the National Energy Board is greasing the wheels of pipeline construction, not slowing it down because of things like safety and environmental impact.”

In other words, he seems to be saying, since the National Energy Board is, ipso facto, already compromised by the Conservative agenda, we must assume that its recent “harsh” judgement of TransCanada Corp. actually amounts  kid gloves’ treatment.

Again, so much for empirical evidence.

In one hand, the conspiracy theorists taketh away.

In the other, the apologists giveth back.

And, finally, no hands actually come together.

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The stiff upper lip to success


New Brunswick’s estimable finance minister, Blaine Higgs, promises as a matter of course that he will announce no new tax hikes at next month’s grand budget reveal. To which we curtsy politely and thank the graveyard of foreboding that dominates Fredericton for small mercies.

Still, at this stage in the daily, grinding, “this-too-shall-pass” culture of what is, indisputably, Canada’s least economically promising province, higher taxes will serve precisely no purpose.

The time for a boost in the HST was four years ago. Today, when a precipitous drop in revenue to government coffers is related entirely to a concomitant decline in business income, the taxman’s various dogs just won’t hunt anymore.

Meanwhile, the list of likely economic saviors grows ever longer, even as it begins to blur the boundaries of credibility.

There is a pipeline into Saint John. It will, we are assured, bring Alberta oil into the Port City for refining and subsequent export to locales both exotic and mundane. In the process, it will employ hundreds of skilled and able-bodied men and women (thousands during the construction phase). At least, that’s the scuttlebutt. Boosters are still looking for the project’s starter pistol, which seems to have gone missing.

There is some fresh promise in the mining sector, no thanks to The Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan which, according to a CBC report in early December,  “issued a blow to one of the Alward government’s hopes for job creation in the province.

The company is laying off more than 1,000 people, including 130 in New Brunswick, due to what it describes as slumping demand for its potash and phosphates, which are used to make fertilizer. . .Just last week the provincial government issued a request for expression of interest to explore for and mine potash in New Brunswick.”

Of course, there is always (groan!) shale gas. In fact, there might be 70 trillion cubic feet of the stuff below ground in New Brunswick. If any of it is extractable in a commercially viable sort of way (that is, before oil and gas prices wobble too far into the red zone), then a new fossil fuel industry could create hundreds of jobs and top up the government’s bank account with new taxes and royalties.

On the other hand, there is the little matter of the screaming meemies to which the chronically anxious among us succumb whenever the phrases “government oversight” and “hydraulic fracturing” appear in the same sentence.

It appears that the rest of us are fated to follow their lead as it is embraced by the next premier of the province, Brian Gallant, who has already announced his planned moratorium on further shale gas development once he trundles into power this fall.

And yet, somewhere, in all of this, we’re missing something vital, and it’s getting us down. Behind every commercial and industrial project – large, like a pipeline; or small, like a high-tech joint venture – are people.

That may sound trite, but our tendency is to perceive our economy as intractably composed of forces that are largely beyond our control. This is the language we allow our political leaders to adopt when times are tough and they shrug their shoulders in defeat: “Hey. . .Whaddya gonna do?”

In most cases, the answer to that question is: “Plenty.”

New Brunswick’s future might look rosier than it presently does if mega-deals for oil and gas and other natural resources were firmly on track. Still, this is not the alpha and omega of the province’s potential.

The real, durable future is being written in the idea factories of the private sector, in the common markets of the province’s small cities and feeder towns and villages, on the entrepreneurial front lines where problems are things you solve and obstacles are things you hurdle.

Listen closely, and you will still hear the relentless hum of enterprise, which remains happily oblivious to the macroeconomic demons that torture the province’s elected leaders, appointed officials and, as often as not, professional chatterers like Yours Truly.

If, as one of my colleagues in arms recently claimed, GDP is two-thirds consumer confidence, then attitude is everything.

Perhaps, then, we should try stiffening our lips and, for once, whistle obstinately past that graveyard of foreboding.

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