Canada’s Pipeline Debate

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Should we expand Canada’s network of pipelines or not?

Each day this website page brings together major current articles from newspapers and the fossil fuel industry, as well as blogs from websites, and discussion generated from Twitter.   Our purpose:  one page with all the major articles of the day.

Some articles support the pipeline industry, others do not.  They are all included.  Even TransCanada and the Keystone Pipeline Project ads have found their way to the page – unasked for!

The science community, environmental groups, such as 350 Ottawa and others, and a rapidly growing segment of the public strongly oppose any further expansion of the fossil fuel industry.   Canada’s pipeline system, we state, must not expand.  The network we presently have must serve us for now, and the fossil fuels we use must peak at this point in time and decline sharply over the next 30 years and beyond.  In their place other sources of energy must quickly be built and maximized, and conservation measures put into place and become our norm.   80% of oil reserves must stay in the ground.  This clearly goes against the message of the fossil fuel industry and our 3 major federal political parties.

The Problem

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So, what’s the problem?  “The world needs oil”, TransCanada Pipelines declares, but is this the problem?   Clearly not.  We have more than enough.    Fossil fuels have served us well and will  continue to do so for some time.   We all love oil and gas, except for one thing:  they are slowly killing us.   Highly efficient, portable, easily obtained, they have served us well.  They have provided us with fuel to heat our homes, fuel for transportation, and thousands of products.   What more could we ask for?   Unfortunately, they have brought with them what is now seen as the most significant problem ever to face human kind: the problem of too much CO2 in our atmosphere.

But while too much CO2 is the primary problem, it has obviously brought with it other extremely  significant problems.   No one needs to be reminded of the changing weather patterns, intense storms, droughts, wildfires, melting arctic, or rising sea levels.   These shattering events are the  symptoms of too much CO2.   In the longer term, if fossil fuels remain as our major source of energy we’ll suddenly be faced some day with the prospect of having nothing for heating our homes, nothing for transportation, and nothing for all the products we’ve come to enjoy.  We’re using 90 million barrels of oil a day for transportation and if we continue at this rate we’ll be facing a collapse of this source of energy within this century.   That will be the problem you and I will be leaving for our children and our grandchildren.   Can anything be more callous and short-sighted than that?

Marketing Strategy


UnknownIn our Western culture we accept advertising as part of life.  We all know advertisers present the best picture they can for their products, and while we think we’re wise to their ways and won’t get sucked in, we have to admit that more often than not we do.  That’s why we keep getting bombarded with endless advertising.  It works.

That’s why the fossil fuel industry, even with the stranglehold it has on Canada, keeps playing every card they can to promote its business, unfortunately leading us all down the wrong path at this time in history.   CAPP presents their television ads regularly throughout prime time, telling us how good they are in the field of energy.   The Financial Post writes up market successes as they happen.  Full page ads in different newspapers across Canada are a frequent feature.   Money is poured into school curriculums when possible, as well as the Canadian Geographic Magazine and the National Geographic magazine in the U.S.   Sports events are frequently supported.   Money is given to support the Rideau Canal skateway in  Ottawa and the Canadian Museum of History.   Lobbying governments at all levels proceeds on a regular basis.   Their presence on websites, including this page, appear, often unasked for, wherever they can legitimately place them.   Their own websites provide a message that paints a soothing and seductive picture.

A close look, however, points to an industry with strong vested interests, using arguments that lack full detail , avoid pertinent facts, and exaggerate benefits while leading us away from the main problem.  Their arguments such as ‘Nation Building’, ‘Revenues for Canada’, and their ‘concern for safety and the environment’ have to be seen as part of their marketing strategy.

Nation Building

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 2.52.20 PM     When the Keystone XL met with opposition in the U.S. and the idea was hatched to build the Energy East pipeline, we heard for the first time that this would be a nation builder.   One can wonder why they first tried to get their dilbit piped through the U.S. if their goal was to build Canada.  Did they think the U.S. needed some nation building first!    We also know that if their wish to build Energy East is not granted they will next try to get their product to market by way of a pipeline through the Mackenzie River delta.


In their effort to support this argument TransCanada talks about the jobs they will create, the energy independence that the pipeline will provide Canada, and the strong long-term relationships they will make with the communities along the pipeline.

Statistics Canada reports that in August 2014 ‘Canadian businesses reported 234,000 job vacancies in August, relatively unchanged compared with August 2013. There were 6.0 unemployed people for every job vacancy, little changed from 12 months earlier.’   This means that across Canada there were 1,404,000 unemployed people.    TransCanada reports that in the 7-year building phase they will employ 13, 690 workers, and in the 20 years of operation after that, they would be employing 3,273 people.   Clearly, TransCanada’s contribution to jobs is but a ‘drop in the oil bucket’.   It doesn’t much help our unemployment situation and it doesn’t help in the fight against climate change.   In fact, all these jobs will serve to make the problem worse.

TransCanada makes out that the Energy East will be going to the Irving Refinery in St. John, implying that the 1.1 million barrels of dilbit will be refined at this refinery, thereby serving to make Canada energy independent.   In this context it should be noted that the Irving Oil refinery, the largest oil refinery in Canada, is capable of only producing somewhat in excess of 300,000 barrels of refined products per day, over half of which is exported to the US Northeast.  They couldn’t handle another 1.1 million bpd, and one wouldn’t expect they would be breaking contracts with their present sources in order to refine only Alberta’s dilbit.   The main reason for getting the dilbit to St. John is to get it to tidewater and to overseas markets where the oil would command higher prices than what is presently realized.  Energy independence is not a goal that companies have.   Governments do or should have that as one of their priorities, but not companies.   Companies want the highest price they can get for their products.   Clearly, TransCanada’s message in this regard is deceptive.

