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Texas company proposes Energy East pipeline extension to Cape Breton

Concerns about Cape Breton Island, Strait of Canso

by Robert Devet

A proposal to extend the Energy East pipeline to Cape Breton raises the spectre of increased oil tanker traffic in the Strait of Canso. Photo Robert Ciavarro
A proposal to extend the Energy East pipeline to Cape Breton raises the spectre of increased oil tanker traffic in the Strait of Canso. Photo Robert Ciavarro

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) -  If it were up to a Texas company the Energy East pipeline wouldn't end in Saint John, New Brunswick. Instead it would continue on for another 500 kilometres and deliver tar sands oil to the Point Tupper petroleum terminal situated on the Strait of Canso, Cape Breton.

The Chronicle Herald reports that NuStar Energy LP, owner of the Point Tupper terminal, has approached TransCanada with such a proposal.

TransCanada is the proponent of the Energy East pipeline, a project that on completion is expected to move 1.1 million barrels per day of tar sands crude from Alberta and Saskatchewan to New Brunswick.

It is important to note here that NuStar is a major force in storage and transportation of petroleum products. The company owns 66 terminals and nine thousand miles of pipeline in the USA, Canada, Mexico and Europe.

When NuStar talks, TransCanada and Nova Scotia's provincial government are bound to pay attention.

Atlantic Canadian environmentalists are philosophically opposed to the Energy East pipeline because it will lock us into a fossil fuel-based infrastructure at a time when we should be moving towards renewable energy sources.

Potential pipeline leaks and increased risk of oil spills because of oil tanker traffic in the ecologically sensitive Bay of Fundy are their immediate concerns.

If the NuStar proposal were to become reality Cape Breton and a larger swath of land in New Brunswick could also fall victim to such ecological disasters.

Nova Scota environmentalists express fear that the NuStar proposal will expose the Strait of Canso between Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia to oil spills.

The pipeline would be extended to the Point Tupper petroleum terminal, and presumably many more oil tankers would enter the Strait to move the crude oil to Canadian and foreign markets.

"We are talking about risks to Cape Breton and that beautiful area there, that for me is worrying," Gretchen Fitzgerald, Director of the Sierra Club Atlantic, tells the Halifax Media Co-op. "It doesn't seem fair to our local people."

NuStar Energy says that it is discussing its proposal with the Nova Scotia government.

In the Herald article provincial Energy Minister Andrew Younger says that he understands the benefits of the pipeline extension to Cape Breton.

"NuStar has an advantage on the export side in that they’re already permitted and operating,” Younger told the Chronicle Herald. Younger also said that he meets with NuStar officials regularly.

"I would hope that there would be a greater evaluation of the impacts," counters Fitzgerald. "It becomes a whole new ballgame with the pipeline there."

Currently the Point Tupper facility only provides storage and the capability to transfer oil from one tanker to another.

But for a while NuStar has been pushing more ambitious plans.

Just last year it announced its intention to ship Canadian oil sands crude from Alberta to its Point Tupper operation by rail.

Now there is the pipeline extension.

For Catherine Abreu, energy coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, the NuStar proposal confirms once again that Energy East isn't about energy security and lower prices at the pump, as its champions like to argue.

We do not have the capacity to refine the oil sands crude here in Atlantic Canada, Abreu tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

"We haven't heard of any plans to either keep the refinery in Dartmouth open, or build a new refinery in Point Tupper. So the only thing that can happen with that excess oil is that it will be exported," Abreu says.

Alberta oil is cheaper than the oil we import here in Atlantic Canada, but Abreu argues that this is so because Alberta has no access to foreign markets at this time.

"It would not be in the interest of Albertan oil developers and TransCanada to invest in this kind of infrastructure, if the price of Alberta oil were to stay this low," Abreu says.

"So the whole point [of the Energy East pipeline] is to open up what are now landlocked resources in Alberta for export. And the moment that happens prices will rise."

Andrew Younger, the provincial Energy Minister, tells the Halifax Media Co-op in an email dated February 14th that any talk about increased tanker traffic is pure speculation at this time.

Younger also writes that he is confident that the relevant regulatory authorities will be fully addressing environmental issus.

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

See also:

Deconstructing Energy East

Empty Promises, false choices of Energy East

A threat to Winnipeg's water supply

More opposition to Energy East

Energy East: new report assesses pipeline's climate impact


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