The Other Pipeline

The proposed Energy East project will traverse six provinces and some of the most sensitive ecosystems in the country

Photograph by Valerian Mazataud
At forty-five kilometres long and five kilometres wide, Lake Témiscouata is known for the quality of its water, which is used as a clear water source for the surrounding villages. “I don't know how much a potable water source for 3,000 people is worth,” wonders Michel Grégoire, director of the local water management organization.

Canada’s relationship with pipelines is a fraught one. Critics of their construction say the environmental risks are too high, that a single oil spill could wipe out marine life or spoil drinking water. But energy companies have long touted their economic benefits: more jobs, more money.

While these disputes have been common in British Columbia, the battle between environmental and economic merit has now extended to the Prairies and beyond, where TransCanada’s Energy East project is up for debate. Proposed in 2013, the pipeline would ship more than one million barrels of oil every day from Alberta through Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec to tanker ports and refineries in New Brunswick. The plan includes a conversion of about 3,000 kilometres of pre-existing natural gas pipeline to oil service, with most new construction in Quebec and New Brunswick. The project is currently delayed, but if built, the pipeline would be the largest in the country.

Though Justin Trudeau was uncertain of his stance on Energy East during his federal election campaign, his administration says it now embraces the project in light of the demise of another high-profile pipeline, Keystone XL, whose defeat was once thought impossible. “We support this,” foreign affairs minister Stephane Dion told the Globe and Mail earlier this month. “But we want that to be done properly and it will be difficult to do if we don’t strengthen the process itself, the process of consultation with communities and the process of scientific environmental assessment.”

In fact, environment minister Catherine McKenna pledged in November scrutinize the climate change impact of proposed pipelines. It’s an attempt to elevate the country’s international standing, long an international embarrassment, prior to this year’s United Nations climate change summit, which begins in Paris this Monday. If the Trudeau government is sincere, this could be a serious impediment for the proposed pipeline, which would have a bigger carbon footprint than even Keystone XL.

For those safeguards to be set in place, the government will have plenty of other factors to consider. A report by the Council of Canadians lists 961 waterways and ninety watersheds along Energy East’s proposed route, including the Ottawa River, the Rideau River, the St. Lawrence River, and the South Saskatchewan River. Many of these rivers and lakes serve as sources of drinking water and are held as sacred by First Nations communities. They’re also located in areas frequented by families. All could be devastated by spills.

Among these waterways is Trout Lake, a drinking water source near North Bay, Ontario. Locals suggested a reroute of the pipeline to avoid contamination. The Ontario Energy Board, which conducted its own review, took a similar position in an August report: “Even though almost half of Energy East runs through Ontario, the OEB believes the pipeline will result in only modest economic benefits for the province.”

Energy companies have already lost one battle to environmentalists in Cacouna, Quebec, where they had hoped to build a tanker terminal on the St. Lawrence River. The proposed site was a breeding ground for endangered beluga whales, and the threat of endangered species worried the public. TransCanada eventually abandoned those plans, pushing Energy East’s overall schedule back while the search for other prospective terminal location continues.

Meanwhile, perhaps the most at-risk ecosystem is one that has received little attention: the Bay of Fundy. According to conservation groups, the bay represents a unique collection of diverse marine habitats that support tourism, fisheries, and aquaculture industries. Home to the highest tides in the world, the bay is especially at risk from the types of spills that occur with oil tankers. The increase in large tankers could also negatively affect whale populations.

As Canadians await a resolution from politicians, the energy industry, and environmentalists, The Walrus invites readers to examine photos by Valerian Mazataud, which illustrate parts of Canada that may soon become home to the Energy East pipeline.

Photograph by Valerian Mazataud
Every fall for the past forty-four years the city of Montmagny, Quebec, has held its famous snow goose festival to mark the migration to the southern US. “More and more people want to take back the river, by bird watching, hunting, or sailing,” says Benoît Gendreau-Berthiaume, who works as a guide during the festival.
Photograph by Valerian Mazataud
“Montmagny is a natural reserve for shore birds. The impact of a leak would be greater on those species than on the snow goose,” says Gendreau-Berthiaume. The Energy East pipeline would run only four kilometres inland from the town.
Photograph by Valerian Mazataud
Gertrude Madore runs the eel education centre in Kamouraska, Quebec, with a goal to preserve the culture of eel fishing in the St. Lawrence River. “We were more than 110 fishermen in the ’70s,” she recalls. “Today we are only twelve.”
Photograph by Valerian Mazataud
Madore doesn’t like the idea of having the Energy East pipeline anywhere near her fishing nets. Any leak in a smaller tributary river would end up on the banks of the St. Lawrence River at low tide. “I fear they’re going to contaminate the river just like they did in Lac-Mégantic,” she says, remembering the Quebec town where an oil train exploded on July 6, 2013, causing the death of forty-seven people.
Photograph by Valerian Mazataud
Born in Kamouraska, Claudie Gagne founded Gardens of the Sea in 2000. She sells fresh or dried sea plants that she gathers at low tide. “I know that in these cold waters, the oil sticks around for a long time,” she says.
Photograph by Valerian Mazataud
In Quebec, the Energy East pipeline is proposed to cross this ZEC, or Controlled Exploitation Zone, but because it lies on public domain the members or management have little say in opposing the project.
Photograph by Valerian Mazataud
Cyrille Simard, the mayor of Edmundston, NB, demanded that TransCanada to change its preliminary route for the pipeline, after he found out it was too close to his town’s watershed area.
Photograph by Valerian Mazataud
In 2014, 50,000 visitors came here to see the famous falls in Grand Sault, NB. The attraction constitutes 40 percent of the town’s economy, according to mayor Richard Keeley, but the Grand Falls council is in favour of the pipeline.
Photograph by Valerian Mazataud
The Hampton Marshes are one of the largest clear water marshes in New Brunswick, and are home to osprey, white-tailed eagle, muskrat, mink, eels, and otter.
Photograph by Valerian Mazataud
Built in 1960, the Irving Oil Refinery in Saint John, NB, is the largest in Canada, capable of treating up to 300,000 barrels a day. It will be the final stop for the Energy East pipeline and where the diluted crude could be transformed and exported.
The Jean-Gaulin refinery in Lévis, Quebec, is not equipped to treat Alberta bitumen but could be fed with light crude such as those from the Bakken shale in North Dakota.
The Jean-Gaulin refinery in Lévis, Quebec, is not equipped to treat Alberta bitumen but could be fed with light crude such as those from the Bakken shale in North Dakota.
Ben Powless
Ben Powless is a Mohawk citizen from Six Nations in Ontario, currently based in Ottawa.

Enjoy What You’re Reading?

Fact-based journalism is our passion and your right.

We feature Canadian voices and expertise on stories that travel beyond our shores, and we firmly believe that this reporting can change the world around us. The Walrus covers it all with originality, depth, and thoughtfulness, bringing diverse perspectives to bear on essential conversations while setting the highest bar for fact-checking and rigour.

We’re asking readers like you to support The Walrus so we can continue to lead the Canadian conversation.
Every contribution makes a difference.
Please support The Walrus today. Thank you.
Donations of $20 or more will receive a charitable tax receipt.