TransCanada Corp. launched more than a month's worth of open houses across the country in Winnipeg on Tuesday as its begins promoting its $12-billion Energy East Pipeline proposal.
And that bell you hear ringing is the signal for the next round in the fight the Calgary pipeline company will have with environmentalists who oppose fossil-fuel pipelines on safety and environmental grounds.
The proposed Energy East Pipeline project would convert about 3,000 kilometres of TransCanada's underutilized mainline natural gas pipeline to crude-oil service and build about 1,400 kilometres of new pipeline in Alberta, Quebec and New Brunswick.
'In Canada, we are sitting on the third-largest reserve of oil in the world and we are not using it out east'
The company filed a 140-page project description with the National Energy Board earlier this month and intends to file a formal application sometime this summer.
TransCanada already conducted some public consultations after it formally announced the project last August and intends to continue holding extensive public meetings as the project application moves ahead.
TransCanada spokesman Phillipe Cannon said the company's mainline is a series of pipelines running alongside each other.
The process of converting some underutilized capacity of the mainline from gas service to oil service requires building pumping stations along the route, including about seven in Manitoba, according to the preliminary maps of the route. Cannon could not say how much excavation might be required along the way.
The company's stated rationale for the new pipeline, which would be the longest oil pipeline in North America, is to establish greater energy security in Eastern Canada. TransCanada's controversial proposed Keystone XL pipeline into the U.S. would be 1,897 kilometres long.
Cannon said TransCanada has contracts in place with three eastern Canadian refineries for 900,000 barrels a day.
"Refineries value having a diversity of supply and typically acquire products they need from more than one source and pipeline," Cannon said. "The gas that people put in their cars in Quebec and Eastern Canada comes from Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Libya. In Canada, we are sitting on the third-largest reserve of oil in the world and we are not using it out east."
But environmental and public-interest groups who oppose the pipeline said in a seven-page report that came out Tuesday, called An Export Pipeline, NOT for Domestic Gain, those refineries are already fully supplied. They say the oil that would be moved via the proposed Energy East Pipeline would be shipped unrefined to places such as India, Europe and possibly the United States.
Andrea Harden-Donahue, an energy and climate activist with the Council of Canadians, one of the authors of the report, said, "TransCanada has not provided its own numbers to dispute our findings. How much do they expect to export? That is a question they should answer. We don't feel it is acceptable that they should be vague when these are questions of social interest. If they want social licence to move forward with this project, we need actual numbers."
But Cannon said TransCanada already has strong stakeholder and public support as well as strong market demand from two Quebec refineries and one in New Brunswick.
"Energy East will tie directly into those three refineries," Cannon said. "It is surprising to read that they (the Council of Canadians and other authors of the report) say it will be exported as crude."
The massive project would move crude oil from the Alberta oilsands and from the Bakken Basin in Saskatchewan and Manitoba to refineries, further establishing the infrastructure to support the multibillion-dollar oil-production industry in Canada.
Harden-Donahue said despite the fact much of the pipeline is already in place, it is of much greater concern for those near it that it will move oil -- particularly hazardous diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands -- rather than the compressed natural gas for which it was originally built.
TransCanada open houses will continue in Brandon on Wednesday, Moosamin, Sask., on Thursday and then Dryden and Nipigon, Ont., and Regina next week.