TransCanada has been building pipelines in Canada and the US for over 60 years.   When things have gone well, which is most of the time, there have been no significant problems with people along the way.   However, when trying to expand their pipelines or when accidents have happened, there has been a less-than-stellar record.

Revenues for Canada


Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 2.55.49 PM    Money is the object of any business.   But TransCanada would like people to believe that fuelling growth with their pipeline projects will also have a major impact on the revenues for the governments and the people of Canada.   In the wider context this holds little credibility.

The present Canadian Government direct debt, according to the Fraser Institute , is $1.4 trillion. TransCanada estimates that over the next 27 years Energy East would provide $7.7 billion in tax revenues and generate $36.4 billion in goods and services.   While the figures identified by TransCanada look impressive when considered alone, it’s clear that in the overall context of Canadian debt, these revenues, spread over 27 years, are not as much as what TransCanada wants them made out to be.  When we take into account the amount of money that will have to go into paying for the damages caused by climate change, these revenues are far outweighed by such expenses.

Safety and environmental concerns – a priority



It’s probably reasonable to believe that TransCanada is doing its best to keep the pipeline safe.  They would be completely foolhardy if they didn’t.   However, their record doesn’t match their claims.   Spills, small and large, happen on a regular basis, often not being reported by the mainline press.   When all the arguments being made by TransCanada are considered together it becomes clear why many have observed that it’s ‘Our risk, their reward’.  Even the Alberta Federation of Labour won’t buy the argument that Energy East will address needs in eastern Canada.




What Canada (and the World) needs




At present the climate debate includes a full range of opinions from those who deny that anything is happening to those who feel that we have entered the first phase of the 6th mass extinction that will see the human race and perhaps all of life gone within this century.   Many of their gloomy arguments are supported by strong indicators.   However, many of these same pessimistic individuals also state that given major changes to our political and economic system and a strong call from the public for the needed change, we have the technological ability to slow the advancing changes in our climate and hold the rise in temperature to around 2 degrees.

So what do we need?   Certainly, we do not need more pipelines and an expansion of the fossil fuel industry, an industry whose arguments for expansion are irrelevant to our problem – irrelevant because their ‘trinkets’, such as jobs and revenues, do nothing to solve the problem.   What if our doctor, after doing all the needed scientific tests, tells us that we have cancer, and then some nonmedical agency, with their own vested interests, tells us not to worry.  We can carry on living much as usual.  They will make sure we have a job and lots of money.  Would you go for their ploy?

However, we do need the industry, at least for a while yet, not just for their products, but also for some of their expertise.   Nobody drills holes like they do, and we need their drilling expertise as we go toward developing geothermal energy.  But even more, we need fossil-free industries.   We need our scientists and their leadership in directing us where we have little understanding.   We need our building trades looking at how we can build our new buildings to the highest standards and retrofit our old buildings better.  We need our economists and politicians working out a more equitable economic system in which a better life for all exists and our place in Nature is properly recognized.

Around the world people are working together more and more.   Canadians are wanting action.  People are shouting out, marching in record numbers, and declaring that we must get away from fossil fuels.   Companies are improving the technologies surrounding renewables.   Environmentalists are working hard, educating where they can, advising people to divest from fossil fuels, and working with governments at all levels.   Think tanks such as the Ecofiscal Commission are looking at ways to ‘encourage the economic activities we do want (job creation, investment, and innovation) while reducing those we don’t want (greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution of our land, air, and water)’.

Unfortunately, we’re up against significant forces.  We have a government that thinks it’s crazy to create any regulations, an industry that wants to expand as much as they can, and much of the public that remains comfortable with things just the way they are – so far.   We’re up against the National Energy Board whose members have been given a mandate that states they are to look only at the pipeline and decide if it’s a reasonably safe project.  They are not to look at the Tar Sands and all the destruction and CO2 production there, and they are not to consider the impact that the refining and burning of 1.1 million barrels of dilbit each day will have on climate change.   And, finally, we’re up against the final arbiters, the present Federal Cabinet – should  they remain in power after the 2015 election – who have already decided that business trumps the environment.   The real problem – too much CO2 in our atmosphere – they will be ignore.

It’s, therefore, up to all of us as citizens, you and me, to join in the call to halt further pipeline expansion.   We must write our members of government at all levels and voice our concerns.   We can join a local environmental group such as a local 350. org group, Ecology Ottawa, Council of Canadians, GreenPeace and others, or at least get on their mailing lists and voice your support.   Climate change is happening now.   The time to act is now.

Larry Dobson, 350 Ottawa

Other Reading:

1-  TransCanada’s Energy East.  An Export Pipeline, NOT for Domestic Gain

2- Our Deadliest Addiction.  Oil drives our commerce, but could drive us to extinction.

3- With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don’t Pay Enough by Peter Barnes

The atmosphere is owned by all of us equally, but polluters use it as if it’s their own, says Peter Barnes.   He proposes a fee for using it, much like a renter pays their rent to the owners of a home.  This rent money goes directly to the c0-owners –  each citizen – as their rightful dividend.   This fee and dividend system would serve the call to put a more realistic price on carbon and, at the same time, the need to address the economic disparities between the rich and the poor that society faces with our present system.    This book is a must-read for those looking for a way out of our dilemmas.

4-  This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

“Klein exposes the myths that are clouding the climate debate. We have been told the market will save us, when in fact the addiction to profit and growth is digging us in deeper every day. We have been told it’s impossible to get off fossil fuels when in fact we know exactly how to do it—it just requires breaking every rule in the “free-market” playbook: reining in corporate power, rebuilding local economies and reclaiming our democracies. We have also been told that humanity is too greedy and selfish to rise to this challenge. In fact, all around the world, the fight back is already succeeding in ways both surprising and inspiring.”   (Amazon Books)

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